Published: 26th MAY 2023

From inspiration to steel: Discovering the heroes behind Hastings' new portrait benches

A former singer and a community volunteer from Hastings have been immortalised in steel on the National Cycle Network.

Portrait statues of Hastings heroes with sky and sea in the background

A new portrait bench has been unveiled in Hastings, East Sussex in celebration of two local heroes. Photo: Toby Spearpoint, Sustrans.

The national portrait benches project has been rolled out in commemoration of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee year, with funding from the Department for Transport.

Residents across Hastings and St Leonards were invited to share their views and participate in the project.

They were asked whom they believed had made a positive impact on their local community over the last seven decades.


Unveiling the new portraits in St Leonards

The portrait figures were unveiled on Saturday 25 March, at their new home on National Cycle Network Route 2 in St Leonards, next to the beach.

Friends and family of the figures, representatives from Sustrans, councillors, the Mayor, volunteer groups, and other guests, attended the event.


Recognising a creative and kind musician

James Robert Read, also known as Jimi Riddle, is the first of two people recognised as part of the project in Hastings.

He was the lead singer and frontman of the proto-metal band The Riddles.

An immensely talented musician, he championed the rock and roll scene in Hastings and gave his time and energy to support emerging talent.

He was a true local hero and a born performer.

He will be fondly remembered in Hastings and beyond for his creativity, his humour, and his endless kindness toward everyone he encountered.

Speaking about the portrait bench, Wayne, James’ father said: “I think what Sustrans is doing and creating art in these places is pretty amazing. We will be forever grateful for it to be there."


portrait statue at unveiling event in Hastings. People gather for event behind the statue.

Local hero, James Robert Read, has been celebrated as part of the Portrait Benches project. Photo: Toby Spearpoint, Sustrans.

Celebrating a loving and dedicated volunteer

Ann Novotny has been celebrated in the newly unveiled portrait bench.

She has generously dedicated more than three decades to the Old Town community of Hastings.

Her contributions include tending to the gardens of St Clement’s Church, recording audio versions of the Hastings Observer for blind and visually impaired people, organising fundraising events to raise money for the RNLI with New Year’s Day swims, volunteering with victim support, and belly dancing at Jack in the Green celebrations.

At the age of 90, Ann continues to lovingly serve her community.

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I’m so glad that Sustrans have given myself and all her friends and family the opportunity to give my grandmother the recognition she deserves Blockquote quotation marks
Ann's granddaughter, Hannah

Speaking about the unveiling Ann said she “had the most wonderful day, really enjoyed it, and will remember it forever.”

Her granddaughter, Hannah, added: “I’m so glad that Sustrans have given myself and all her friends and family the opportunity to give my grandmother the recognition she deserves.

"It’s a day she will most definitely never forget and I’m truly grateful that you have given us something we will always be able to remember her by.”

Celebrating the local communities culture and heritage

Reflecting on the event, Cllr James Bacon, Mayor of Hastings and St Leonards, said: "It was a wonderful occasion for our town to see two local heroes celebrated by the community.

"To have a bench and life size portrait of James and Ann is a testament to their characters and a celebration of the artistic and creative culture of Hastings and St Leonards."

Sarah Leeming, Director for the south of England at Sustrans, added: “We’re thrilled to see James and Ann recognised for the positive impact they’ve made to the residents of Hastings. Just like the National Cycle Network, they’re at the heart of the community.

“At Sustrans, we’re committed to ensuring that the National Cycle Network continues to enable as many people as possible to walk, wheel, cycle, and run, and as a network of ‘Paths for Everyone’ that they celebrate our local communities, cultures, and heritage.”

New figures installed across England

A total of 30 new steel figures are being installed across England. They complement the existing 250 figures which were installed over 12 years ago as part of the Portrait Bench campaign.

The figures have been designed and fabricated by renowned artists Katy and Nick Hallett.

They are being installed at 14 of the most popular walking and cycling paths across the National Cycle Network.

These sculptures pay tribute to the remarkable accomplishments of individuals and groups who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to their communities.


Find out more about our new portrait benches on the National Cycle Network

Read more about the history of the portrait benches project

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