John Byford ~ Conferred Honoured Citizen
On Wednesday 3rd March 2021, Skegness Town Council unanimously voted to confer on John Byford the Skegness Honoured Citizen Award which has only been given out once in the last 10 years. This award was given for his public service and his work promoting arts and culture in the area.
John has helped preserve and retain the iconic Jolly Fisherman image for Skegness and worked to maintain the important cultural links between Skegness and the people of our twinned town in Bad Gandersheim. Councillors spoke in 'glowing terms' about the contribution John has made.
Town Clerk Steve Larner said 'Becoming an honoured citizen is highly valued and is only awarded infrequently (once I believe in the last 10 years) so please accept my congratulations'.
I had the pleasure of meeting John as we prepared the second wave of our massive project SEAS, an EU-financed, transnational cultural project focusing on coastal cities, where sea meets city, which lasted 7 years (2004-2011). John helped to navigate the local political context, guiding us through the fascinating story that is Skegness, one of our key destinations. Soon, his engagement with SEAS grew deeper, from local citizen/activist to artist/photographer. He joined the artistic team on travels to SEAS partner cities (Istanbul, Odessa, Helsingör, Helsingborg and others), capturing our action with his camera and his sensitive eye.
I can’t imagine a more deserving Skegness citizen for this award. He created a living bridge between his hometown and the rest of the world. What could possibly be more important?
"John is a challenge to many..." I don't think anyone would disagree with this statement least of all him but the opposite of challenge is acceptance and this is not the art or the life path that John chooses, nor is it the reason he is both feared and admired as someone who challenges convention in an often playful manner but really means business!
I feel proud to have been a small part of his journey so far through curation of inspirational exhibitions and to be someone John chooses to consult with on the presentation of important local and worldly narratives through art.
It delights me that John has been recognised for the ambition and esteem he has for our hometown and the people of Skegness.
When we first thought of Black/North SEAS in Skegness we were not sure how we should proceed – but there was John, who gave us the entrees we needed to the local politicians and then joined us when the project presented in Istanbul. Not only was he a local politician, we discovered, but he was also a particularly good photographer! Several of his shots were used in our publicity and his pictures are a vital part of the SEAS archive.
Over a decade later, it has been great to see how his own network developed out of the project, including the link to Helsingor-Helsingborg’s Passage Festival
It cannot be a surprise to anyone that John Byford was one of the first persons from Skegness that I met. This is not so much as to blame Mr. Byford himself but his camera. Almost 11 years ago, in a photo exhibition in a giant red box with peepholes he gave me not only a convincing introduction to the man himself but also to his skills as an artist. This is really the exceptional thing about John Byford and his artistic talent, he lets the people of Skegness, whoever they are, and their incredible world come forward in his artwork.
I cannot think of a better ambassador to Skegness as John, and I am both honoured and very proud to have had the opportunity to present his amazing artwork in Denmark and Sweden on several occasions.
I am delighted to congratulate John for receiving the Skegness Honoured Citizen Award! As Mayor of Skegness's Twinning Town of Bad Gandersheim, I fully support the choice made by Skegness council. It recognises his engagement in Bad Gandersheim in combining his work as an artist as well as supporting the friendship of our towns. As long as I am part of the council and throughout my time as mayor, I remember art projects he created for us. First there were exhibitions in cooperation with our arts circle. John initiated an exchange of works from artists of Skegness to present their work in Brunshausen and organised an exhibition of regional artists from here in Skegness. Those were fantastic opportunities for all of them to receive public attention. The most lasting and prominent project though is 'The Box' in the centre of our town. With much effort and many trips from England to Germany, John gave an object to our town, that to this day is an eye-catcher that we would not want to miss. With never ending enthusiasm he gave the Box changing meanings over the years, always discussing themes of communication and bonds between our people.
We are now looking forward to a contribution to our upcoming garden show next year. We have always understood that all the effort John has made in the arts was motivated by his wish to promote the friendship between our towns and countries. Whenever groups from Bad Gandersheim visited Skegness, John has taken time to make their stay worthwhile as part of the Skegness Twinning Association. He has taken every chance to visit our town, whenever possible, as a member of the Twinning Association or on his own. Whenever John Byford appears in Bad Gandersheim, people recognise him and receive him as a friend. We all look forward to his next visit and will hopefully be able to celebrate this new honour together.
John has been a tireless campaigner, supporter, and promoter of all genres of the arts in Lincolnshire and particularly Skegness for many years. I am proud to say that I have had the pleasure of working with him on several projects throughout the years including bringing the first community art gallery to Skegness. The gallery space in the Hildreds known as The H-art gallery showcased local artists including John’s work and attracted 330,000 visitors through its doors in just 6 months as well as donating over £10,000 through a percentage of sales of the artwork to the RNLI.
I am delighted that John has been awarded this great honour and I cannot think of anyone more deserving to be conferred as an Honoured Citizen of Skegness. Well done John, you are an inspiration to us all.
John has worked tirelessly over the years to promote Skegness using his skills as a photographer and artist. He has been a regular contributor to the BBC and has provided content for numerous online articles, including an exhibition in a phone box, and more recently capturing life in Skegness during lockdown. John also had his photographs of Skegness featured as artwork on a BBC vehicle as part of a design celebrating people and places in Lincolnshire.
Above all, John has always put ‘his town’ at the heart of everything he does and is a worthy recipient of this honour.
I first experienced John Byford’s photography when I came across his daily photography blog. From that moment I was captivated by John’s curious and unique photography style that led to a working relationship over many years. Always pushing the boundaries, John’s creativity has led to several unique artistic creations that resulted in significant profile for Skegness across the UK and internationally through collaborative partnerships with Bad Gandersheim, Germany; Helsingborg, Sweden; and Helsingor, Denmark.
John’s work always put smiles on faces - Congratulations!
John Byford has done more than most to raise interest in Skegness, both at home and abroad over the years, but has not always been recognised for it. I still say the Seas Festival that brought coastal towns bordering the North Sea in and around Europe together, was the best festival we've ever had. John worked hard to provide a 'fringe festival' alongside the SO Festival, but the organisers mainly ignored his efforts. He has widened the cultural scene of our town and brought a bit of controversial humour into our lives. His involvement with the history of the Jolly Fisherman is also worth a mention. Personally, John helped establish CAFA in the early years, so I thank him for that.
I hope that after a change and a rest from politics he decides to come back and renew his own brand of activism and rebellion. Thanks John. A very worthy recipient!!
John Byford is an inspiration, a photographer who has the imagination to see art in all kinds of places and the passion to be compelled to share his vision. He is never too busy to go exploring with me on photographic adventures, full of ideas, enthusiasm, and a wicked sense of humour. It is a delight to see his work to promote Skegness in arts and culture recognised, as I can think of no other who has worked so tirelessly to that end.
I am always intrigued to see what he will do next and hope to work with him on projects in the future.
I first met John Byford at a photographic exhibition of his at the Sam Scorer Gallery in Lincoln and was stuck that his work was so brilliantly composed. I don’t know of a finer ambassador for Skegness, it might be the first town to have one in the country, if so, well done Skegness! He has batted for “Skeggy” all over Europe, his projects are extremely good, innovative, and engaging. His fantastic Box project in Bad Gandersheim proved to be very popular, and when Britain fell out of Europe, he modified it with wit and style putting Skegness on news channels all over Germany.
I think that Lincoln should have an Ambassador just like Skegness, but they wouldn’t be half as good as your Mr John Byford, Skegness is very lucky to have him.
John Byford was never going to be conventional. It would have been impossible to define the figure sitting in the Skegness Town Council chamber by his red mullet - you soon found out the man not in a suit had things to say. As a local journalist I have had the privilege of being on the frontline of John's journey from local councillor to launching the gallery at the Embassy Theatre and his artistic work celebrating the relationship between Skegness and its twin town of Bad Gandersheim in Germany. The Box - a transformed British telephone box - soon hit the headlines. John's most poignant work at 'The Box' was in 2018 for the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Naming in alphabetical order the 186 brave souls from Skegness and Bad Gandersheim who lost their lives and displaying them on a plaque might have been seen to be controversial but instead was incredibly moving. It was an honour to cover this story and to know that the issue of the Skegness Standard including the report is on display in the local museum.
The mullet may now be long gone but recent conversations show it has not affected John's artistic flair. We are all looking forward to seeing what John has in store for The Box in 2022. But that is another story.
Past honoured citizens of Skegness include:
1979 Mrs Elsa Barratt M.B.E.
1992 Harold Fainlight M.B.E.
1993 R. W. Scott
1999 Mrs Edith Sutton
2001 Winston Kime (author)
2005 Ken Holland B.E.M
2010 Steve Andrews (artist)
2018 Ray Chapman MBE (RNLI crewman)
2021 John Byford (artist)