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Norwich’s Memorial Gardens to re-open today

PUBLISHED: 06:30 16 March 2011 | UPDATED: 14:31 16 March 2011

The Norwich war memorial and gardens. The new sculpture titled Breath by Paul De Monchaux.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The Norwich war memorial and gardens. The new sculpture titled Breath by Paul De Monchaux. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2011

Today sees the long-awaited reopening of Norwich’s Memorial Gardens, which means the city finally has a place fit to remember its fallen heroes.

The £2.6m restoration project has transformed an area of contemplation which had become embarrassingly run-down and today’s re-opening ceremony brings to an end a lengthy and often painful saga.

The Memorial Gardens have been repaired, revamped and refurbished after more than six years of being off limits to the public.

At 2pm today, a Second World War veteran and a serving soldier will formally reopen the gardens, which sit on a terrace above Norwich Market, opposite City Hall.

As part of the restoration, the war memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was turned around to face City Hall and its rededication took place at an emotional ceremony on Armistice Day last year.

But, while veterans were delighted that the memorial had been turned around, enabling them to march past it, the hoarding still surrounded the Memorial Gardens, while work continued.

That all changes today, because at 2pm this afternoon, the public will finally be permitted back into the gardens, where a new sculpture has been created.

The turning around of the war memorial meant a space was created in the gardens and, in response to requests from English Heritage and local interest groups, the city council commissioned a new sculpture.

A group including veterans and the Peace Council selected award-winning sculptor Paul de Monchaux, whose work includes the Wilfred Owen memorial in Shrewsbury, the BBC Churchill memorial, and the memorial to Second World War slave workers in Jersey. The sculpture, called Breath, will be unveiled at today’s ceremony and is a bronze companion to the war memorial.

It is designed to mark the furtherance of peace, hope and survival in contrast to the sombre message of the Lutyens monument.

The repair project saw a complete restoration and enhancement of the Grade II* listed structure on which the Memorial Gardens sit.

The building supporting the gardens has been repaired and new ramps put in to allow disabled access, while the gardens have been laid out with sensory plants to allow people with mobility problems or disabilities to enjoy them.

It has been a complex project and the city council has worked every step of the way with English Heritage to ensure each stone of the gardens and the memorial itself were put back exactly where they were before.

Norwich City Council worked on the scheme with architects NPS Property Consultants, construction company RG Carters, landscape architects The Landscape Partnership, construction consultants Stirling Maynard, and stonemasons Fairhaven and Woods.

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew paid tribute to everybody who was involved in the work to get the memorial and gardens revamped.

He said: “The vision, passion and quality of work that has gone into this entire project is phenomenal.

“The passion of the veterans and the city in pressing for the work to be done, the vision of the council and the HCA in founding such a ground-breaking partnership that has enabled it to happen, and the results of the huge skills shown by the contractors comes together 
today in a real celebration for the city.

“The war memorial and memorial gardens look simply stunning. In a city with such a wealth of heritage buildings this stands proud and the new sculpture rounds it off perfectly.

“We must never forget the reason why this memorial is here and, while we celebrate, we should remember that we have created a space for reflection and a tribute to those who have given so much, those who have been directly affected and those who want to show their respects and gratitude.

“This project is a credit to our city and those who have served in whatever capacity.

“I am very proud of them and very proud of the restored war memorial and memorial gardens that is the way the city honours them.”

Money for the restoration of the war memorial and gardens came from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the government’s national housing and regeneration body.

As part of a deal signed with the city council in September 2009, the HCA has invested £8m in Norwich – which has also paid for the skate park at Eaton park.

In return the city council makes land available which affordable housing can be built on.

Terry Fuller, director for the HCA in the East of England said: “The memorial gardens, along with the memorial itself, serve as a permanent reminder of those who gave their lives for the freedom we have today.

“I am extremely proud that the HCA has been able to support this refurbishment as part of wider plans to regenerate Norwich and create many new homes, and facilities for young people.”

• See today’s Evening News for an eight-page souvenir Memorial Gardens re-opening supplement.

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