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Sue Melville's scrapbook

November, 2011

We now know that the torch is coming through Abbotsbury and will be in Weymouth for the evening of 12 July. I woke up with a "Eureka" moment - sails all through the village to celebrate the games and especially the sailing events. Nigel and I drafted a note about the idea and some sketchy suggestions about how we might have workshops, but at this stage it was all very vague. Nevertheless we leaflet-dropped all 200 or so houses in the village. Our leaflet asked if anyone wanted to make sail-shaped banners to put in the wall brackets where we put Christmas trees every year. The replies started to come in almost at once.

December 2011

Right through Christmas, I couldn't stop thinking about these sails ... What sort of fabric ? What would the timing be for a sail-making project ? How could the sails be assembled on to poles ? I wanted a strong, light, durable fabric, but not one that would droop if it got wet ! The sails needed to be white - but, how to put on the images ? Sew them ? Paint them ? Stick them on ?

January 2012

A second leaflet-drop, for a first get-together on 18 January in the village hall. Meantime, Nigel and I started finding out about fabric, sail shapes, and colours for the images. We decided on paint, in three primary colours, red, yellow and blue.

In January, too, West Dorset District Council announced that they would offer a grant of up to 400 to every village on the torch route: we put in our estimate of what it would cost us to make 50 sails, which came to around 1,100, and won a grant of the full 400. We would have to find the rest ourselves: that would mean coffee mornings, sales and the hope of some private donations.

The hunt was on for a suitable fabric: in the end, after a long hunt on the internet, we decided that "ripstop", a form of strong parachute nylon, would be best, and we found a firm called "English Seadog" selling it in the right width for our sails. The web might be world-wide, but "English Seadog" turned out to be based just up the road from Abbotsbury ! They stocked just what we needed for weight, colour, width - and length, well over 100 metres. They were so patient, giving us 2 metres at a time to test with different paints, and even agreed to cut out the individual sails with a "hot knife".

At the end of the month, Nigel and I were invited to a County Council workshop where all the villages on the torch route were able to share their ideas, and get some advice from the police, fire and ambulance services on how to cope with the crowds that might turn out to watch the relay. We were asked to report our plans to a County media centre so that the world's press would know who to contact in Abbotsbury. It was all starting to look real.

February 2012

Our first real workshop. Everyone cut out their sail templates from lining paper, and started to think about the designs. Nigel and I were still experimenting with how to put permanent images on to the fabric.Through some wet and windy weather, we hung trial sails and experimental squares in our garden, trying out indelible pens, PVC cutouts, fabric paint, acrylic ink, oil paint, paper varnish on top of the ink or paint, PVA glue mixed with paint or spread over it ... until we eventually settled on a 1:1 mix of acrylic paint and textile medium.

We knew that when people drew their designs on the paper template, it would be easy to trace them through to the fabric because it is so thin. The "Dorset Echo" sent along a photographer and gave us a wonderful write-up in their weekly "Going for Gold" feature.

Later in February, there was a workshop for people to start tracing their designs on to the fabric. So many people turned up and used so many tables that I decided that the next workshop needed to be a longer session, to give everyone a chance to paint their sails.

Doors opened at 1.00pm and the hall was busy until 8.00pm. People dropped in all afternoon and evening to see how everyone was getting on and give them their support. I had arranged for the finished sails had to be left in the hall overnight to dry - in the end, they had to stay for the whole of the next day and the following night !

Meanwhile, the fund-raising was building up: a coffee morning early in the month, together with some generous donations and sales of donated books in our tearoom, had helped towards raising 450 to set alongside the District Council grant, but there were by now promises of several more sails, so the costs were going up as well.

March 2012

Another coffee morning on the 9th and a further workshop on the 14th. The relay routes and timetables were in the Echo, and the excitement was beginning to build up. More of the sails were being painted, and people were calling in on us to collect paint and textile medium. On the 28th, I booked a special workshop and asked everyone to bring along their completed sails. The Echo photographer came back and we had a second good spread in the "Going for Gold" feature: the sails hung round the walls were incredible, it was amazing how different they all were, and how imaginatively people had coped with using only three colours.

I was so thrilled with the display that I emailed our local MP, Oliver Letwin, with a selection of photos and suggested that he might show them to the Prime Minister. To everybody's delight, the PM emailed us with a letter of congratulation, describing the project as "a great example of the Big Society in action." I made sure that everyone in the project had a copy of his letter.

April 2012

More fund-raising: a table-top sale brought us within 200 of meeting our target. Not so good was the problem of the poles. It turned out that thick stakes to hold the sails firmly in the brackets looked ugly, but thinner dowelling (which would be strong enough) would cost over 600 for 60-plus sails. Nigel and I bought some strong bamboo canes, which reminded a neighbour that the Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens thinned their bamboo clumps every year.A sample from last year's thinnings looked ideal: our neighbour fastened one of our garden trial sails to one of them and put it up in the bracket on his house wall as an experiment. It survived the April gales before snapping during one particularly bad night. A revised, shorter version is still there after six weeks, so it looks like my dream of the sails staying on display like an open-air art exhibition until the end of the Paralympics might come true.

May 2012

The Chesil Bank Pre-School are in action ! Three of the sails they have promised are finished and the rest are on their way. But we've had a near-disaster. When Nigel and I went to buy the shock cord and the polypiping that will give shape to the foot of the sails and hold them in place, our Weymouth supplier could only offer 30-40 metres of shock cord (a quarter of what we need) and told us that the makers had gone out of business. Luckily we managed to find more than enough shock cord in Poole, so we now have everything we need to finish the sails off.

Yet another coffee morning, and perhaps the final one: 230 raised, and the target figure passed. I've paid all the bills, and have enough left to cope with any contingencies. We've all been watching the torch set off from Land's End and making its way through Cornwall and Devon as the excitement builds. On 7th July we'll all be meeting to assemble our sails on the canes and mount them on the cottages along the relay route. We can't wait until 12th July.

June, 2012

The bamboo canes have arrived from the Sub-Tropical Gardens. We have held a "technical evening" to finalise the best way of fastening the sails to the canes, now that the experimental one has survived six weeks or more of wind and rain. On July 7th, we shall be assembling all 63 of our sails. Holes will be drilled in the bamboo canes and in the plastic pipes which will be threaded through the bottom of each sail. Then, shock cord will be pushed through the pipe and we shall use whipping twine to stretch the fabric taut and attach it to the shock cord, making sure it will all stay in place in case of extreme weather. A hole at the top of each bamboo cane will take the top of the sail, secured by a knot and covered in gaffer tape to stop any fraying of the fabric. Finally, the two ends of the shock cord at the bottom of the sail will be tied with a triple sheet bend knot which won't move.

21st ~ this is countdown to the big day for us ! All the holes have been drilled through the canes in readiness for the sails, a visitors' leaflet has been ordered from the printers and with any luck will arrive by the middle of next week, ready for our assembly workshop a fortnight from Saturday.

July 2012

Today - Tuesday 4th - I'm ironing the last of the sails and putting them out ready to go to the workshop on Saturday. We still have the last storyboard to make up: this one will be all about knots and how to assemble the sails. Time's running out - it's quite scary - butterflies in the tummy time !! Wednesday 4th. Not long to the 7th. Time to make lists - lots of lists.

Saturday 7th - we've had a wonderful day at the village hall to assemble our sails. Everyone worked together to attach 62 painted sails to the bamboo canes. The rain lashed down outside and the wind thumped against the windows. One couple finished their sail and went straight out to their house opposite the hall and put it up - lots of us went out to see it and cheer.

We tried to put the pre-school sails up against the railings of the hall, but they were being battered around so much that we couldn't bear it, and brought them back in. They will go up on Thursday morning before the torch comes through.

We all had lunch at about 12.30 and everyone sat around discussing the ins and outs of the next step, which would be putting them in the brackets on houses, on railings, or wherever; but the feeling was that it might be better to leave the last stage until Sunday when the rain and wind might have calmed down.

At about 5.00 o'clock it was very quiet, but the hall had been booked until 6.00, so we had to stay. In walked two really enthusiastic people - "the rain's almost stopped: would you like us to put up some sails ?" Armed with a step ladder, wedges and sails, they proceeded to put sails into brackets - they were like drowned rats when they finished: and still had to take their dog for a walk - but what a boost that gave us. And the next morning it was such a lovely surprise for people to see some of them already up.

Sunday 8th saw a lot of sails go up, and since then the last few have been hung. One has been broken (and swiftly mended again) by the enormous trucks that have been directed through Abbotsbury because of the flooding in other areas. Tomorrow the eleven Chesil Bank Pre-school sails will be fastened to the railings outside the Strangways Hall. This will be the climax of everything we have been doing since January. All our workshops, our worries ... will the paint adhere to the fabric ? where do we get the fabric anyway ? how do we assemble the sails ? will it rain ? will it be windy ? will the sails flap ? will we ever sleep again ??

Wednesday 11th - and now, tomorrow, the torch is coming through Abbotsbury. The weather forecast: wind and rain. Oh joy. We have had a wonderful time making, painting and assembling our sails - so a few drops of rain and the wind blowing isn't going to spoil the day we have been waiting for !!!