IHBC Chair marks death of John Sell CBE (1944-2024)

On behalf of the IHBC Chair David McDonald voiced the great sadness on the death of John Sell, a sentiment endorsed by Europa Nostra and many other individuals and organisations.

IHBC Chair David McDonald said: ‘I am greatly saddened to hear about the death of John Sell. I first knew him in Camden over forty years ago. At that time, he was not only running a successful architectural practice, but also leading a local conservation area advisory committee.’

‘John’s commitment to the wider issues of the historic environment continued throughout his life, latterly as a founder member of The Heritage Alliance and Chair of England’s Historic Environment Forum. His calm and thoughtful approach will be missed throughout the sector’.

Europa Nostra writes:

… It is with immense sadness that we bid farewell to one of the most influential members of the vast Europa Nostra family: John Sell, CBE – eminent architect and renowned heritage champion from the United Kingdom – who passed away on 30 May 2024 in London, after a sudden and short illness. John would have turned 80-years-old on 29 October this year.

John Sell was a leading figure of Europa Nostra for a period of three decades. John joined Europa Nostra in 1995 in prolongation of his strong commitment to the heritage movement in his country, the United Kingdom, and in response to the human and cultural tragedy caused by the wars in former Yugoslavia. In 1999, he became a most active Council member and was subsequently elected as Vice-President of Europa Nostra in 2004. Between 2009 and 2018, John was at the helm of our organisation as Executive Vice-President, in a tandem with Denis de Kergorlay (France), who was the Executive President. They were the inspiring stewards of Europa Nostra’s Board and Council, working hand in hand with the International Secretariat, together bringing Europa Nostra to its current broad recognition as THE European Voice of Civil Society committed to Cultural Heritage.

At the first European Cultural Heritage Summit co-organised by Europa Nostra in 2018 in Berlin, as part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage, John Sell received from our then President, Plácido Domingo, a much-deserved Europa Nostra Medal of Honour for ‘his outstanding and generous personal contribution to the development of Europa Nostra through his vast experience as conservation architect and heritage activist, combined with his unwavering and resolute conviction in European values’.

His youthful and joyful spirit, his openness to new ideas, his ability to truly listen and give wise suggestions, his dedication to everything he was involved in, and his support for young people was truly unique and immensely inspiring.

After John’s retirement as Executive Vice-President in 2018, he remained closely connected with Europa Nostra’s family and activities. The last time he attended an event of Europa Nostra, was last year in Venice, where he and his wife attended the European Cultural Heritage Summit marking the 60th anniversary of Europa Nostra. We acknowledge with great esteem and deep gratitude that John was a most generous Life Member and donor of Europa Nostra, together with his late wife Jane Wade (who passed away in 2014) and with his current wife Barbara.

In his country, the United Kingdom, John has left a very strong mark within the wide civil society movement for the protection of historic buildings and environment. Shortly after qualifying as an architect at the RIBA, he became a vigorous advocate and expert in the restoration and protection of old buildings. Throughout his life and career, John cared passionately about creating and preserving beautiful spaces for the benefit of everyone.

He served as the Chairman of SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) which was founded by William Morris, whom John described as his hero. He carried on his vision to bring together people from all backgrounds and views to care for old buildings. John was also Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Amenities Societies, one of the key initiators of the Heritage Alliance and a much-respected Board member of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He received the honour of the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his outstanding achievements related to cultural heritage. Last but not least, he was a most dedicated Chair of Europa Nostra UK.

‘We mourn the loss of one of the most valuable and loved members of our European family, John Sell. We greatly benefitted from his great expertise and experience in the field of architecture, cultural heritage and cultural landscapes, with a strong emphasis on the role of civil society. John was a highly respected leader of the cultural and natural heritage movement in his own country, the United Kingdom. At the same time, he was committed to building strong bridges across Europe and beyond through our shared values and heritage. We are grateful for his power of example which will continue to inspire our action,’ stated Hermann Parzinger, Executive President of Europa Nostra.

John served as the Chair of the Advisory Panel of the 7 Most Endangered Programme ever since its launch in 2013. He firmly believed in the power of solidarity and joint action to save Europe’s endangered heritage and took an active part in many campaigns, from the successful campaign to save the endangered Cultural Landscape of Rosia Montana (Romania) to the most recent one related to the Partisan Memorial Cemetery in Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina), where he was due to lead our onsite mission after the summer break in support of local activists and experts who wish to save and restore this major anti-fascist place of remembrance which was several times vandalised.

He was also a great supporter and promoter of The Best in Heritage Conference, which was organised annually in Dubrovnik, one of John’s most favourite historic cities in Europe. He served as the enthusiastic and thoughtful Chair of this initiative’s Advisory Panel over a long period of time.

‘We shall all miss him dearly. Up to us to continue his legacy carrying the memory of John in our hearts, minds and action. Personally, I am mourning the loss of a generous teacher and great role model, a true European and cosmopolitan mind, a close and loyal friend, and a beautiful human being with such a warm smile and contagious laughter. May he rest in peace’, stated Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovi?, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, who had the privilege and joy of working with John Sell ever since he joined Europa Nostra back in 1995.

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