From showing generosity towards Canadian soldiers in World War II to spearheading a monumental change in the law, the six new additions to the Everyday Heroes mural in Aberdeen have changed lives in a multitude of ways.
Originally created during the 2018 Nuart Aberdeen festival, the project was brought to the city by craftivist Carrie Reichardt and aimed to highlight Aberdonians who have contributed to the life of the city or society as a whole.
The beloved mural, which was relocated to Flourmill Lane last year, has now been extended to add six new Everyday Heroes after funding was received from Aberdeen City Council’s Creative Funding programme.
Chosen by a panel of judges from a wide range of nominations put forward by the public, a key theme that emerged was how the new heroes had inspired others. The new Everyday Heroes are Barbara Russell, Justin Ritchie, Steve Rae, Mark Taylor, Jemma McRae and Michael Brown.
Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said: “We received a fantastic response from the public when we put a call out for nominations for Everyday Heroes. Throughout the process of looking over all the suggested heroes, it was amazing to read about all the hard work going on in and around Aberdeen, with a lot of it done voluntarily.
“We have a community to be proud of in the Granite City and we are pleased to be able to highlight the kindness, strength and compassion of the six new additions to the Everyday Heroes mural. Adding these new six people to the mural is a special moment and we are pleased to be able to mark their contributions, which come in many different ways, through this poignant process.”
The Lord Provost of Aberdeen Barney Crockett said: “This initiative is a marvellous way for us all to honour Aberdeen’s Everyday Heroes. Each of those honoured being a fabulous ambassador for the city. Their tireless efforts on behalf of others, carried out with unstinting determination and enthusiasm are shining examples to us all.”
Mike Melvin, ACVO co-ordinator, who was on the judging panel, said: “Everyday Heroes is a marvellous initiative. It was an absolute honour to be part of the judging panel. All nominations were outstanding and very inspiring, reflecting the tremendous contribution Aberdonians have made and continue to make to our great city and beyond. I thank everyone who made a nomination and I look forward to seeing the latest Everyday Heroes mural and continuing to recognise and celebrate the incredible people of our city, who are all true heroes.”
Local artist and skilled ceramist Shelagh Swanson, who led the reinstallation of the mural in April 2019, oversaw the work to extend it this month to include the following Everyday Heroes:
Barbara Russell (24 May 1899 to 21 March 1956) was a landlady in Aberdeen during WWII who showed great kindness and generosity in sharing what little rations were available with Canadian soldiers billeted in the city, highlighting the kindness and welcoming nature of Aberdonians.
Founding volunteer of Street Friends Helping the Homeless, Justin Ritchie, 39, has helped feed an average of 70 homeless and vulnerable people, six nights a week.
Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae, 58, is an activist for offshore safety and Chair of the Pound for Piper charity which ensures the continued upkeep of the of the Piper Alpha memorial and gardens at Hazlehead.
Tireless fundraiser and event organiser Mark Taylor,51, has helped raise money for a range of organisations including Charlie House, Aberdeen Neo Natal Unit, CLAN Cancer Support, Bosies Breast Cancer and AFC Community Trust. Mark also works closely with CLAN as their mascot Clancy.
Local dance teacher Jemma McRae (1976 to 2019) founded her own dance school aged 21, with many of her past pupils going on to perform professionally. Jemma, 43, battled cancer for a number of years but never failed to inspire pupils and parents with her positive, selfless attitude, as well as fundraising for Friends of Anchor.
Following the brutal murder of his daughter, Clare Wood, in 2009, by a man who had previous convictions for violence against women, Michael Brown discovered a legal loophole which allowed some violent perpetrators to hide behind the Data Protection Law. Originally from Aberdeen, Michael, 73, started a campaign resulting in a petition which he delivered to Downing Street. These were the first crucial steps in what would become "Clare's Law”. Now adopted all over the UK, the law is currently being trialled in South Australia, New South Wales and Saskatchewan, Canada.
Mark Taylor, CLAN fundraiser, said: “I am shocked and also honoured to have been chosen for this award and I would like to thank my family and friends that nominated me. I’ve been involved with CLAN for over nine years now. During this time, along with many helpers, we’ve put on many events and had a lovely time doing so. Due to the support and help from many friends we’ve managed to raise many thousands for CLAN and recently, a few other local charities. We will continue to raise funds for local charities and this award is perfect to show people of Aberdeen and the Shire that together we can all make a little difference to those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Steve Rae added: “On being informed that I had been chosen as an “Everyday Hero” my initial thoughts were of disbelief, why me? surly there are others who are more deserving than I. That said, once I read the full submission and understood the criteria it dawned on me that what I see as “doing the right things” is viewed by others as going the extra mile. So as a born and bred Aberdonian it fills me with pride and a great honour to be recognised as one of its everyday heroes.”
Barbara Russell’s great granddaughter, Lisa Campbell, said: “We are delighted that Mrs Barbara Russell has been recognised in this project as someone who represents the welcoming spirit of Aberdeen. We hope sharing her story inspires Aberdonians to show their kindness by continuing to welcome those who visit from all over the world.”
Alan McRae, father of Jemma McRae, said: “It is a real honour for the family to hear that Jemma had been chosen as one of the Everyday Heroes. We are all grateful to any of her friends and pupils who took the time to nominate her, also to everyone who has played their part in putting this touching mosaic tribute together, including her daughter Izzy, who was Jemma’s own special Hero.”
Michael Brown said: “I'm delighted and humbled to be honoured by my city of birth and raising awareness of "Clare's Law" is invaluable."
Justin Ritchie added: “It feels amazing to be recognised in this way, thanks so much to everyone that nominated me.”