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Dream (sculpture) facts for kids

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Artist Jaume Plensa
Year 2009
Type Dolomite on cast concrete
Location Sutton Manor Colliery, St Helens

Dream is a 2009 sculpture and a piece of public art by Jaume Plensa in Sutton, St Helens, Merseyside. Costing approximately £1.8m (equivalent to £1.8 million in 2021 ), it was funded through The Big Art Project in coordination with the Arts Council England, The Art Fund and Channel 4.


In 2008 St Helens took part in Channel 4's "The Big Art Project" along with several other sites. The project culminated in the unveiling of Dream, a 66-foot-high (20 m) sculpture located on the old Sutton Manor Colliery site.

St Helens retains strong cultural ties to the coal industry and has several monuments including the wrought iron gates of Sutton Manor Colliery, as well as the 1995 town centre installation by Thompson Dagnall known as "The Landings" (depicting individuals working a coal seam) and Arthur Fleischmann's Anderton Shearer monument (a piece of machinery first used at the Ravenhead Mine).

The council and local residents (including approximately 15 former miners from the colliery) were involved in the consultation and commission process through which Dream was selected. The plans involved a full landscaping of the surrounding area on land previously allowed to go wild after the closure of the pit.

The sculpture

Dream consists of an elongated white structure 66 feet (20 m) tall, weighing 500 tonnes (490 long tons; 550 short tons), which has been cast to resemble the head and neck of a young woman with her eyes closed in meditation. The structure is coated in sparkling white Spanish dolomite, as a contrast to the coal which used to be mined here. It cost nearly £1.9 million and it is hoped it will become as powerful a symbol in North West England as Antony Gormley's Angel of the North is in North East England.

Jaume Plensa himself stated "When I first came to the site I immediately thought something coming out of the earth was needed. I decided to do a head of a nine-year-old girl which is representing this idea of the future. It's unique."

The original design of the sculpture called for a skyward beam of light from the top of the head, and the sculpture's working title was Ex Terra Lucem ("From the ground, light"), a reference to St Helens' previous motto. Due to objections from the Highways Agency, the sculpture was not lit, but in 2010 a new planning application was submitted to St Helens Council for it to be floodlit.

Basic Info

· Designed by world-famous, award-winning Catalan artist Jaume Plensa

· Standing on a plinth, Dream is 20 metres, 66 feet high and is fifty times life size

· The sculpture weighs 373 tonnes and sits on the site of Sutton Manor Colliery

· Made from brilliant white pre-cast concrete with Spanish dolomite, the whitest marble

· The plinth in the shape of a miner's tally is 17 metres in diameter, made of 36 units

· The casting of Dream by Evans Concrete of Derbyshire took a total of sixty days

· A total of 6160 man hours were spent in constructing the sculpture

· 54 different panels each weighing 9 tonnes comprise Dream's head

· The supporting piles go 38 metres underground, nearly twice Dream's height

· An estimated 55 million vehicles pass Dream each year on the M62


The Dream sculpture is built out of moulded and cast unique concrete shapes, 90 pieces in all contributing to over 14 tiers (54 individual elements for the head, each weighing 9 tonnes (8.9 long tons; 9.9 short tons)). Dolomite was utilised as a concrete aggregate in order to provide the brilliant white finish. Additionally titanium dioxide was added to the mix in order to provide a self-cleaning mechanism. The construction required the construction of individual moulds for each piece and took a total of 60 days to cast.

The foundations of the sculpture extend 125 feet (38 m) into the ground with 8 piles driven in to secure it.



Work on Sutton Manor Colliery commences. Local coal proprietor Richard Evans sinks number 1 shaft with a diameter of 18 feet. This was completed in December 1909 when the shaft was extended to a depth of 1,823 feet. The sinking of no.2 shaft at Sutton Manor began in July 1906 with a shaft diameter initially measuring 22 feet. This was completed in 1912 and extended to a depth of 2,343 feet. The equivalent of 5 Blackpool Towers.


Coal production starts at the Colliery


This year sees Sutton Manor Colliery at its height employing 1,400 people and producing 1500 tons of coal per week.


The National Coal Board announced a £14 million investment in Sutton Manor that they predicted would provide a "kiss of life" for the "viable" pit, converting it into one of Britain's most modern collieries.


May. A year-long strike commences. This is a particularly difficult period in the colliery's life not only for the pit but its workforce as well.


May. British Coal announced that the pit was unviable and is scheduled for closure. They claim that Sutton Manor Colliery had lost £23 million over the previous five years.

June. The colliery closes with over 40 years of coal still underground.


February. The Forestry Commission leased the site from St Helens Council and after consulting with the local community put project Wasteland to Woodland into operation.


First the heavily compacted soil was prepared for tree planting and habitat creation, a procedure that took two months. Then fifty thousand young trees including alder, willow and ash were planted. The experts at the Forestry Commission choose Mixes of slow and fast-growing trees.

2005 Sean Durney, the Arts Officer for St. Helens Council, writes the application and nominates the former Sutton Manor colliery site for a new Channel 4 TV programme called ‘The Big Art Project’ where sites aim to inspire and create unique works of public art across the UK. It is an opportunity for the public to be at the centre of a unique initiative right where they are living and become a central character in a prime-time television series. Sean wasn't alone, however, as more than one thousand four hundred people across the UK also nominated sites within their own local communities. With so much competition it was clearly going to be tough to make the final cut but the St. Helens bid had an edge as a former miner's focus group had been quickly formed to partner St. Helens Council. The former pitmen have a strong connection with their old workplace in Sutton Manor and were keen for a form of memorial on the site. Former miner Gary Conley is asked to come on board to form a small focus group of ex Sutton Manor miners who will work with an artist to commission an artwork backed by the local authority. Important behind the scenes Council contributions are made by John Whaling (Economic Development Manager who was also the Dream Project Manager) and Bob Hepworth (Director Urban Regeneration & Housing). The project is given a working title, ‘Ex Terra Lucem’ (from the earth comes light). It's the St Helens former town motto based around coal and glass.


January. The council recruited Laurie Peake of art commissioning agency Liverpool Biennial, to act as curator for the project. Laurie had only recently commissioned Anthony Gormley's work on Crosby Beach entitled 'Another Place'.

March. Channel 4 commission independent production company Carbon Media to make the TV series and recruited a number of art and regeneration experts to sift through the applications. Within months Channel 4 announce a shortlist of twelve sites, which includes the St. Helens bid. The selection panel then had the tough task of narrowing down the dozen sites to the six that would feature in the TV series.

April. The six winning sites are announced and the former Sutton Manor Colliery site misses out from the UK's biggest ever public art commissioning scheme. The Big Art Project would instead comprise communities in Burnley, Cardigan, Isle of Mull, Newham in East London, North Belfast and Sheffield. All the planning and discussions with proposed stakeholders and funders in St Helens had come to nothing. Or had it?

November. The Project's governing body, the Big Art Trust, seeing that all of the chosen sites were encountering difficulty, decided to review its decision on discarding St Helens and include the Sutton Manor site as a seventh location.


February. Former miners steering group, chaired by Laurie Peake hold a meeting to select an artist to work with. From a short list of 12, the former miners unanimously choose renowned Catalan artist Jaume Plensa to submit a proposal, of which he accepts. It is a massive coup to get someone of his stature involved. The former miners also come to a decision that now they do not want a literal mining monument but instead a structure that as well as referencing the past would be contemporary and forward-looking.

April. Barcelona-born Plensa visits the Sutton Manor site, meeting the former miners. A close bond is immediately formed with Plensa saying, " The miners are so strong people but they also passionate. The site is an amazing place".

August. Jaume Plensa meets the steering group with his first proposal. It's a 20 metre-mining monument in the shape of a 20-metre miner's lamp, ‘The Miners Soul’. Disappointingly Plensa had produced a structure looking through the former miners eyes keeping the site in the past. The former miners reject the proposal and ask for something more present day and progressive.


February. Jaume Plensa returns to St Helens with his new proposal called ‘Dream’. Dream takes the form of the head and neck a 9-year-old girl that has been elongated by a third. Her eyes are closed in quiet contemplation, dreaming not only about her future but also that of the former colliery site and St Helens. It's proposed that the landmark will give hope and aspirations for future generations and become a positive symbol for the area. It's to be constructed in English concrete and Spanish dolomite marble. It's white to replicate light and to contrast the darkness of the mine and coal that lies beneath. Finally, she is to sit on a plinth of a giant miners tally as a reminder of the heritage of the site. The structure is to be lit, with an additional beam of light from the sculptures head that goes into the sky. The former miners love it and give it their full backing.

September. St.Helens Council grant conditional planning permission for the Dream structure. However, the team's delight that the work could finally begin in earnest was tempered by the news, albeit expected, that Dream could not for the time being be illuminated.

October. Evans Concrete of Derbyshire wins the contract to fabricate Dream in ninety individual panels of pre-cast concrete, which is to be conveyed to St.Helens in sections. Arup were appointed as Lead Consultant with Cheetham Hill Construction the lead constructors.


April. The topping off ceremony takes place as the final section of Dream is winched into place to much media publicity.

May. Channel 4’s 5-week TV series ‘The Big Art Project’ starts with the St Helens site and Dream becoming pivotal to the success of the programme. Along with Burnley, St Helens becomes the only site to produce a piece of artwork of such magnitude.

May. The official opening ceremony takes place with a crowd of over 2 thousand people in attendance. It's a very special day for all concerned with a traditional Whit Walk, brass bands, choirs, and the guest of honour, Jaume Plensa.


May - The latest addition to Dream suffered a setback. Lights were installed at the base of the sculpture, which would have illuminated the beautiful alabaster elongated face. But within days, vandals smashed the lights. Helen Markey from the Guardian newspaper wrote : ‘There was a real sense of pride when it opened, particularly among the former miners. Whenever I've visited, it has always been busy with dog walkers and people who are there specifically to visit. I, too, hope they persevere with Dream.’

November. St. Helens Council make an ambitious digital interpretation commission. From the summer of 2011, the stories of Sutton Manor Colliery, the site, its ecology and Dream are being told using a variety of media.


In Janet Street-Porter's highly critical piece in the Independent, the columnist claimed that Dream would be one of the "follies of our age". However, St.Helens Council state that 24,000 people visited the site between February and May in 2011. It's hard to see how giving pleasure to so many people can in any way be considered foolish. Only time will tell whether it will be able to retain its popularity, of course, but this website is proud of this addition to our community's landscape which both celebrates the past heritage of the site and looks forward positively to the future.

August 2011 Lord Melvyn Bragg visited Dream at Sutton Manor to interview Gary Conley for his three-part BBC2 series 'Class and Culture'. Bragg describes Dream as ‘A cultural monument for a class’.


BBC's ‘The One Show’. Alex Riley interviews Gary Conley about Dream for a report on public art. Gary revealed that over 64,000 people had visited the Sutton Manor site in just one year.


Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce visits Dream for a Radio 4 broadcast ‘Sons and Lovers’ where he tells Gary Conley that he used Dream and the motto ‘Ex Terra Lucem’ as inspiration for the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games in London which were revered all over the world.


Gary Conley is featured pictured in both the Liverpool Echo and the St Helens Star in front of Dream on the 30 year anniversary of the start of the miners’ strike. Gary tells the media that Dream will represent the mining heritage in St Helens and will ensure that it will never been forgotten.


Dream is featured in the Liverpool Echo entitled: ’26 Amazing Things About The Dream Sculpture’ It draws great interest and features aerial footage of the sculpture never seen before showing the vastness and beauty of the site, even telling us that the constructers drank 5500 cups of tea during the build.

Stuart Maconie visited Dream to record a programme for Radio 4 about northern men and the bonds between miners. Dream was chosen as the backdrop for the programme because of the area's transformation from Sutton Manor Colliery to the site which now homes the acclaimed artwork. The recording went on to become Radio 4’s documentary of the month.


Official figures have estimated that there have been 85,000 visits to Dream since last year. The final result was calculated by St Helens Council and The Mersey Forest which counts the number of times the turnstile at either end of the former site of Sutton Manor Colliery has been used.

2017 Residents were invited to take part in a free community yoga session at Dream to celebrate the Summer Solstice. On Sunday, June 18, from 11am the community joined together to learn their Shavasana from their Chaturanga, with yoga and Pilates instructor Nisha Srivastava. Nisha, who has worked with Saints for several years and has been employed to help England's rugby league side and Everton's senior squad.

Dream Awards

The prestigious Marsh Sculpture Prize 2009, awarded to the UK's best sculpture of the year.

The Best Community Artwork at Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) North West Planning Achievement Award 2009.

The 2009 British Precast Concrete Federation Creativity in Concrete Award. Awarded to Jaume Plensa

The Ambassador Of St Helens 2009 awarded to Gary Conley for his work on and promotion of Dream

The 2010 Civic Trust Award

The 2010 Civic Trust Special Award for Community Engagement

The 2010 Places of Interest Quality Assurance Scheme (PIQAS) accreditation and chosen as the venue for the national launch

The 2010 Visit England Northwest Tourism Award for Public Space, presented to the former miners for their work on Dream.

The 2010 Merseyside Civic Society Best Open Space Award

The 2010 Merseyside Civic Society Civic Pride Award (voted for by the public)

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