Godiva Awakes

23 July 2012
Godiva Awakes, London 2012 Cultural Olympiad

As part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, on 28 July a spectacular vision of Lady Godiva for the 21st century will awake and journey from Coventry to London to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Godiva Awakes is part of ‘Artists taking the lead’, a series of 12 public art commissions across the UK to celebrate the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England. Working with Coventry City Council and several principal artists and partner organisations, events' organiser Imagineer Productions is aiming to capitalise on the opportunities arising from the Games.

One such organisation, on board since the project’s inception, is the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Network (LN) which has sought to maximise the event’s opportunities in terms of its engagement with the wider IET and beyond, inspiring the next generation of engineers, one of the core aims at the very heart of the project.

Being part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad has provided a unique opportunity for Coventry and Warwickshire LN to raise the IET’s profile, extending its reach to young people locally by inspiring them through such a unique project. Here, Coventry and Warwickshire LN committee member and former chair Roger Medwell describes ‘the Godiva Awakes story’:

The full story

“In 1960, Coventry was a manufacturing boom town full of diverse engineering companies creating a seemingly endless production line of new and innovative products. I arrived in Coventry that same year to become a draftsman’s apprentice at Courtaulds engineering headquarters in Foleshill.

In 1978, Courtaulds gave me the challenge of leading the Bakelite Moulding Department, founded in 1926, which later became National Plastics and is now known as NP Aerospace Ltd (NPA). NPA manufactures composite products which include helmets and body armour for the British Army and the armouring of vehicles such as the CAV100, Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound.

In 2009, I became chairman of the IET’s Coventry and Warwickshire Local Network and it was during that time that I made IET members aware of the Godiva Awakes project. From that point, the LN has been an invaluable source of support for the project. In April this year, IET president Dr Mike Short visited Coventry to see a demonstration of Godiva Awakes. Mike was enormously enthusiastic about the project and made several suggestions including a webcam so that people could follow Godiva on her journey to London and even during her ‘awakening’ performances.

On 28 July in Coventry, Godiva will awake for the first time in 1000 years to a performance involving dancers, actors, aerialists, musicians, pyrotechnicians, and carnivalists. Over 200 young people will form a procession marking Godiva’s unveiling when she will be presented with her quest to deliver an important message. This ‘Book of Intent’ carries the voices of the young people of the West Midlands and their global partners to the people of London and the rest of the world, with a call to action to make the world a fairer place. It is a symbol of their commitment to affect positive change in the world and play an active part in shaping the future.

She is an impressive sight to behold standing 18ft tall, and with size 78 shoes she is a large-scale puppet with movement and expressions. Clothed in a coat crafted by artists from across the region, Godiva chronicles the West Midland’s unique industrial and engineering heritage. Involving the skills of these industries today, the project aims to be a moving, active monument, reflecting the excellence of past engineering successes and ‘imagineering’ the engineering future for the next generation.

Making Godiva real

The 18ft-tall puppet is constructed out of lightweight materials. Operated by a team of puppeteers, Godiva’s movement and expressions are achieved through a combination of traditional puppetry techniques with modern engineering.

Godiva’s coat is a double-breasted, embellished long coat with a train the length of the Cyclopedia, featuring designs researched and created from the chain makers of the Black Country, the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, computer gaming in Leamington-Spa, glove making in Worcester, and glass making industries from Stourbridge and Smethwick. British designer Zandra Rhodes, together with students from Coventry University, has designed a transparent modern take on a medieval shift for Godiva, with gold, hand-painted godets and trailing sleeves.

Lady Godiva would not be complete without her horse, the Cyclopedia, which will propel her to the Olympics using a sustainable energy source - a team of 100 cyclists! Producing a road-going, multi-seated cycling machine capable of travel to London requires a structurally sound and innovative design. The engineering of the Cyclopedia draws on Coventry’s past ingenuity in bicycle design and employs contemporary light-weight materials, technology and human power! The 100-strong cycling team, led by British cycling champion Mick Ives, will cycle in groups of 25 as it powers Godiva on her journey.


Godiva leaves Coventry for London on 30 July along the Watling Street, the ancient track-way through England and Wales, now known as the A5, which would have been very familiar to Lady Godiva in the 10th century. Along the way she will pass through seven towns over seven days, inspiring a series of extraordinary outdoor celebrations. Godiva will journey from Rugby to Northampton, then to Milton Keynes and on to Luton, then to Hatfield and Waltham Abbey before arriving at Waltham Forest on 5 August.

Community involvement

How did NP Aerospace Ltd (NPA) get involved in the Godiva Awakes project? NPA is a member of Business in the Community and for its community involvement the company was asked to support the Belgrade Theatre and Imagineer Productions community events. The first project that NPA became involved in was the International Children’s Games, to which Coventry sends a team to compete in every year. NPA was asked to design and build the Olympic Cauldron and Torch for the 2005 event, marking the beginning of a number of events in which NPA provided engineering support to the Belgrade Theatre and Imagineer Productions, the latest of which is Godiva Awakes. It started with a proposal for a Lady Godiva statue, capable of movement, as big as the Angel of the North, to sit beside the M6. However, in 2009 I was requested to review a concept by the artist Frans Wesselman who asked, “Can it be made?”. My answer was, “Yes”. We grappled with the challenge for two years before we achieved a workable solution.

Over 20 manufacturing companies in Coventry, Warwickshire and the West Midlands helped to build the Cyclopedia and in June, MIRA, the vehicle engineering consultancy, undertook the successful proving trials.

As the project progressed, the local the Coventry and Warwickshire LN realised the potential publicity of Godiva Awakes and its ability to act as a champion for ‘imagineering’ work in schools, particularly in junior schools. The audience reading this article will not need to be convinced of the importance of the manufacturing sector to the prosperity of the UK. We have some truly world-class companies in Coventry and Warwickshire and the West Midlands and many of them have assisted us in the creation of Godiva Awakes, quite simply we need to double the number of these companies if we are to achieve a balanced economy and provide those essential jobs so desperately needed to ensure full employment of our younger generations. Through projects like Godiva Awakes, the LN seeks to inspire young people to take up careers in manufacturing and gain the essential craft, engineering and scientific skills required to grow and sustain the manufacturing sector.

Over 1000 people are already part of the Godiva Awakes project across the region, with 58 people employed on delivering Godiva Awakes alongside eight apprenticeships for young people and a further 100 jobs planned to be created during the project. In addition, a real legacy will be created for the future through skills development and in the assembly of Godiva herself.

It will take a generation to change the situation in which we find ourselves, the key to change is as always to work with the young people in our schools, only in this way will Coventry and Warwickshire return to full employment and the innovative boom town that I witnessed in 1960.”

Related forum discussions
forum comment To start a discussion topic about this article, please log in or register.