IT became one of the UK’s most ambitious multimedia exhibitions.

Around 2,700 people were featured in eight locations for a series of stunning photographs to celebrate the work of volunteers who helped behind the scenes when Hull was named UK City of Culture 2017.

Among the highlights of the shoot for the Big Picture exhibition was a mile-long Mexican wave across the Humber Bridge that was filmed by a drone. But Warrington’s Sarah Harris, who was the creative producer and art director for the project, said what impressed her more was hearing the stories of the volunteers who gave 300,000 hours for the City of Culture plans.

Warrington Guardian:

The former Cardinal Newman RC High School student said: “We had 700 people across the Humber Bridge which was amazing.

“We were really fortunate to get this amazing sunrise which you can see from some of the images.

“We attempted a mile-long Mexican wave which took five minutes to do. We captured that with drone footage which was pretty cool.

“But I think the best thing was taking 220 photos of individuals. We asked them to bring one thing that represented them or people would associate with them.

Warrington Guardian:

“We only had 10 minutes with each volunteer but it was really moving to hear the impact that volunteering had had on these people. One woman brought a smile because she said that before she started volunteering she didn’t smile because she’s a carer for her dad, has severe anxiety and didn’t like her job.

“She said volunteering was the most nerve wracking thing she’d ever done. She cried on the way to her first shift but then it completely changed her life.

“You often underestimate what simple things like bringing people together can do. It really can make a difference.”

Sarah, who has a studio at Bank Quay House, started going to Hull five years ago when she was working for Salford-based arts organisation Walk The Plank.

Warrington Guardian:

She became the volunteer manager for Walk The Plank’s Freedom Festival in Hull before being recruited by the City of Culture team. Sarah still remembers the big attitude shift when she began to thaw residents’ cynicism about the City of Culture status and what it meant.

The 37-year-old added: “Do you remember when it was the Olympics and everybody was saying it’s not going to work out and then as soon as the opening ceremony happened there was a big change in attitude. That’s how it was in Hull. Everyone was saying: ‘It’s not for me. It’ll just happen in the city centre and it won’t be that good anyway’.

“But then the first event was called Made in Hull and 350,000 went to see it in a week.

“It was really about getting to those hard to reach audiences and saying: ‘You’re invited. Come along’.”

So by the time Sarah was coordinating Big Picture she had an army of 2,700 enthusiastic volunteers at the ready. That made her life a lot easier as she just had a month to come up with the concept and research locations.

Sarah, who was a supporter of Warrington’s City of Culture 2021 bid, said: “The most difficult one was when we had people in lilos and canoes in Princess Quay dock.

Warrington Guardian:

“We had about 60 people in the water and it was difficult because it was November, the water was 10 degrees and it had never been done before. We had to get the fire brigade, divers and canoe teams in to help us out.

“But it was worth it. That picture is one of the most iconic ones. The easiest thing was the volunteers because they’re just up for anything.

“I was coming up with these crazy ideas like people abseiling down buildings and everyone was saying ‘yes’. When we were doing the volunteer training lots of people hadn’t even set foot in an art gallery and yet they were willing to stop and give it a go.

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“What the City of Culture is about giving the people a platform to get involved and contribute. The art bit comes after that.

“It was great working with the photographers Leo Francis and Chris Fenton because they really got on board with the concept and brought the ideas to life.

“Both of them have done an amazing job. I was blown away when I saw the photos.”

Sarah, a former Our Lady’s RC Primary School pupil, found her talent for art when she used to draw unicorns and fairies as a child.

She added: “My brother Sean is five years older than me and I remember I used to do his art homework when I was in primary school and he’d get As for it.”

Sarah was then inspired to become a professional artist by her dad Barry, a graphic designer, and her art teacher Mr Lomax from Cardinal Newman.

  • Big Picture is at Humber Street Art Gallery in Hull until February 24