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London New Year's Day Parade

Two large scale alien puppets, one green, one purple, are operated in front of a busy crowd.
SPLASHNEWS, London Borough of Merton's entry to the 2020 London New Years Day Parade, designed and made by Wimbledon College of Arts students.
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: SPLASHNEWS

Creating and designing a float for Merton

Since 2017, Wimbledon College of Arts students have collaborated with the London Borough of Merton to design, create and operate their official entry to the London’s New Year’s Day Parade (LNYDP), securing more than £10,000 for the council’s nominated charities over three years.

The brief

Wimbledon students have collaborated with Merton Council each year since 2018 to create an entry for the Parade.

Taking place in central London on 1 January, the LNYDP is a huge event with global appeal that features more than 8,500 performers representing over 20 countries. Since 1987 it has raised millions of pounds for London charities and it is estimated that half a million spectators turn out to line the route, with an estimated global audience of 455 million tuning in to TV broadcasts and streams in 2019.

All 32 London boroughs submit a float or performance to the parade which responds to that year’s Parade’s theme: The greatest show on Earth, London Welcomes the World and, in 2020, London Loves Life.

Each borough’s entry competes for a prize fund in a competition judged by volunteers and an independent adjudication panel with the money awarded to the winning councils’ chosen charitable causes.

Large puppet in the form of a woman tennis player in Wimbledon tennis whites starts the London New Year's Day Parade under a blue and yellow arch.
Merton's 2019 entry to the London New Year's Day Parade.
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL

The project

Each year, Wimbledon students have created visually impactful, diverse, inclusive, eye-catching and engaging large-scale puppets for the borough’s entry in the Parade, working on the project in its entirety from concept through to production and operation.

For the 2020 entry, 15 students created a concept with collaboration from the Merton Council Team, supported by Paul Franklin, Course Leader BA Production Arts for Screen. Exploring the narrative of the theme, they used their technical and conceptual skills to design 2 puppets scaled to over 4m high. 10 students performed in the parade to bring the puppet characters to life.

“I have never had to produce anything to such a scale before or work with an actual budget. So this has made me learn new skills and I have learnt a lot about myself in the process” - Katie Booth, first year student, BA Production Arts for Screen, who worked on the 2020 entry.

Two large puppets of tennis players are operated by people in grey tracksuits in front of large crowds in central London.
Merton's 2019 entry to the London New Year's Day Parade at Trafalgar Square in London.
, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL

The outcome

Responding directly to the annual theme, the entries over the years have ranged from a colourful menagerie of animals including a fish, peacock, spider and bird of paradise to a pair of towering tennis players celebrating Merton as the home of the world-famous All England Lawn Tennis Club, and the Wimbledon Championships.

For 2020, the students created 2 large puppets depicting alien lifeforms visiting London as tourists. As these aliens walked the parade, they photographed London’s iconic scenery, landscapes and the diverse community of spectators who line the route through central London.

This entry was a runner-up in the competition and was awarded £5,000 to be donated to the Merton Mayor’s chosen charities.

“The students came up with a good idea – giant aliens arriving in London with cameras and maps. They had the WOW factor. There was a good working relationship throughout the development of the puppets. They were efficient and completed their task on time and were creative, reliable and lovely to work with. They all worked exceptionally hard to make our entry a great success.” - Councillor Linda Kirby, London Borough of Merton.