A teacher from Cheshire who bought some watercolour paints to learn a new skill during lockdown has won a competition to have her work featured on a Covid-19 memorial stone.
Westerleigh Group, the UK’s largest independent owner and operator of cemeteries and crematoria, announced last year it planned to create Covid-19 memorial gardens at most of its sites in England, Scotland and Wales.
Westerleigh issued an open invitation for people of all ages and backgrounds to submit ideas for a design to be etched onto a stone obelisk which will form the centre-piece of each garden.
Rachel Almond, a 39-year-old part-time teacher and part-time budding artist, was thrilled to learn that her design was chosen as the North regional winner.
Westerleigh Group is choosing six designs overall, one for each of its regions.
Mother-of-two Rachel said: “I was absolutely delighted when I received the letter announcing my design had won for the North region.
“I am extremely grateful to be a part of this very important and sentimental project, which will mean so much to so many families.
“The design I created was very personal and sentimental to me, and I am thrilled that the symbolism and emotion came across in my artwork.
“I hope that when others see the design, it has the same impact on them; remembrance, love and not forgetting loved ones.”
Rachel learned about the competition after some friends tagged her in a local news post online, just a few weeks after the sudden death of her aunt.
She said: “At my aunt’s funeral, we were all given a pack of forget me not seeds to plant in her memory, and this is where the inspiration for my design came from.
“I felt compelled to create something that was simple, elegant and symbolic, based on forget me nots.
“After completing some initial sketches, I took my time drawing the design, paying attention to the fact that it will be carved in stone.
“I wanted to keep the design simple, so the edges and shapes of each petal would stand out and look like a stained-glass panel.
“I then decided to draw flowers on stems, with a mixture of open flowers and new buds, to look like they are growing, flourishing and moving forward.
“I hope the design is meaningful and evokes emotion, not forgetting loved ones and acting as a symbol of remembrance, love and growth.”
She added: “During lockdown last year, I wanted to do something creative and artistic, so I bought some watercolour paints and started drawing again after many years.
“I found in lockdown that I had some time to be creative. At the end of the summer, with the encouragement of family and friends, I set up my on page on social media with my artwork.”
Although she has taken part in some art trails, this is the first competition she has won.
She said: “It has really boosted my confidence and motivated me to keep drawing.”
Roger Mclaughlan, Chief Executive Officer of Westerleigh Group, said: “We would like the memorial gardens to provide permanent, tranquil places for people to visit to remember loved ones who lost their lives during the pandemic and also to remember and reflect on those who have sacrificed so much to help others during the coronavirus crisis.
“We decided early on that we wanted local people to help shape how the gardens would look, so that each of them would become something of real significance to our local communities.
“We were overwhelmed by the creativity shown by the many people who submitted their designs and the judging process was a moving experience as it was clear that a lot of heartfelt thought had been put into each entry.
“I would like to congratulate Rachel for her winning design and am looking forward to seeing how it looks when the memorial gardens at our crematoria in the north of the country open later this year.”
Rachel’s design will be etched onto the black polished granite stone monuments which will be placed in the memorial gardens at Westerleigh Group’s Howe Bridge, Vale Royal, West Lancashire, Gedling, Great Glen and Babworth crematoria.
Westerleigh Group hopes to install the Covid-19 memorials at all its sites during June, ready to open for the public to visit in July.