'Pique's people's interest' - Town clerk defends contentious posters

One of the Covid posters put up in Sprowston by the town council which have been met with a public backlash

One of the Covid posters put up in Sprowston by the town council which have been met with a public backlash - Credit: Tom Lamb

Contentious town council Covid signs which imitate wartime propaganda have been defended as "standing out" from the "sign fatigue" of recent months.

Various posters have been put up in Sprowston, including a Lord Kitchener design and a boy captioned asking his father "what did you do to help when Britain fought coronavirus in 2021".

The posters are intended to tell people to play their part when exercising continued caution with the virus, referring to the need to remember social distancing, washing hands and facemasks where appropriate. 

But the designs were slammed as being out of date, jingoistic and misogynistic by locals, town councillors Bill Couzens and Barbara Lashley, as well as district councillor Natasha Harpley. 

A sign for Sprowston on Wroxham Road 

Covid posters which were put up by the town council have been causing anger in Sprowston - Credit: Ben Hardy

In response to calls to remove the posters, town clerk Guy Ranaweera said they were intended to address ‘sign fatigue’ during the pandemic period to "pique people's interest". 

Mr Ranaweera said: "The pandemic has run for almost 18 months now and over that time there have necessarily been many public signs put up all over the country to explain the new and changing coronavirus rules and restrictions.

"By the time of the lifting of the last of the coronavirus restrictions on July 19 new informational signs run a real risk of becoming background noise and simply being overlooked by the public. 

"The new signs are intended to address this sign fatigue by being a bit different and standing out so that they pique people’s curiosity, although I accept the signs may not be to everyone’s taste." 

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The town council had agreed to send out a message of consideration regarding the pandemic during its last full council meeting.

Mr Ranaweera continued: "Most of the signs are based on actual government period posters and are intended to pay homage to the community spirit, consideration towards others and personal responsibility that the Great British public have shown during times of past adversity, and are now being called on to show again as society opens up.

"Whilst the circumstances today are clearly very different from when the original posters were created over a hundred years ago, the central questions and themes around ‘doing one’s bit’ and ‘thinking of others’ are as relevant now as they ever were."

The signs were intended to include two male pronouns, two female, and two gender neutral designs, and the clerk stressed they should be viewed collectively rather than in isolation which could be taken out of context. 

District councillor Natasha Harpley had said the poster in Manor Park of a boy looking up to his father had suggested girls were sat at home not contributing to the community efforts during the pandemic.

Sprowston Town Council's Covid poster has come in for plenty of criticism 

Sprowston Town Council's Covid poster has come in for plenty of criticism - Credit: Tom Lamb

"They should really be looked at together rather than out of context and in isolation, which is why the signs are always displayed in an evenly distributed mix of genders and designs," Mr Ranaweera said.

"The language used in the signs is deliberately toned down from the original posters, and of course not intended to glorify war or draw parallels between forces veterans and modern-day civilians.

"The wording is in keeping with the war-time references that have been consistently used by the government when describing the fight against coronavirus."

In response to the town clerk's comments, Ms Harpley said a "Keep Calm" poster has already been produced on a regular basis so should not be deemed inappropriate.

But she added that the others were out of date and were "very disappointing". 

"I can understand wishing to do something different and eye-catching but I don't think this was the way to go," Ms Harpley said. 

Mr Couzens added: "We do use other World War symbolism. Who can forget the Keep Calm and Carry On campaign which had been mercilessly plagiarized? It's just that some symbolism is less appropriate." 

Town mayor John Ward said he was not going to criticise the decision of the town clerk to sign off the posters for display.