Reservoir Road, Rowley, 1980

It is unlikely that in the Black Country they had heard of the Great Wall of Los Angeles, a community mural begun in 1978 by Judy Baca, made with some 400 young people and artists. They were certainly aware of the London Mural Movement, young artists wanting to work in the public realm, where the street was their canvas. Their aims were similar, of course, wishing to enliven the local environment, and engage with local communities, starting conversations about local needs and aspirations, as well as building relationships.

Along Reservoir Road, rising on one side of the Rowley Hills, there were four 14 storey blocks built by Wimpey in the mid-1960s for Rowley Regis Municipal Authority. Only two blocks remain today – and in 1974 Rowley was merged into Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. Even some 20 years later, one American critic wrote of the area: “There is nowhere in the world where it is possible to travel such long distances without seeing anything grateful to the eye. The Black Country looks like Ceaucescu’s Romania with fast food outlets.” We are not aware if he came across any of these giant murals.

By 1978, Jubilee had begun to expand their repertoire advertising for an environmental artist to work with the group, working with Martyn Overs at Bermuda Mansions to produce the first murals in Sandwell. During school holidays at Easter and summer, mural making accompanied the play and theatre work programmes and soon took on a life of its own. Mark Renn was another artist who came to work with Jubilee. By 1980, Jubilee had two visual artists as part of their core team, Derek Jones and Peter Chaplin, both of whom worked on murals, banners and print work. Here on Reservoir Road a large paved concrete children’s play area at the foot of one block of flats was enlivened with a ‘flooral’ – designed and executed by local kids working with the Jubilee artists and an awful lot of paint. Using the playbus as their base of operations, over several days the flagstones were turned into a ready-made gigantic games board. The low areas around the area were painted with a cheering crowd, as you can see in this photograph. While designed as a temporary feature, these works lasted for over a decade.