Worthing girl couldn't ride her favourite train in lockdown - so she made one that has won a national art award
An autistic girl from Worthing has channeled her sadness at not being able to ride her favourite train during lockdown into an award-winning piece of art.
July Alate loves taking a ride on trains, so when the lockdown happened in March, her favourite hobby vanished too.
Undeterred, the 11-year-old from Goring decided to do the next best thing and make a replica that could bring her some comfort.
That was reward enough - but the fruits of her labour have also won her a prestigious art prize.
July's replica of the Gatwick Express train, made from cardboard, acrylic paint, duct tape and glue and called 'Phew We Can Still Get Trains in Lockdown', beat more than 17,700 other entries to claim the President's Prize in the Young Artists' Summer Show at the Royal Academy of Arts. Click here to see it.
July said: "Art’s so good, it makes me be able to have the thing I really want. The details I painted on the train make it seem real, so I can believe in it. I'm so happy, my train feels more real than the lockdown now."
With some help from family to execute her vision, July spent three days making the creation, down to details like the correct number of bonnet panels to sound effects tiles that make the noise of the doors opening and a ramp for her sister Vilonu's doll to use.
While searching for educational materials for lockdown, her mother Nicolette discovered the art competition - and on June 30 was told July had won the inaugural prize from Royal Academy president Rebecca Salter.
Nicolette said July's first concern was whether she could ride the Gatwick Express up to London for the prizegiving ceremony in the autumn.
She added: "July is delighted. She doesn't have that same understanding that it is such a prestigious prize; she did it for herself, so from her point of view I think the train is enough of a prize.
"But because we shared the news with her school, she has been inundated with people saying well done, so she is starting to realise how brilliant it is.
"The best thing is that she is realising other people appreciate the thing she loves through art."
Caitriona Bull, headteacher of West Park CE Primary School, said they were 'all very proud' of her achievement.
She said: "July is a remarkable young person and really has captivated us with her ideas and thinking in her years at West Park, her creation sums her up brilliantly and made everyone smile.
"This is the most perfect way to end this term and something incredibly positive to highlight the power of art through this traumatic time."
The first train was such a success that July has since made three more: a Thameslink train - her second favourite - and two Southern trains.
Nicolette said the win would give July a boost before beginning secondary school in September: "She often feels she is behind in many things, so to be so recognised is a huge boost for her confidence.
"She is picking up her paintbrush and going for it, whereas she was unsure before in the early stages of making something."
Aside from using this project as a type of 'comfort blanket', Nicolette said her daughter used the arts, including playing piano, to express her unique point of view.
For example, she personifies words like 'west' with characters that she draws, and a painting she is currently working on of a piano shows colours coming from certain notes because she has synaesthesia: a phenomenon where people's senses overlap, such as tasting sounds or seeing music.
Founded in 1768 by permission of King George III, the Royal Academy of Arts is the oldest society in the UK dedicated solely to fine arts.
According to the summer show website, entrants will have the opportunity to have their work displayed online and in an exhibition, and all prize winners will receive vouchers for art materials plus a free practical workshop for their school.
Nicolette added: "I feel we owe some credit for this prize to those people of Worthing; pupils, teachers and others in the community, who continue to do things which support July, whether by enabling her to build skills and express herself or by just welcoming uniqueness when they see it."
Stephen MacCallaugh, general manager for Gatwick Express, said: “We are honoured that July has chosen the Gatwick Express train to showcase her talents and are all seriously impressed by her real-life replica. The attention to detail is astonishing, from its design down to the colours and sound effects used. We’re glad that thanks to her creativity, July has been able to enjoy train travel from the comfort of her own home, but we’re looking forward to welcoming her back on-board the Gatwick Express very soon.”