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Niall Guite Sheffield artist attracts national attention with fundraising drawings of stadiums

Artist and GB Special Olympian Niall Guite has a fan in Grayson Perry and art in a national exhibition thanks to the 2.6 Challenge, which has led to the creation of a social enterprise.

Niall Guite drawing a stadium

When the 2.6 Challenge was launched in the first Covid lockdown, Sheffield artist and athlete Niall Guite wanted to take part. Drawn from the 26 miles of the London Marathon, people were invited to create their own challenge that involved the numbers two and six, to raise money for their favourite charity.

Niall decided to draw 26 football stadiums and sell the prints, aiming to raise £260 for Special Olympics GB. After all, he had won the first international gold medal of any GB team in basketball, in 2015 in Los Angeles as part of the Special Olympics team, and he now cycles, so he knew about the important work the organisation does. In fact, he’s an Athlete Leader for the organisation.

As well as his sporting achievements, Niall says he has always been artistic, but hadn’t ever had his art displayed in galleries or had particularly big plans for his art, which he used to rarely even share with others.

The stadium project grew beyond what anyone had imagined, and he has surprised many – his mum included – by demonstrating just how much variety there is in stadiums across the country and the world.

Now, 18 months on, Niall has not only drawn over 100 stadiums (and counting), he has grown a strong fanbase via his Twitter account among the football and art communities. In fact, he has one firm supporter in particular, celebrated artist Grayson Perry.

Grayson Perry in front of a Niall Guite drawing

Perry requested a print of Niall’s drawing of the London Olympic Velodrome, which is now displayed in his house. Asked how he feels about his artwork being in the home of a famous artist, Niall is thrilled.

Grayson sent Niall a card in response, along with a beautiful Alan Measles “medal d’artistes”, one of only 300 in existence. The two later met when Perry was performing A Show for Normal People in Sheffield, and he invited Niall to exhibit his artwork in the Royal Academy of Art's Summer Exhibition. Because of the exhibition’s theme of Climate, he drew the Forest Green Rovers stadium because it is the first zero-carbon club in the world, along with a controversial stadium in Qatar that was built by the same architects.

What started as a short-term challenge has now, with support, turned into its very own social enterprise. As well as continuing to fundraise for Special Olympics GB, Niall is employed for two days a week to continue with his artwork. Only 6% of people with intellectual disabilities are in paid employment and Niall, in creating his own social enterprise, is now employed thanks to this project.

Niall Guite in front of one of his pieces of art

When he started the 2.6 Challenge, Niall Guite had no idea that it would lead to meeting Grayson Perry, being part of a national exhibition, and having regular paid work, but his persistence and enthusiasm has paid off. With social shares from the likes of Gary Lineker and Jon Snow, and support from many more, Niall’s world has changed completely.

After much thought, Niall tells me that one of his favourites from all the stadiums he’s drawn is Hallam FC, but he’s impressed by all the stadiums he’s drawn and loves different features of each. As a lifelong football fan with a Sheffield Wednesday season ticket, it is clearly a perfect fit for him to channel his passions.

Tom Casson, Business Development Manager at Special Olympics GB, who works closely with Niall on his social enterprise, told Now Then:

Everyone at Special Olympics GB is incredibly proud of Niall and everything he has achieved both on and off the field of play. Not only is Niall a gold medal-winning World Games athlete, he is a valued member of our Athlete Leadership Team and an all-round wonderful positive person.

Niall has not only helped raise much needed funds for Special Olympics GB, but he has also done a huge amount to raise awareness of our organisation and intellectual disabilities in general. And we are hugely grateful to Niall and his family for all their time and effort supporting Special Olympics GB in this way.

Niall’s development on a personal level, as an artist, entrepreneur and as a person has been lovely to watch as he has grown in confidence, and when you look at what Niall has achieved in just two years it’s nothing short of staggering. From a fundraising idea to having a host of celebrity followers on social media and being invited to exhibit two pieces of artwork at the hugely prestigious Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition, it’s a brilliant story. Niall never stops amazing us.

With 94% of people with intellectual disabilities not being in paid employment, Niall’s hard work and commitment demonstrates first-hand what people with intellectual disabilities can achieve given the right support. At Special Olympics GB, our athletes are at the heart of our organisation and with amazing athletes like Niall contributing to its success, it’s a wonderful place to be.

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