Memory Benches

Children and adolescents were considered a low health risk at the start of the pandemic.

However, as time went on, young people emerged as one of the groups most affected by the social isolation of lockdowns. Many faced the challenges of not being able to see family and friends, disrupted education, and anxiety about their future chances of getting into college, university or the world of work.

The number of young people struggling with their mental health began to grow, with increasing reports of struggles with loneliness, trouble sleeping, and anxiety about leaving the house for fear of catching the virus or spreading it to vulnerable family members. 

Supported by staff at St Andrew's Youth Club, Westminster, artist Alix Smith worked with young people to explore their pandemic experiences. Colourful park benches installed at the Arboretum featured illustrations by the participants themselves, exploring their own stories and their encounters with outdoor heritage throughout lockdown.

Young people from Westminster decorate benches at St Andrew's Youth Club

St Andrew's Youth Club

Established over 150 years ago, St Andrew’s is the world’s oldest community-based youth club. Located in Westminster, London, the club enriches young lives by  providing a sense of belonging, offering fun and informal education to over 500 members each year.

Attendance at St Andrew's helps young people to develop their self-confidence, respect for others and build their abilities to contribute to society as good citizens. The club is open to people from all backgrounds, and members can join from the age of five years old through to adulthood. Its facilities include a gym, sports hall and music studio, and the club o­ffers a youth development programme and mental health services to support members’ success and wellbeing.

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Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has over 1000 years of history as a working church, today opening its doors to welcome people of all faiths and none.


Most recently known as the venue for the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, the Abbey has been the site of coronation for all British monarchs since 1066. It is the final resting place of 30 kings and queens, and burial or memorial place to over 3,000 people ranging from politicians and scientists to poets and musicians. 


In October 2022, a Service of Remembrance and Blessing was held at Westminster Abbey to honour the bravery and dedication of those who served our country throughout the pandemic, and to remember all those who died as a result of Covid-19 in the UK. The blessed Alder tree and saplings have now found their home at the Arboretum, at the heart of the Trees of Life Glade.

Learn more about Westminster Abbey

Making memories

The group of young people from St. Andrew’s Youth Club were aged 9-12, and started by making books and maps which explored their memories, thoughts and feelings about lockdown.

Grazyna Richmond, Head of Engagement at Westminster Abbey, led the group in a heritage walk around Westminster, learning about the history of their local area and discussing what life in lockdown was like for the community at the time.

The benches themselves are like visual ‘journals’, translating the young people’s memory book content into designs that use a variety of techniques, from drawing and painting to collage. The group shared lockdown memories spanning from home-schooling and spending time with their families to the joys of eating more takeaways, alongside other very personal, individual experiences unique to themselves. The project was an important opportunity for both the young people and artist Alix Smith to reflect on such a significant time in all of our lives.


Alix Smith

Alix is an artist educator from North London. She has an MA in Artist Teaching and Contemporary Practices from Goldsmiths and has led visual art projects with schools, museums, galleries and community groups for over 20 years. She enjoys working on collaborative projects with a range of audiences and creates graphic style installations inspired by street art, pattern making and collage.

We would like to thank the staff and participants at Westminster Abbey and St Andrew’s Youth Club for their invaluable support throughout this project.