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An Oxford-based artist is in the final stages of completing a significant public artwork to mark the opening of a new multi-million pound retirement living scheme.

Rachel Barbaresi, an artist for 15 years and a tutor at Oxford Brookes University, was commissioned by housing association Bromford to create a range of wall panels which will soon be displayed in the atrium at its new £12m Park Gardens development in the centre of Banbury.

The 47-year-old kicked off the initiative in September 2018 and quickly settled on making People’s Park the key focus of her design. The public park celebrates its 100-year anniversary next month and is adjacent to Bromford’s new 78-home development on Bath Road which opens to residents in late July.

After working with Banbury Museum, senior citizens and students from the nearby Banbury and Bicester College across a series of workshops, Rachel used old archive photographs and people’s significant recollections of the park in living memory to shape the project. She is now assembling layers of intricate laser-cut, wood veneers and screen printed birch plywood to complete raised wall panels which reveal details of the diverse species of trees in the park and its history as a shared space for leisure and play. The sensory design nods to the parks’ impressive collection of trees and also features ripples of water acknowledging the public paddling pool which was a key feature of the open space before closing a number of years ago.

Rachel with some of the design stencils outside her Oxford studiosThe five panels will be fixed into position to create a giant 10ft wall installation spanning the atrium of Park Gardens with each representing a different species: Chestnut, Ash, Beech, Cedar, and Sycamore.

“The participation from people in the local community has created a rich starting point for this project and it has been a pleasure to work with Bromford to realise my ideas,” Rachel said.

“Although parks are public spaces, people tend to stick to the designated pathways and only really skim the surface so it has been really fascinating to examine People’s Park, and the memories people have of it, much more closely and get up close and personal with the trees and their various textures.

“What I’ve tried to do with this design is create connections between the outdoors indoors and hopefully encourage residents of this magnificent new scheme to step outside and explore the natural gem right on their doorstep with all of the wellbeing benefits that entails.”

The four-storey scheme has been built exclusively for over 55s with options for rent and purchase on land previously belonging to Banbury and Bicester College. As well as a mixture of one and two-bed apartments, the site will feature a café bistro and bar, lounge, activity studio, gym and hair, beauty salon and landscaped gardens.

People interested in Park Gardens should call 01295 272848 or, alternatively, head to bromford.co.uk/parkgardens/ for further information.

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