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Everything you can expect from Elmer's Big Heart of Kent Parade in Maidstone this summer

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The event we have all been waiting for is finally coming to town this weekend.

Elmer’s Big Heart of Kent Parade, a family friendly art trail, launches on Saturday, June 19, and will bring some much needed colour to Maidstone, its river paths, countryside and parks.

Elmer and his friends are coming to Maidstone. Picture: Heart of Kent Hospice
Elmer and his friends are coming to Maidstone. Picture: Heart of Kent Hospice

It is the first-ever public art trail of its kind to visit the County Town and with it set to last for nine weeks, here’s everything to expect from the event.

The trail, which will raise money for Heart of Kent Hospice in Aylesford, is based on Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, the star of one of the most iconic children’s books by David McKee.

Some 51 uniquely designed elephant sculptures, decorated by local and national artists, will be scattered around Maidstone forming three walks totalling around six miles.

The trail will reflect the town’s history, economic heart and areas of natural beauty. The trails are a closely-guarded secret for now, but will focus on the town centre, another takes in parks while a third centres on the riverside.

It’s hoped after what has been a difficult year, the free outdoor walking event will be a chance for the community to come together to recover, heal and more importantly, have some fun.

Children have been getting creative designing Elmer sculptures. Picture: Heart of Kent Hospice
Children have been getting creative designing Elmer sculptures. Picture: Heart of Kent Hospice

Everyone taking part is encouraged to explore the trail in their own way. Whether that’s visiting over several days, a weekend or, if you’re feeling energetic, finding them all in one go.

Before starting, explorers can visit the hospice team at Elmer HQ in The Mall or Fremlin walk, to pick up a hand-illustrated map showing the way around.

People can also download the free Elmer’s Big Heart of Kent Parade app from the App Store or Google Play.

It will show those exploring the trail the location of each Elmer and the herds of small Elmers, along with information about Official Partners, Sponsors and artists.

Each Elmer will have a unique app code. Once you tap the code into your device, it will reveal some rewards to be downloaded, fun trail statistics and family-friendly challenges.

David McKee, author of Elmer the Patchwork Elephant
David McKee, author of Elmer the Patchwork Elephant

The parade was supposed to debut last summer but in March 2020, because of the pandemic, the hospice had to make the difficult decision to postpone the celebrations.

Now, after months of planning to make it Covid secure, Elmer and his friends will return for the hospice’s 30th anniversary year.

The event will also feature 31 baby Elmers which were adopted by local schools and community groups.

The children used their creative skills to design the elephants which will be gathered in small herds inside key venues around Maidstone.

It was part of the hospice’s Learning Herd programme which encouraged schools and youth organisations to adopt the small sculptures and, like the original Elmer books, celebrates different concepts relating to diversity.

Illustrator Nathan Reed
Illustrator Nathan Reed

It also allowed teachers to develop the project into the curriculum, while raising the profile of hospice care and supporting young people living with loss. The herd of 30 small Elmer sculptures – plus one specially designed for the hospice – will be at several indoor locations, accompanying the main outdoor trail of large Elmer sculptures.

The uniquely-designed elephants will be on show from Saturday until Sunday, August 22.

After that, all the sculptures will be rounded up for a farewell weekend where they can all be seen at Lockmeadow in Maidstone. This will run from Friday, September 3, to Sunday, September 5.

Each elephant sculpture will then be auctioned on Thursday, September 9 to further support the charity.

One elephant taking its spot on the walking route has been designed by Maidstone born artist Nathan Reed.

Nathan has been illustrating children's books since 2001. Picture: Nathan Reed
Nathan has been illustrating children's books since 2001. Picture: Nathan Reed

The illustrator who went to Brunswick House primary school and Maidstone Grammar School, has been illustrating stories since 2001 and has worked with many publishers including Bloomsbury, Harper Collins, Hodder and Penguin.

After his father was treated by Heart of Kent Hospice, the 43-year-old saw the trail as a good opportunity to give something back.

He said: “My Elmer design is titled “Never forget” as a tribute to my Dad who was a big influence on me becoming an illustrator and to acknowledge how life memories shape us.

“Elmer creator David McKee is also my favourite illustrator and has been a big inspiration in my own illustration work.”

Mr Reed now lives in London but his elephant design features many nods to Maidstone landmarks and childhood memories.

Recent picture books he has illustrated include “Incredible You” by Rhys Brisenden and “Flea seeks Dog!” by Will Mabbitt.

Each Elmer sculpture will sit on a concrete plinth and contain a plaque. These have been made by veterans at Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Co. Factories in Aylesford

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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