A branch from a 600-year-old oak tree in Brockwell Park is set to be turned into a commemorative sculpture by a Brixton artist.
The memorial sculpture will serve to remember all those who have been lost to the pandemic and raise awareness of its impacts on mental health.
Over £2,000 has been raised so far to fund artist mORGANICo, who set up the project.
Gofundme starter Elizabeth McMullan and mORGANICo were both in the park in August last year when the 19-metre branch fell from the tree.
Although they didn’t realise it at the time, both had symbolic links to the oak tree.
In April of last year, mental health worker Elizabeth lost their brother-in-law Kieran McMullan to suicide.
Kieran had taken his own life after becoming engulfed by conditions perpetuated by the pandemic.
Elizabeth said: “He got very overwhelmed with depression and he was struggling. It was really shocking.
“The corrosive effect of living in isolation is certainly what contributed massively to Kieran’s death.”
Elizabeth, who lives in Lambeth, had started visiting the Brockwell Park tree shortly before Kieran’s death, after their partner discovered its historical significance and later realised that they had been visiting the tree when Kieran died.
As Kieran lived in Belfast, funeral arrangements during the pandemic were difficult.
Elizabeth added: “It was really impossible to get over there. It worked out that they were able to fly but they had to get a flight very last minute and it was a lot of trauma.”
Elizabeth said how after Kieran’s death they visited the tree everyday and created a small shrine for him.
They added that having the opportunity to go into the park during lockdown was invaluable.
mORGANICo used to visit the park as a child with his brother, who he tragically lost just a month after Kieran’s death.
His brother was in a mental health ward when the pandemic began and was released into a socially isolated situation.
Shortly after leaving the ward, mORGANICo’s brother overdosed, slipped into a coma and passed away.
mORGANICo explained that the lack a of safety net due to the pandemic played a major part in his brother’s death.
Neither considered the idea of a sculpture at first, though Elizabeth took photos of the incredible structure everyday.
They explained: “It was really surreal that we were in the park and then the branch fell so it was really quite strange.”
The idea of turning the branch into a sculpture evolved from an art collective that both individuals are a part of.
Both Elizabeth and mORGANICo hope to create a symbol of hope from the fallen tree branch, a place for people to go and connect with nature and with each other in the community.
mORGANICo has begun designs for the sculpture which he is building around the theme of nature.
Elizabeth believes that parks like Brockwell have an important role to play in supporting those who are struggling.
They said: “I think it’s really important to promote parks and nature as a sort of therapy.
“Any place with such a history of struggle there’s going to be that connection to suffering which this tree sculpture which is hoping to say homage to in some way and give people a space to connect.”
Elizabeth, who works with people with psychosis, explained many people have suffered during the pandemic due to isolation, a change in routine, paranoia and depression and they emphasised that there has been a huge reverberation.
Sound Minds, a Battersea-based mental health charity spoke about the impacts of the the pandemic on mental health.
Paul Brewer, CEO and founder member of the charity said: “The pandemic has challenged everyone’s mental health, and as with a storm the full impact can’t be understood until after it has passed.
“Being unable to follow the rituals of grieving in the company, warmth and support of friends is storing up problems for the future. “
mORGANICo added: “I’m amazed we got permission to carve this sculpture and I’m really glad and honoured that we could turn that into something meaningful for both ourselves and the local community and the world at large through healing arts.”
If you are struggling with isolation and mental ill health, you can call the mental health support line for south west London which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Feature Image Credit: Elizabeth McMullan