Ipswich artist Lois Cordelia was recently involved in a pioneering art project to transform a vast stockpile of discarded plastic drinking straws into a meaningful sculpture for Oakman Inns and Restaurants, inspired by topical campaigns to #BanTheStraw and #TrashPlastic. Lois's finished sculpture of a giant Green Man has now been installed in its new home: the beautifully refurbished Akeman Pub in Tring, Hertfordshire. The commission is one of several Lois has completed via MyArtBrief, an innovative online art commissioning platform that connects artists directly with clients. Lois has swiftly become the "most commissioned artist" at MyArtBrief since she joined in February 2017.
Belinda Boyd, writing for Oakman Inns, reports:
The Akeman, Oakman and The Green Man
A decade of happy memories provides a small gift for planet
7th December 2017: One of Tring’s favourite pubs, The Akeman, will be celebrating its tenth birthday this month as the first of what has now become a major force in the Pub Industry, Oakman Inns.
The Akeman recently underwent a major refurbishment and an extension into the shop next door providing a new wood-fired pizza oven in the extended open kitchen, more seating in the enlarged restaurant and two cosy ‘parlour rooms’ with a dedicated servery - which have all received many favourable and admiring comments from their regulars. One change has been the display of a large and unusual wall sculpture of a giant Green Man, commissioned by Oakman’s CEO, Peter Borg-Neal, which is made from tens of thousands of plastic straws.
A Green Man is a sculpture or other representation of a face surrounded by leaves, branches or vines. It was originally known as a Foliate Head and was commonly used as a decorative architectural ornament. Green Men are frequently found in carvings on both secular and ecclesiastical buildings, and in 1939 inspired Julia, Lady Raglan to produce a paper “The Green Man in Church Architecture” where the term “Green Man” was first used, later to become the preferred label. Prior to that, green forested figures came with a variety of names and formed a variety of European cultures. Lady Raglan’s work was invaluable in establishing the Green Man as a legitimate object of historical and anthropological study.
Peter Borg-Neal’s commission was prompted by seeing evidence of the appalling and direct impact of discarded straws on so many sea creatures, and he decided to ban single-use plastic drinking straws from all 20 of their pubs to mark Earth Day 2017 (22nd April). However, this meant he had a stockpile of over 60,000 unwanted plastic straws – which he could hardly throw away!
Peter said: “We take sustainability seriously in our business, and having seen a tragic video of a turtle with a straw embedded deep in its nose, we became the first pub group to #BanTheStraw in the UK, which has inspired other pub groups to follow suit. Sending our stock of plastic straws to landfill was not an option so we decided to find an artist to refashion them into a sculpture that epitomised Oakman Inns’ culture.”
Ipswich sculptor, Lois Cordelia, was commissioned to design and create a wall-mounted sculpture which incorporates several tens of thousands of the unwanted plastic straws, threaded, woven and bunched together on a sturdy frame of steel wire. Lois said: “It was a privilege to work with Oakman Inns on such an unusual and pioneering brief, which came to me through the innovative MyArtBrief website. From my initial thoughts of creating a giant Oak tree out of the straws, the Green Man evolved to incorporate not only oak leaves but many other distinctive elements of native British fauna and flora. People's
response to this creative 'upcycling' has been overwhelmingly positive.”
The Green Man theme is intrinsically linked with Oakman Inns and its name. According to some sources the first recorded use of “Ake Man” suggests that the name was a personal or even a nickname for a hard man, one as strong as oak. The surname as Oakman or Okman was occupational for a forester or perhaps a charcoal maker.
The arboreal theme continues throughout the group, as Oakman also owns The Akeman Inn in Kingswood, near Bicester and the soon-to-be redeveloped Royal Foresters in Ascot. The company also owns four Beech Houses, designed to be relaxed casual dining and drinking pubs and The Cherry Tree in Olney, which opens next Spring after its conversion from a Care Home.
The Akeman in Tring is not only the first pub in the widely acclaimed group, but is also managed by Peter Borg-Neal’s son, Éamonn, who started work in the pub as a kitchen porter as a 16-year-old. Peter said: “I started working in the pub trade in exactly the same way. You have to start at the bottom and if you run your own business, you have to know and understand how to do every job. I am so proud of Eamonn and where he is today.”
Ban the Straw campaign:
To mark Earth Day this year (22nd April), Oakman Inns was the first UK pub group to ban all single-
use plastic straws from their pubs, offering instead a biodegradable alternative on request. Quickly
branded as #StrawsSuck, more pub and restaurant groups have joined them and it has even
become the subject of legislation in some US States.
About Oakman Inns:
The company was founded by entrepreneur and CEO Peter Borg-Neal. The first Oakman Inn was The Akeman in Tring in 2007, which quickly won an award for outstanding design and conservation work, with which the pub group has become synonymous. The multiple award-winning company established the new concept of the ‘modern public house’ and has successfully transformed both historic and modern buildings into contemporary spaces that have a strong sense of identity and integration within the local communities that they serve. Offering a high standard of food, drink and service ‘The Oakman Collection’ comprises 20 contemporary Inns with letting rooms and ‘all-day’ pubs across Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands. The Four Alls in Warwickshire is closed for refurbishment and will open along with three new sites in the first half of next year.
The pub group is proud of its reputation for looking after its growing team. They have developed a specially designed training and career development academy called ‘Oakmanology’ to help each individual to be the best they can be.
In November, they were the first pub company to receive the Princess Royal Training Award for training excellence and won the British Institute of Innkeepers’ National Innovation in Training Award (NITA) for Best Casual Dining Training Programme. Ranked 8 th in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For 2017, it’s the highest rated hospitality company in the List. Over the last four years, the group has also won seven Publican Awards.