Plans to remove community artwork from two Westgate shelters while maintenance is carried out and then use a board to rotate pictures have been slammed by the former businessman who organised the displays and carried out works to repair the sites.
Mike Wiseman, who owned the Ivyside Hotel in Sea Road for many years before it was demolished, says the shelters in both West Bay and St Mildred’s Bay were dirty and derelict for years before he and his team of helpers set to work transforming them some three years ago.
The shelters have been used to display some 1,800 pictures created by isle children and adults but these are to be removed so Thanet council can carry out maintenance work.
The plan is for new display boards to be installed and for the stored artworks to be returned to the shelters and shown on a rotational basis.
But Mr Wiseman, 79, says he has carried out extensive works and can see no reason for the council’s ‘sudden interest’ in the shelters.
He said: “There are 1,800 pictures, all done by local kids. There has been no damage or graffiti in the shelters over the last three years.
“The end walls are completely damp so you can’t paint them, the stone balusters were broken and we replaced those and made the benches nice.
“I don’t think Thanet council wants the pictures there, they are just putting in an 8 by 8 panel and say they will do a picture change over every four weeks. These were by local kids and gave pleasure to parents and grandparents and the whole area and beyond.
“I have been working with Thanet council a long time and wanted a deal to do as asset exchange to Westgate and rent the space.
“We put the stone balusters in, we made the area so wheelchairs can get down there, we painted . We have a superb seafront, it’s lovely, all we are doing is trying to keep things nice.”
Mr Wiseman says the shelters get regular visitors throughout the year with the pictures proving popular.
He added: “We put so much work in. The council need to work with local people as a team, no team no dream.”
Resident Philippa Wiles says she was so upset to hear the pictures would be removed that she has written to council leader Ash Ashbee to ask for the plans to be reconsidered.
She said: “A few years ago, neither shelter was welcoming and I would especially avoid St Mildred’s Bay shelter due to graffiti, small fires being lit on the bench in the shelter, cigarette butts all over the floor and invariably rubbish deposited in it.
“The placing of a bin for general use improved the situation – incidentally, placed there by Mike Wiseman as TDC had never put one in there.
“The wonderful paintings that have been done by children and adults have been put up in both shelters leading to so many people of all ages stopping to look at and photograph them. I have never sat in West Bay or walked past either shelter without seeing people admiring the artwork – in fact, I was told recently about some people from Deal who had come especially to Westgate-on-Sea to see the artwork. I am sure that this is not an isolated incident.
“Imagine the sadness felt by many residents and non-residents when we were made aware of TDC’s decision to remove all paintings, decorate the shelters and to replace 10 or 15 paintings at a time to be rotated with others on a monthly basis by Westgate-on-Sea Council staff. The staff have difficulty in maintaining areas, emptying bins etc now so I can hardly imagine that they will be rotating the paintings.
“Since early 2020, the shelters have been looked after by Mike Wiseman and his team and all done with love and care for the area. Very few people know how many hours Mike has devoted to the projects and he has enthused and encouraged others to participate and enjoy the shelters.”
A Thanet council statement published on social media says: “The shelters at West Bay and St Mildred’s Bay will undergo maintenance work from Thursday 15 December.
“If you have paintings or artwork displayed in the shelter and would like to take them, please collect them on Thursday 15 December between 2pm and 4pm.
“Any paintings that aren’t collected will be removed and temporarily stored at Westgate-on-Sea Town Council until work is complete.
“New display boards will be installed, and paintings that were removed from the shelter will be fixed on these display boards on a rotational basis.
“Please contact [email protected] for more information.”