As we’ve all recently learnt, sometimes the worst of times lead to the best of things. 

So when Jean Armstrong’s son, Paul, passed away in 2019, she wanted to find something special to do with the money raised from the collection at his funeral.

Jean and her late husband James, have been long-time supporters of the RSPB and through this link to the charity she learnt of a piece of sculpture being created at RSPB Bempton Cliffs – the Gannet Arch.

The specially commissioned piece is designed to help direct visitors from the upper car park towards the main entrance of the Seabird Centre. It also celebrates the cliffs being home to the UK’s largest mainland gannet colony: around 30,000 nest here annually.   

When Jean recently visited the reserve to see the arch in situ, she knew she’d chosen the perfect way to remember Paul:

‘It’s amazing. I only saw the original plan on paper and I never thought it would look this dramatic.  Paul was mesmerised by the gannets; he could watch them for hours from the RSPB’s viewpoints. This piece perfectly captures their grace and elegance.’

Jean instilled a love of nature in Paul from an early age.  She taught him to recognise bird song and even allowed him to keep a tame jackdaw which the young Paul would call ‘mardy bum’ when it refused to play with him– only to receive a mouthful of angry jackdaw-speak in response.  These precious memories and many more will now be forever associated with the arch for his Mum.

Jean was also delighted to learn that the sculpture was made from Sheffield steel:

‘As luck would have it, the arch is made of steel from our home town.  As the years go by, the effect of the weather on the metal will alter with age and look even more striking.  Paul would’ve loved it as much as I do’. 

Forged in Flamborough by local craftsman John Crossland, the striking gateway is almost four metres high and made up of two 15 mm mild steel plates, laser cut in the shape of a pair of gannets with crossed bills.

Before settling on the final design, John spent hours studying the gannets on the cliffs:

‘The look we wanted to create is symbolic rather than realistic.  The resilience of these huge oceanic seabirds is reflected in the durability of the steel while the simple outline design captures the birds in one of their classic poses.’

RSPB Site Manager, Dave O’Hara said:

‘The arch provides a focal point for those arriving at the reserve via the top car park.  We hope it will become an iconic landmark for visitors and we’re extremely grateful to Jean for the generous donation that helped make it possible’.