Published: 15:35, 03 September 2021
| Updated: 15:37, 03 September 2021
Thousands of people are due to see 82 uniquely designed Elmer elephant sculptures together for the first time in one place.
Elmer's Big Heart of Kent Parade has been running in Maidstone since June and saw the works of art dotted around town.
With the art trail finishing last month, this weekend sees a farewell weekend at Lockmeadow. Sessions are fully booked with 4,000 people set to visit.
It is the first time all 82 sculptures, based on the Elmer the Patchwork Elephant character created by David McKee, have been in the same place at the same time.
The collection features 51 full size Elmers and a Learning Herd, a set of 31 smaller characters, created by pupils at the town's primary schools.
It raised vital awareness and money for the Heart of Kent Hospice, in Aylesford, whose team has spent more than three years planning the event.
It had to be postponed from running last year, because of lockdown restrictions, but now coincides with the hospice's 30th anniversary this year. During the trail more 367,550 people have scanned in, using the Elmer app, at the artworks, with 207,735 rewards claimed and a total of 20,000 miles walked.
Today the hospice's patron Lady Monckton opened the weekend before crowds got their first look inside.
Ann-Marie Kelly, director of income generation at the hospice, said: "We wanted to give the people of Maidstone something unique and fun and create a talking point.
"It's also been about breaking down the myths and barriers about what we do and opening up a conversation. We also couldn't have done this without the support of all our partners - businesses and organisations."
Also playing a key role in the Elmer events is Bill Seymour, a hospice ambassador. In December 2018, his wife, Margaret, died after she lost her battle against pancreatic cancer.
She spent seven weeks at the Heart of Kent Hospice and in her final few days the team let Bill and his family stay overnight. They even arranged a Christmas dinner for the family shortly before Mrs Seymour passed away.
Mr Seymour is still friends with many of the staff to this day, but says he's 'had a ball' picking up Elmer sculptures from artists and going on tour with one of the artworks to inform people about the trail.
He said: "It was the love, care and support we all got at the hospice that sticks in my mind. The guys there do an amazing job.
"For the first six months after my wife died, I went downhill and my daughter had a little word with me. So I joined a gym and began volunteering with the hospice.
"Anything they need doing, they ring me up and most times I will do it. For the trail, I've also worked in the Fremlin Walk shop, picked up and dropped off Elmers in a van. I've loved every minute and I've also made some lasting friendships with the hospice team."
Lyndsey Gallagher, a director at Gallagher Group one of the partners to the trail, has been involved with transporting the sculptures to their locations.
She added: "Our staff have really enjoyed being involved. It has been fantastic and great fun for all age groups as well as supporting the hospice."
The very final event in the parade calendar is now an auction of 52 artworks next week at the Mercure Great Danes Hotel. It is hoped the auction will secure in the region of £250,000 for the hospice.
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