Children from the school committee at Marlfields Primary asked headteacher Sandra: “If Liverpool can have lamb bananas, Manchester cows and now Chester rhinos; why can’t Congleton have bears? Every school can decorate them, putting them around ton to share with everyone.”
Congleton in Cheshire is known as Beartown. From January 2011, Congleton’s local community, schools and businesses were invited to sponsor and decorate their own 5ft fibreglass bear. The Bearmania bear was modelled on the Moon Bears of Asia, and 10 per cent of the profits from Bearmania were donated to Animals Asia.
A Congleton sculptor designed the original bear model, and each one was painted in accordance with the desires of the sponsors – from school children to local businesses.
Bearmania fever began and this included articles in the regional press as well as a combination of media including 15 radio interviews and five TV interviews seeing awareness spread through Congleton with the majority of local schools and businesses sponsoring a bear. “Cheshire East Council also bought a bear which was a fantastic result for the children as it is their local council who showed great faith in bringing their idea to market,” added Sandra.
It was calculated that around 450 hours were spent on the project in total. Over 3,500 pupils within Congleton took an active part in the project from the thirteen primary schools and two secondary schools in the area.
The Bearmania project has truly brought local people, schools and businesses in Congleton together. An impressive 27,000 new visitors have been to Congleton to follow the Bearmania trail and local businesses have reported a boost in profits, especially when they had a bear located on their premises.
Sandra said: “People now see the town as vibrant and moving forward and that our pupils are an active part of this movement – we have very little free commercial space in town now and local people use the town centre for shopping due to the community events that are constantly being arranged to draw people in.”
Town planners, councillors, schools, business community and voluntary groups are now communicating well with each other as there is a realisation that by working together as a team far more can be achieved in the town.
The legacy of the project has since seen the team working on a ‘Community Garden’. Also, there is currently an overwhelming pressure to do something on the scale of Bearmania again. The drive and enthusiasm of the Beartown volunteer group is impressive and membership is growing continually as the school are now part of the Congleton Town Partnership. The group are seen as innovative in bringing the ideas of children to those who wish to promote the town in many ways.
Sandra said: “Congleton now certainly embraces the children’s ideas and inputs them into the town plan for its future. It is also amazing to see the response from the children who now believe that the older people of the town will listen to their ideas and more importantly take them seriously and help them to achieve their dreams.”