Historic England has funded two projects exploring the experiences of NHS nurses through the decades, to coincide with the health services turning 75.
The two projects are the latest to be funded through its Everyday Heritage Grants: Celebrating Working Class Histories.
A digital exhibition, which will coincide with the NHS @ 75 commemorations, sees nurses who have worked at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, the birthplace of nursing, record accounts of their experiences before, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Titled ‘Moments of Grace’ and available online, it presents a nurse’s 24-hour presence in the hospital and out in the community into a circular composition, punctuated every hour by original music composed by Nicole Robson.
Fifty modern nurses and midwives feature in the installation, including those still at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. It also includes accounts of nurses from the past associated with St Thomas’ such as Mary Seacole, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, Cecily Saunders, Naomi Mitchison (whose great-granddaughter is leading the project) and Florence Nightingale, represented by archive footage and performance.
A planned permanent 24-hour physical sound and light installation is to be installed at the hospital next year. An alcove within the Grade II listed Central Hall will be created so that visitors can hear NHS workers’ stories, field recordings of nurses at work and original music.
This will be open for the public as well as hospital staff and patients in 2024.
At Glenside Hospital in Bristol is its second funded project, ‘Answering the Call’. The exhibition will see volunteers use sewing to create a tapestry of nurses’ uniforms featuring stitched quotes, highlighting the experiences of nurses from the Commonwealth who came to the UK with the arrival of HMS Windrush and other ships from July 1948 onwards to work for the NHS.
Through the project, a collection of oral histories and photographs from people who worked at Glenside Hospital have been gathered together for the first time. The new interviews and photographs have been donated by nurses who worked at the hospital in the 1960s, representing those who ‘answered the call’ of the British Government for people from the Commonwealth to come to the UK to address shortfalls in the workforce in the aftermath of the Second World War.
The project will culminate in an exhibition at Glenside Hospital Museum in December 2023, which will tour by invitation to other locations.