Find out about the sculpture depicting Sheila McKechnie in Dollar Park, and who she was to the local community.
Dollar Park, just a short walk from Falkirk town centre, is a lovely green space with a play park, walled garden, tennis courts and a café. It’s also home to various sculptures. One of these is that of Sheila McKechnie. Situated just behind the site of Falkirk’s war memorial, it is really refreshing to see a statue dedicated to a female that is actually of the woman in question.
The sculpture consists of a bronze bust sitting on a sandstone base, with an inscription reading:
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born Camelon 1948
died London 2004
She made a difference
Sculptor Susanna Robinson
Erected in July 2005, a year after her death, the memorial was designed, unusually for a civic statuary, by a woman: Susanna Robinson. It was commissioned by Sheila’s partner Alan Grant. A quote in The Herald (21 July 2005) with Susanna Robinson gives you more insight into being asked to create the sculpture:
“I was really pleased by this commission because it was a woman as well as a working-class hero. It was a bit of a challenge because Alan wanted her smiling and normally busts don't show teeth, because they are quite difficult to cast. She also had a lot of hair, but if you are going to cast a model in bronze, the smoother the better.”
Sheila was born not far from Dollar Park in 1948, in Camelon, hence the location of the sculpture. Known for being a trade unionist, housing campaigner and consumer activist, she studied at the University of Edinburgh (where she befriended Gordon Brown). Her trade union career began in the 1970s, when she became Assistant General Secretary of the Wallpaper Workers’ Union. Two years later she went to the Workers’ Educational Association, and in 1976 joined the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs as National Health and Safety Officer. She was instrumental in turning health and safety issues into major concerns.
In 1985, she became the Director of Shelter, where she turned the orgnisation around and returned it to a strong force in tackling homelessness and the causes of homelessness. Ten years later she had moved once more to become Director of the Consumers’ Association (now known as Which?). This move coincided with the link between diseases in humans caused by BSE in cattle, leading to a huge campaign around standards in the food industry. This work was influential in the setting up of the Food Standards Agency in 2000.
In recognition of her work on housing and homelessness, McKechnie was awarded an OBE in 1995. Further to this, in 2001, she became a Dame of the British Empire, thanks to her work on behalf of consumers. Unfortunately, she died from cancer in 2004. The Sheila McKechnie Foundation was set up a year later to continue championing the right to campaign.
By Louise Bell, Great Place volunteer 2020. Hidden Heritage: Statues and Monuments project.