Unique exhibition to celebrate Lancashire newspaper photographer

Mike Foster

A park bench is the focal point of a “unique and wonderful” exhibition to celebrate the life of a Lancashire photographer.

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

Rather than just attach a plaque to remember press photographer Mike, Elizabeth posted a sign on the bench inviting people to send her photographs of them sitting on it.

Ladies from Ansdell and Fairhaven WI enjoying a break on Mike’s bench during a WI treasure hunt last October

And after 12 months Elizabeth has received more than 300 photographs ranging from pictures of Blackpool Victoria staff, happy families, day-trippers, dog walkers and their photogenic pooches, new-born babies and even a jogger in a Santa suit!

These treasured snapshots from people across the UK will now to feature in a special exhibition – ‘A Year in the Life of Mike’s Bench’ – at Stanley Park Visitor Centre. The exhibition is being staged from October 4th to 24th and admission is free.

Elizabeth explained: “This started out as a simple memorial for Mike but has turned into so much more.

“I gave the bench its own email address and asked people to send in their pictures. I thought I’d be lucky to get a handful, but I’ve had more than 300.  That’s without any social media or publicity, just from people caring enough to engage with my little sign.

“There are people of all ages from a baby on her first trip to the park to a lady of 100.

Janet Currey from Hambleton captured this image of her daughter and grandchildren on Mike’s Bench on a cold December day

“Not surprisingly there are dogs of all kinds but also teddy bears, a fluffy seal and a runner in a Santa suit!

“Many of the pictures have wonderful back stories telling of why the sender had been in the park that day. WI ladies on a treasure hunt, visitors to Blackpool Lights, families united for special events – some happy, some sad.

“It feels as though I’ve been sitting on the bench and someone has come to sit beside me and shared their story. I feel immensely privileged that they have cared enough to give me a glimpse into their lives, and to the life of Mike’s bench.”

Elizabeth and Mike, who worked together on the Blackpool Gazette, lived together for 25 years. Mike died of cancer in May 2017.

Elizabeth added: “Mike bought me a camera, and when he couldn’t go out with his own camera because of his illness, I would go into the park with mine, take some pictures and show him when I got home. He’d tell me what I was doing right and how I could do better. He was very encouraging and turned my new hobby into a passion.

“He was proud of the pictures I was taking.

“So, when he died my daily walks in the park, photographing the wildlife, became my solace.  It was then I decided to buy a bench. I thought it would be a good to have a place me and my family could enjoy, but also something that others could enjoy too.

“As I always read memorial plaques on benches, I knew other people would too, so I was curious to find a way of knowing who would use Mike’s bench.

“As far as I can find out there’s never been an exhibition like this charting a year in the life of a park bench, with contributed photographs.

Elizabeth (bottom centre) and friends at the bench

“What makes A Year in the Life of Mike’s Bench Exhibition special is that every picture is from a different person and a different perspective across the seasons.

“It’s unique and wonderful.

“Because of the very nature of Blackpool as a holiday resort there are pictures from all parts of the country and the world.

“Stanley Park holds the crown as the Fields In Trust Best Park in the UK and is beautifully kept. It brings pleasure to so many local people and visitors.

“I am deeply grateful to Friends of Stanley Park for allowing me use of the Park Visitor Centre for my exhibition in October.”

“I am also grateful to those who have sponsored and supported this project and to my wonderful friends who have helped me take it from an idea to an exhibition.”

A Year in the Life of Mike’s Bench will be on view at the Visitor Centre, Stanley Park, West Park Drive, Blackpool from October 4 to 24. It will be open each day Tuesday-Sunday from 11am-3pm, apart from October 9 when it will be closed.

Admission is free.


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