A group of local heroes in Abergele have been given the star treatment as part of a photography project inspired by I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
Their pictures taken by a top photographer are emblazoned on an eye-catching display of 20 giant portraits just down the road from where the hit TV showed is based at Gwrych Castle.
The colourful images are mounted on hoardings surrounding the 2.3 acre site of a major town centre regeneration project by housing association Cartrefi Conwy and contractors Anwyl Partnerships.
Cartrefi are planning to develop the plot once occupied by two former local landmarks – the now closed Bee Hotel, and the old Slaters Citroen-Nissan dealership which ceased trading in 2018 after 100 years.
The erection of site boundary hoardings presented a perfect opportunity for Paul Sampson, curator of Oriel Colwyn, who got permission to use them to exhibit the portraits paying tribute to well-known local personalities.
He said: “Since they were unveiled we have been inundated with positive feedback. There has been a great reaction to them.”
So much so that he is now hoping to produce further similar projects celebrating community champions in the future.
The unmissable full colour photographs are the work of Niall McDiarmid, a Scottish photographer based in London who is known for documenting the people and landscapes of Britain. He has previously exhibited at the Museum of London and the prestigious Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol.
Among the Abergele residents pictured as part of the Celebrity Town initiative are long-time Cartrefi Conwy tenants Wendy and Kenzie-Lee Davies, of Peel Street, Abergele.
Kenzie, aged eight, is a pupil of Ysgol Glan Morfa, and his ‘mam’ Wendy is a full time carer for her housebound husband, Stephen Davies, who suffers debilitating leukemia.
Wendy is a familiar local face who worked as a cleaner before becoming a full time carer when Stephen’s condition worsened.
She also runs a weekly sewing group at the Dinorben Family Centre in Abergele, focusing on the transformation of recycled materials into a range of useful items and so reducing landfill waste.
Wendy was surprised but delighted to be asked to take part in the photograph sessions..
She said: “It’s a fantastic idea and really brightens up this part of Market Street. All the images are so bright and happy, they lift people’s spirits.”
Paul explained how all those photographed were nominated by the town’s residents via a website he launched: www.celebritytown.co.uk
It follows on from a previous set of portraits displayed on Pensarn Prom in 2020 – the first year that TV show I’m a Celebrity… came to Abergele.
Paul said the series, watched by millions across the world, showcased the town and its surroundings to a wider audience and attracted international media to North Wales.
He said: “There was so much enthusiasm about it that we were inspired to come up with a way to pay tribute to our own more local unsung ‘celebrities’, people who are the backbone of our community.
“We set up the website and got townsfolk involved by asking them to nominate businesses and individuals who they would like to see pictured.”
The team always wanted to extend the idea and when the I’m a Celebrity… producers announced the show would be returning to Gwrych Castle this autumn they took the initiative to add more photographs to the Celebrity Town website.
Paul said: “The images are a small but important snapshot of our community and only just scratch beneath the surface of our wonderful town. They show that if we look there is celebrity in us all.
“The original portraits are still proudly displayed and can be seen on Pensarn Prom.”
The new set of pictures includes familiar faces from community organisations, shops and businesses, including A Cut Above hairdressers, Aladdin’s Cave antiques emporium, Premier Stores, Robs Fish and Chips shop, Abergele Rugby Club, the head cook and dinner ladies from Ysgol Sant Elfod, Ysgol Glan Morfa and Ysgol Glan Gele.
The project has been part funded through Cartrefi Conwy’s donations and sponsorship fund that funds a variety of projects that support tenants and the wider community.
As well as Wendy and Kenzie, other Cartrefi Conwy tenants are pictured, while on the Celebrity Town website gallery a group of staff from Cartrefi Conwy’s Abergele headquarters are featured including chief executive Andrew Bowden and independent living manager Ceri Twist.
Andrew Bowden thanked Paul for creating the project and added: “This is a wonderful initiative which really brings home the message about how important it is to celebrate the perhaps less famous but still dedicated, hard-working, loyal and lion hearted members of our community who make Abergele work day to day.
“There are so many people who contribute quietly and steadfastly to this region that it is difficult to highlight everyone but these wonderful photographs are a fantastic start.”
Local resident Anne Pritchard said: “It makes me smile every time I see it. They are such lovely photographs which really capture local personalities and I recognise many of the people pictured here. I’ve known some of them since they were small children. It’s wonderful to have them celebrated like this.”
Paul, who has been a photographer for more than 25 years, is proud of the growing reputation of Oriel Colwyn which is the only North Wales gallery entirely dedicated to photography.
Based at Theatr Colwyn, Colwyn Bay, it offers a mix of exhibitions by esteemed international, national and local photographers. It is currently showing Black Country Dada, until January 30, featuring award winning photographer Brian Griffin. His works are held in the permanent collections of the Arts Council, Victoria and Albert Museum, and National Portrait Gallery. He is particularly known for his portraits of 1980s musicians and iconic album covers including Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame.