Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Comedy of Errors

Nottingham City Council Announces Partnership With Greek Municipality Named After Lord Byron

12 October 21 interview: George White

Nottingham City Council recently announced a partnership agreement with Vyronas, a suburb of Athens named after the legendary Lord Byron, and celebrated by lighting up the Council House in the blue and white of Greece's famous flag. We chat to the man behind this exciting new friendship, Cllr Pavlos Kotsonis, about how it could benefit Nottingham, his personal connection to the project and why Byron means so much to so many...

Cllr Pavlos Kotsonis in front of the Council House, which is lit up in the colours of the Greek flag

Why was this an important project for the Council to undertake?
Many Greek people know and love Lord Byron as a revolutionary figure. Very few of them, however, know where his ancestral home is. This is a really important project for the Council because it can drive increased international interest for our historic and heritage assets related to Lord Byron, and primarily Newstead Abbey - which is owned by Nottingham City Council and operated as a popular cultural and historical venue. The hope is that increased interactions and information sharing between the two municipalities will increase tourism in years to come, which will obviously happen subject to COVID-related restrictions of travel continuing to be withdrawn.

Another reason why this is a really important project is one related to the celebration of Nottingham’s history and identity. This project highlights and celebrates Lord Byron, yet another important historical figure in Nottingham’s Rebellious history alongside the world famous Robin Hood. Let’s not forget that Lord Byron was the man who defended the Luddites, fought in the Carbonari rebellion in Italy and participated in the Greek Revolution. 

This was also a very personal project for yourself. Why did you have such a strong desire to make it happen?
In answer to this question, I can’t help thinking of my grandfather, Pavlos. He left his home when he was young in the Second World War years and he fled to Turkey, which was then neutral. He was caught by Turkish police and briefly held captive. The British troops rescued him, trained him in the levant and he ended up fighting against the fascists in the battle of El Alamein (1942) in North Africa, on the Greek regiment together with the Nottingham Foresters. He also used to smoke Player’s cigarettes and was given an honorary British citizenship after the war, which he passed on to my father Lambros. He used to have his house in Vyronas municipality in Dikearchou Street, which my father inherited after his death, but unfortunately had to sell due to the Euro crisis. I, myself, lived in that Vyronas house during my infancy and soon after moved to Horargos district in the north suburbs of Athens. 

I met my grandfather when I was a boy, but I learned more about his war history from my father. On a personal level I think that those stories my father told me about my grandfather influenced my life choices to a certain degree, and definitely on a subconscious level had something to do with my stubborn determination to secure this friendship agreement.

Even though it wasn’t easy to arrive at the position we are in today it was definitely worth the effort

What was the process like for making this agreement a success?
It’s been a long process. The main source of difficulty in delivering the agreement was the reduced funding due to chronic central government cuts. COVID has caused delays in negotiations too, but it has also led us to think creatively - for example, the signing of the agreement on 8 October had to be done in two separate signing ceremonies, one in Vyronas and one in Nottingham.  

Even though it wasn’t easy to arrive at the position we are in today it was definitely worth the effort. The journey to reach the agreement started with Panos Trigazis, the current chair of the Byron League for Philhellenism and Culture. The idea of an agreement between the two municipalities was first discussed between Panos and myself. It was those initial email communications that formed the beginning of the process. 

In winter 2020 I had my first meeting with the mayor of Vyronas Mr Grigoris Katopodis on Zoom, where we discussed the timeframe of delivery and each other’s expectations and limitations. After that there was a pause. Work restarted again in May 2021 when Council officers in Nottingham and Vyronas began to write drafts of the friendship agreement and different aspects of the agreement were debated. My role was to ensure that all partners in Nottingham and Greece were happy with what was being decided. By September 2021 all partners were satisfied to move to the setting of a date to formally sign the agreement. A person who helped significantly in arriving at that position was Cllr Eunice Campbell-Clarke, I can honestly say that without her encouragement and support the agreement wouldn’t have been possible. 

I should add that, on a personal level, I don’t think that I could have managed to see this project to completion without the support provided to me by my wife Yilan. The emotional support that she has provided me throughout the duration of the deliberations definitely contributed to this friendship being a success!

The Council House on Friday 8 October

How has the response been so far?
We have had a great response from the local press as well as from social media, both locally and in Europe. I have received lots of positive messages and emails from people in Nottingham. The same is the case for Vyronas - people in Greece are really happy that there are now more opportunities for cultural work between the two areas. 

I think people really liked the idea of the Council house being lit in the colours of the Greek flag at the night of the signing of the agreement. There was so much life in the city centre that night. My wife and I walked from our home in Mapperley down to the Old Market Square and we saw so many people taking selfies with the Council House.

The response from the Greek diaspora has also been strong so far, it's really exciting for such a significant connection to be formed in celebration of the romantic poet.

Why is there such a strong admiration for Lord Byron from the people of Greece?
This question takes me back to the years I attended secondary school in Greece. I still remember Lord Byron being celebrated as a revolutionary hero; he is loved by all Greeks as a significant person who gave his life for the liberation of the Greek people and the formation of the Greek nation. He also features very prominently in the history books taught to kids in Greek schools. 

Vyronas municipality in itself is a manifestation of the great appreciation of the Greek people to Lord Byron. ‘Vyronas’ in Greek literally means ‘Byron’; the neighbourhood was established under that name officially in 1924 to house Greek refugees from Asia Minor. In Agiou Lazarou Square in Vyronas there is still the 97 year old plaque from the founding of the neighbourhood, which reads: “Byron-Quarter: Established on the centenary of Lord Byron’s death to commemorate his devotion to the Greek refugees”, and in 2004 a statue of Lord Byron was also added to the right of the plaque.

While most people know about the connection of Lord Byron to Newstead, fewer people know that he has also lived in St James’s Street in Nottingham during his childhood

And why is he such an important figure for Nottinghamshire?
While most people know about the connection of Lord Byron to Newstead, fewer people know that he has also lived in St James’s Street in Nottingham during his childhood, between the years of 1798 and 1799. He was there before moving on to Burgage Manor in Southwell and later to Newstead. 

Lord Byron’s importance to Nottingham is also one linked to rebellion, as he defended the Luddites at his one and only speech in Parliament by speaking against the proposed framework bill, which was supposed to increase penalties for the rebels.

What other plans are in place to strengthen the connection between Nottingham and Vyronas going forward?
Vyronas municipality is currently in the process of establishing a museum of local history. The museum hasn’t been developed yet, but once it is we are hoping for a future cooperation between them and Newstead Abbey.

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now