Benny the Beluga whale

Benny the Beluga whale inspires Swanscombe artist to create life-size sculpture
The aluminium base for Amy West’s Benny the Beluga artwork, aimed at raising awareness of plastic waste

An artist is creating a life-size sculpture of Benny the Beluga in a bid to raise awareness of plastic waste.

Native to the Arctic, the whale grabbed headlines when it turned up in the Thames near Gravesend last September, as animal-lovers rushed to catch a glimpse of the elusive creature.

Although it now appears Benny has left the town for good, his memory will live on through the piece by artist Amy West, from Swanscombe.
Amy, 36, will use plastic collected in and around Gravesham to build the creation, serving as a reminder of what lies beneath the water’s surface.

She said: “Unfortunately for Gravesend and Swanscombe, the way the river bends means a lot of the rubbish collects here, even if it’s not generated here.

“The idea is to get our river a bit cleaner and make people aware what single-use plastic is doing to our river, our waterways and our sea.”

Amy was also inspired to do more to tackle climate change after the birth of her son, Finn, 2, feeling a “responsibility” to try and make things better for future generations.
The project, supported by healthy living centre The Gr@nd, based in King Street, is already well underway, and due to be completed by Saturday, June 15 for Gravesham Fusion Festival.

Artist Pablo Cattermole, from Plumstead, put together the aluminium base using Amy’s sketches, while Thamesmead-based artist Di Jones will help with the cladding.

Amy added: “I believe it was in the 80s that the Thames was, in the centre of London, biologically dead.

“Benny proves that animals can live here now; there’s seals, porpoises and now a whale living happily in the Thames. It shows that we’re getting somewhere, and we can make it even better.”

Also supporting the project is Gravesham Borough Council, which has funded the piece via a pot of national funds made available to promote recycling and anti-littering.

It also provided equipment for a litter pick by Thamesview School in Thong Lane, Gravesend, to generate supplies of plastic.

Residents are also invited to get involved, and help weave plastic into the piece’s chicken wire cladding at events over the summer.
An earlier sketch of Benny by Amy West. Picture @amywestpaints

Amy said: “We’re hoping that the people of Gravesham want to help, because then they’ll have ownership of it, and it will be their artwork.

“We’re doing three festivals here, but the bigger and the wider we can take him the better – again, just to raise awareness of how terrible this plastic problem is, and how many alternatives there are.

“That was the lovely thing when Benny was here; people were aware that there are really cool animals living in the river, whereas I think, without those reminders, we just see a muddy river.”

To help decorate Benny’s sculpture, visit Gravesham Fusion Festival in June, the Riverside Festival on Saturday, July 6, or the Riverside Fringe Festival between Sunday, July 7 and Saturday, July 13.

Others wishing to provide supplies can drop off any rinsed plastic bottles at the Gr@nd, where Amy runs art workshops for young people on Tuesday evenings.