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Some of Wirrals contemporary folklore and social history can now be explored in a new community project which sees artists condense the stories of the borough into FOUR WORDS.

by Khyle Deen. Published Wed 05 May 2021 17:57

Some of Wirral’s contemporary folklore and social history can now be explored in a new community project which sees artists condense the stories of the borough into FOUR WORDS.

Each of the FOUR WORDS can be browsed and discovered on a completely free new phone app. Exploring hidden narratives through research and conversations with locals, seven artists have visited three locations - Port Sunlight, New Ferry and Spital - each with rich unknown histories to share.

FOUR WORDS: WIRRAL was funded by Arts Council England and developed by artist Alan Dunn during lockdown as he began to explore in more detail the Spital neighbourhood on his doorstep whilst walking his dog Lulu. He discovered, for example, that Italian prisoners of war were once housed in scout huts on the edge of Dibbinsdale Nature Reserve woods in Spital, not far from where Harold Wilson lived. The paths through the woods were built by those prisoners of war, which is now a nature reserve and park filled with birdsong.

Dunn invited other artists to explore the stories in nearby locations, those artists being The Singh Twins, Malik Al Nasir, Steve & Phaedra Hardstaff and Joseph Cotgrave who each unearthed historical and contemporary stories from Spital, Port Sunlight and New Ferry, some light and some very serious. The thirty final stories – all distilled down to FOUR WORDS each - reveal connections with slavery and Africa, a community in transformation after a massive explosion, hidden viruses and the power of nature and wildlife during a pandemic. The project also unearthed other unexpected links to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, Batman, PLUTO and even the Beach Boys.

On the project website, www.fourwordswirral.com, when viewed on a mobile phone each story is transformed into a floating Augmented Reality animation that can be ‘projected’ onto any location, creating instantaneous tiny or gigantic artworks that can then be screengrabbed and shared globally on social media using #fourwordswirral.

While each of the stories relate to these three neighbourhoods in Wirral, they resonate with Merseyside. And the augmented reality aspect, designed by Field.Studios and Alan Dunn allows people to create artwork in their backyard, whether they are in Spital or Huyton.

List of contributors:

Phaedra Hardstaff | Steve Hardstaff | Malik Al Nasir | The Singh Twins | Alan Dunn & Port Sunlight | New Ferry Community Land Trust | Joseph Cotgrave | Alan Dunn & the dog walking community of Dibbinsdale Local Nature Reserve, Spital | Jo Lansley & the Dibbinsdale | Field Studio

Alan Dunn says:

“I had the idea for this project during lockdown 2020, sitting at home and needing to savour and find out more about these areas that are all within a 4km radius of where I live. I wondered if we could look afresh at the familiar and I wanted to work with regional artists only and have socially-distanced walks with them in these places, just looking, chatting, researching and meeting people, gradually peeling back the layers to reveal stories that are not just history but part of people’s everyday lives who have lived here.

I’ve been doing these FOUR WORDS projects since working with Metal 2016 when we hired the huge Media Wall opposite Lime Street, thinking that they are already too many words out there and not wanting to add many more, and I wanted to explore AR as it kind of reflects our interest in narratives that are hidden until you start looking. Some of the things we found were heart-warming, funny or occasionally disturbing but wanted this free app to encourage people to look further for themselves into various important topics.”

Malik Al Nasir says:

“FOUR WORDS has been a challenging project, as it’s not easy to encapsulate something so horrific as the Leverville atrocities in the Congo and contrast them to the Lever Bro’s model village in Port Sunlight. But Alan Dunn’s vision - whilst challenging - was not impossible and my four words “Port Sunlight – Plantation Darkness” when contrasted with the accompanying imagery within the FOUR WORDS app achieves this seamlessly.”

The Singh Twins say:

As a project developed during the covid pandemic we feel FOUR WORDS is a brilliant example of how important the arts have been in enabling people to continue to engage with the natural environment and places they live in. It shows what creative collaboration can achieve even under the most difficult and challenging circumstances.

It’s remarkable to see how well the range of words selected really express the complexity and diversity of the places they represent not only in terms of their past histories and what they mean to different communities but also how they have been interpreted by the artists. On a personal level (as artists whose work is very much about exploring hidden histories and alternative narratives through multiple levels of interpretation) we very much identified with Alan’s Dunn’s idea of challenging people to “look beyond the surface” of those places and found the challenge he set us both fascinating and rewarding.

A selection of stories and their FOUR WORDS



Italian prisoners of war were once housed in scout huts on the edges of these Dibbinsdale woods (by the big house where future PM Harold Wilson lived), from where they were put to work laying the very paths we now walk on. Thanks to them, we can stroll and look out for the creepers, jays, wrens, buzzards, woodpeckers, nuthatches, robins, heron and possibly the tawny owl. The bird is the word!



We choose these words to look ahead in New Ferry to the positive changes coming, just as our chosen symbol the butterfly emerges as a beautiful new thing. We choose these colours to celebrate the new images adorning New Ferry’s buildings as we move forward - in taking over the Shillings building - a former bank with an enormous built-in safe - we will develop a fantastic community asset.



Attracted by the riches of palm oil, the town of Leverville was established in Belgian Congo in 1911 but is now being widely recognised as an incredibly dark period of forced labour and horrific working conditions for the locals. Port Sunlight remains an astounding example of a ‘model village’ but these words poetically explore this stark contrast in the treatment of humans, presenting the ‘typed official news’ followed by the ‘handwritten truth.’



The Pears brand became part of Unilever in 1929. How do we all view soap – the building block of Port Sunlight - in these times of global pandemics and super hygiene? And as a society, how far have we progressed from 19th Century soap adverts that blatantly equated cleanliness with whiteness and privilege?


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