Lancashire

Blackpool park bench memorial inspires photography exhibition

Janet Currey Image copyright Janet Currey
Image caption Elizabeth Gomm posted a sign on the bench asking people to send her photographs of them sitting on it

Following the death of her partner Mike Foster, journalist Elizabeth Gomm decided to dedicate a bench in his memory in Blackpool's Stanley Park.

Instead of adding a plaque to remember the press photographer, she posted a sign on the bench asking people to send her photographs of them sitting on it.

"I was thinking I might get one or two," she said, "but I've had more than 300 in the space of a year."

The pictures and the stories behind them are now featured in an exhibition.

The couple, who worked together on the Blackpool Gazette newspaper, lived together for 25 years before Mr Foster died of cancer in May 2017.

Image copyright Elizabeth Gomm
Image caption Elizabeth Gomm lived with Mike Foster for 25 years before his death in May 2017
Image copyright Elizabeth Gomm
Image caption More than 300 photographs make up the exhibition in Blackpool

Ms Gomm said: "Mike worked as photographer for nearly 30 years so was very well known in the area.

"When he became ill and couldn't go out with his cameras any more, I went into the park with my camera every day,

"I went for a walk, went back and showed him the photographs that I'd taken of the wildlife and he'd tell me where I'd gone wrong or what I could do better, and so the park became important to us both.

"So when he died my daily walks in the park, photographing the wildlife, became my solace.

Image copyright Amela Jandric
Image caption The bench looks out across Stanley Park in Blackpool

"It was at that time I thought I'd buy a bench and it went into place in September just a few days before what would have been Mike's birthday."

Ms Gomm and her friends gathered on the bench to share a picnic and it was then she had the "lightbulb moment" of adding a sign.

She said: "I was musing about who was going to sit on the bench and I kept thinking about it and I thought how could I find out? So I put a sign on it and gave it its own email address and asked people to send in their photographs.

Image copyright Julie Swift
Image caption Many of the pictures have back stories telling why the sender had been in the park that day

"When the first email came in I was excited. It was from a lady called Maria and it was of her parents sitting on the bench, reflecting on the loss of somebody in their own family, so it was quite poignant.

"From then on I kept on getting pictures. The excitement grew for me because I knew people were actually reading my sign and wanting to do something. It was a very special feeling.

"Many of the pictures have wonderful back stories telling why the sender had been in the park that day, from a baby on her first trip to the park to a lady of 100."

Image copyright Robsia Smith
Image caption And it's not just humans who got involved...

And what would Mr Foster think of the exhibition?

"Oh Mike would have shook his head and said 'what's all this fuss about? What are you up to now?'"

A Year in the Life of Mike's Bench can be seen at Stanley Park Visitor Centre from 4 to 24 October. Admission is free.

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