Children from year 6 of the Ben Jonson primary School with the sculpture they designed. Image by Matt Crossick/PA wire.
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Guide dogs take over Canary Wharf in new sculpture trail

The Paws on the Wharf project aims to be inclusive but requires advance planning from visitors with sight loss.

A new accessible art trail in Canary Wharf opened on Tuesday to raise awareness of challenges faced by people with sight loss.

‘Paws on the Wharf’ features 25 sculptures by different artists, which will be sold in a charity auction to support the Guide Dogs.

The trail is step-free and offers a limited number of sensory tours with sighted guides. These are subject to weather and must be pre-booked via the Guide Dogs Association (GDA) website

The sculptures include tactile elements and NaviLens technology that provides audio descriptions and directions for the trail. NaviLens codes were designed with blind and partially sighted people in mind, as they can be scanned from further away than traditional QR codes. To benefit, visitors must download the NaviLens app before starting the trail. 

Non-profit Wild in Art worked with the GDA on the project, which features a range of artists, including those with personal experience of sight loss. 

Year six students from Ben Jonson Primary School also contributed a sculpture design, which was selected from submissions by local schools and realised by artist Jill Busby.

Schools which participated in the competition received learning materials to engage students in discussions about accessibility, in line with the project’s wider goal of raising awareness of sight loss and how guide dogs help blind and partially sighted people.

Volunteer Puppy Raisers Louise Roche, Annie Hawkins, Sally Ross, and Annette Fettes and guide dog puppies
Volunteer Puppy Raisers Louise Roche, Annie Hawkins, Sally Ross, and Annette Fettes and guide dog puppies. Image by Matt Crossick/PA wire.

Most of the sculptures are grouped in different areas around Canary Wharf, though nine are positioned in the wider Tower Hamlets area. The statues will remain on public display until 17 May 2024. A charity auction in support of the Guide Dogs will close out the project.

Guide Dogs spokesperson Shonda Kopp explained how this benefits the organisation:

‘Guide Dogs will be running the auction so all proceeds will go directly to help us continue to provide our services. There will also be merchandise pop-ups at different times throughout the trail that are run by our brilliant fundraising volunteers, and all proceeds of these will go to us as well.’

Citi Group, Canary Wharf Group and the Canal and River Trust collaborated with the Guide Dogs and Wild in Art to fund the project. 

The trail is part of increased campaigning by Guide Dogs, which is still recovering from the impact of COVID-19 on their work. The organisation says that success rates for qualifying guide dogs should soon return to their pre-pandemic average of 70% after lockdown restrictions saw them drop to 47%. 

Those wishing to access maps in braille or large format should contact the GDA directly.

The GDA is still recruiting volunteers to become Puppy Raisers and Sighted Guides.

A Guide Dog sculpture in Canary Wharf
A Guide Dog sculpture in Canary Wharf © Holly Munks

For more local news, read about the new Family Hub advice centre providing services for children and young people in the Isle of Dogs

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