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The British Sign Awards

The British Sign Awards are back, and organisers are hoping it will be the best event yet. Summer Brooks looks ahead to the industry’s biggest celebration of the year

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Praise the industry

Awards season is almost upon us, and the events provide a unique opportunity for those in the industry to get together and celebrate the very best. The British Sign Awards returns this November for its seventh edition, this time organised by the newly renamed ISA-UK, powered by BSGA. The new partnership with the International Sign Association (ISA) has allowed ISA-UK pass on additional benefits and resources to its members.

Ray Hirst organises the show in partnership with the industry association and says that the event provides a “unique annual showcase of the high level of skill, creativity and professionalism of the sign industry in the UK”.

He comments: “It is the only time in the year when the focus is entirely on the work of sign-makers and has been described by those who have attended previous awards events as truly inspirational. The awards also provide those who win or are commended by the judges with a valuable marketing tool, which can help increase business and give a tremendous boost to staff morale. There is no better recommendation to existing and potential customers than to be selected by your peers as the ‘best in class’.”

Sign of the Times took home both the Craftsman and Innovation awards last year


Hirst adds that the event brings together the industry in a convivial atmosphere that allows guests to network and socialise with colleagues from across the industry. “They [guests] love the competition, they enjoy seeing all the shortlisted entries and the tension mounts as they wait for the winner to be unveiled,” Hirst adds. “They also enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, the lunch, the entertainment and the chance to meet like-minded people from the industry.”

Whilst she has been heavily involved in supporting both the work of ISA-UK and the awards through her firm Make it Happen, this year is the first event that sees Sam Armstrong as vice president of the association. “As well as it being in my first year as vice-president of ISA-UK, my company is also a lead sponsor of the 2019 British Sign Awards, so I’m doubly looking forward to the event,” she says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to show my commitment and support for this amazing industry.”

David Catanach, director of ISA-UK, powered by BSGA, says the new partnership with the ISA will have a positive impact on the awards too. “We approach the 2019 British Sign Awards with our new name of ISA-UK and with a consolidation of the experience and feedback of previous years, making it a more prestigious event than it has ever been,” he says. “I’m excited that there’s a real drive to support young people and those wishing to build a successful career with our industry and this year’s awards really reflect this.”

O Factoid: Whilst 2019 is the first awards event run under the new name of ISA-UK, the association’s history dates back to the 1930s with the inception of the Master Sign Makers Association  O


Catanach adds that the British Sign Awards hold great value for the industry and whether guests are members of the association or not, all are welcome to be inspired and celebrate the work of peers in a relaxed setting. “I believe that any industry that doesn’t look at itself and say, ‘I can do better than that’ will wither due to its own complacency,” he says. “The British Sign Awards throws down a challenge to businesses within our sector and invites them to demonstrate that they are constantly seeking to achieve excellence and drive the industry forward.

I am truly amazed at the ingenuity, skills and capabilities of the UK sign industry and this is clearly demonstrated when I get a chance to see the entries after the judges have made their decision. Every year, entries just get better and better and I am sure this year will be no different.”

I believe that any industry that doesn’t look at itself and say, ‘I can do better than that’ will wither due to its own complacency


Last year, the ‘Sign of the Year’ accolade was awarded to Blaze Signs for its work at the Grafton Centre in Cambridge. On the night, ISA president Lori Anderson announced that the association would pay for a representative of Blaze Signs to visit the ISA Expo in Las Vegas. This year, the association is offering the winner of the ‘Young Signmaker of the Year’ a trip to ISA Expo, which takes place in Orlando, Florida this year.

Blaze Signs won Sign of the Year 2018 for its work at the Grafton Centre in Cambridge


“We always need new people to come forward and get involved with the awards, both as entrants and sponsors, to ensure that our industry stays fresh and relevant,” says Catanach. “New blood means new ideas and techniques, and that is always a good thing. Without the financial support of our sponsors we would not be able to deliver such a professional and entertaining event and offer guests a truly motivational and enjoyable afternoon.”

Astley Signs was awarded Illuminated Sign of the Year 2018 for its work with The Great North Run


Armstrong adds: “As an association, our ambition is to continue to build and grow the British Sign Awards; making the event bigger and bolder to showcase our sector and show that we have much to teach the wider visual communications world. Sponsoring the British Sign Awards is a clear demonstration that you are committed to the sign and graphics industry and prepared to put back a little. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of your brand within the sector.”

Each of the 12 categories offer the chance for sponsorship, something the organisers say is vital to supporting the event and driving innovation within the industry. “Without the sponsors the awards could not exist,” explains Hirst. “Organising and running the awards is a year-long effort culminating in the actual event and there are considerable costs involved. Sponsor support means we can continue to run the awards and offer tickets at very reasonable prices. In return, we try to ensure that sponsors, in addition to the kudos of supporting the industry’s leading event, get an excellent deal in terms of high level brand exposure right through the year culminating in their participation in the awards show and presentation.”

Apogee Print’s winning entry for Small Sign Business of the Year 2018, sponsored by SignLink


The gala ceremony returns to the Athena Centre in Leicester for 2019, a venue that Hirst says has been a conscious choice since the awards were first held there in 2017. “When we set out to organise the awards, we wanted to make them accessible and cost effective to as many people in the industry as possible,” says Hirst. “That meant a venue that people could reach and get home from on the same day. The Midlands seemed the best bet and so far, we’ve staged awards in Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester – the latter because we found the Athena and it’s been ideal. We hold the awards as a daytime event for the same reason.”

Hirst says that this year will be more special due to a revamp of the venue for the Christmas party season, and guests at the British Sign Awards will be the first to see it in its new guise. “We really are planning for this year’s event to be the Oscars of the sign industry. To find out what we mean, you’re going to have to be there.”

Catanach concludes: “The positive atmosphere within the event venue is palpable and the networking opportunities can be extremely beneficial. Add to this the opportunity to be inspired by some of the best sign and graphics work carried out in the UK over the past 12 months, and you have an event not to be missed.”

The British Sign Awards takes place at the Athena Centre in Leicester on November 14th, from 1pm until 6.30pm.



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