Updated: Mar 1, 2021
A talented local woman has made lockdown walks at Rivacre Valley even more exciting for children with her handmade wooden character plaques.
If you've visited Rivacre Valley LNR since June 2020, you may have noticed the wooden plaques depicting various fairytale characters dotted around the woodland. They are the work of local woman Victoria Matthews, who has dedicated some of her spare time and resources to make family outings more exciting during lockdown.
I spoke to Victoria about what inspired her to start the project, which has brought joy to so many local children. “I noticed the fairy doors that had been created by somebody else in some of the trees, which inspired me to add something of my own," she says.
"I grew up on Hillside Drive and spent all of my time playing in the Valley as a child. I feel so privileged to have grown up in such a lovely place full of nature and adventure."
Throughout the first lockdown, Victoria’s friends had been sending her materials such as slate, stone and wood offcuts to paint on. For this project, she opted to use wood, “for fear of polluting the brook with any other material”. The outlines are drawn on first, then coloured with acrylic paints and finished off with a coat of varnish.
Victoria explained that she always searches for dead trees, stumps or logs to attach her artwork to, "so that I don’t harm any healthy trees." Some of the plaques that had come loose have since been rescued from the brook by passersby, and hung back up so that they may continue to be enjoyed.
"I do love to hear of families searching and finding them. I have had lovely messages which really cheered me up during this strange time."
So, what characters should you be looking out for?
The first ones to appear were the three gnomes, which are close to the Ranger’s hut. Next was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Evil Queen and the Witch. There’s also a Gruffalo theme all in one area, and a Red Riding Hood theme in another. We don’t want to reveal too much about their locations, as most of the fun is in searching for them yourself!
There was once a troll, a wood nymph and a gremlin, but unfortunately these have all since disappeared. “Possibly came to life and are in hiding?”, suggests Victoria.
"The Reserve has been a haven to local people during lockdown and I think nature has been a real saviour to our mental wellbeing. There is a great community spirit amongst regular visitors."
Looking to the future, Victoria hopes to add a few more, and is currently working on some 'Frozen' themed additions. She usually posts updates on our Facebook group, where you'll also see photos of excited children posing next to their favourite characters, and parents writing posts thanking Victoria for providing the entertainment and encouraging them to explore the area a little more.
We think it's lovely to see members of our community putting time and effort towards making sure everyone can enjoy their Local Nature Reserve, especially during the difficult year we've had. See how many you can spot next time you pay Rivacre Valley LNR a visit!