by LAUREN CODLING
AN ONLINE exhibition highlighting the contribution of migrant workers in the NHS has been launched this month.
Heart of the Nation: Migration and the Making of the NHS is a new virtual showcase by the Migration Museum, featuring the experiences stories of NHS staff in the past and present. Personal photographs of
migrant workers as well as artworks by award-winning artists The Singh Twins illustrate the display.
Curator Aditi Anand said the exhibition was a response to the pandemic and the “outpouring of love” for the NHS. “I think people are really realising just how important and essential (the NHS) is to all of our lives,” she told Eastern Eye last week. “But, at the same time, so many migrant workers and minority ethnic workers within the NHS have been working on the frontline and being disproportionately affected by (the virus), so we felt like it was a really important time to highlight the role of migrants within the services.”
Migrants have been integral to the NHS since its creation in 1948. In June 2019, NHS workforce statistics showed an estimated 13.3 per cent of NHS staff in hospitals and community services in England reported a non-British nationality. Among doctors, the proportion was 28.4 per cent.
Anand said migrant stories can sometimes be “overlooked,” but added that the pandemic has highlighted the key part they play. “It’s really positive that we are actually recognising (their contribution) now, but we know things fade from people’s minds when the immediate crisis is over,” she said. “That’s why it feels important to have an exhibition which would really put that story at centre stage and keep it there, even after the pandemic.”
It is the first time the Migration Museum has showcased an installation virtually, since it closed during the lockdown in March. Anand said the team wanted to make sure the work was still accessible to visitors, despite the restrictions. “We wanted to continue to tell stories which really matter to so many people, so being able to go digital and do that was in part inspired by the situation we’re in now,” she said.
In February, the Migration Museum moved from Lambeth in south London to Lewisham, a short distance away. Based in the Lewisham Shopping Centre, the museum was expected to attract thousands of visitors. Unfortunately, just six weeks after the launch, the museum had to temporarily close due to the coronavirus outbreak.
For Anand and the team, the closure was “disappointing” – especially as the museum had launched to great success, with approximately 10,000 visitors in six weeks. “We had lots of people coming in and sharing their stories, so it was definitely disappointing to have to shut down because we felt like there was such an appetite for it,” she said.
“So I’m really excited that we can reopen, put on new exhibitions and get people back in.”
As well as the Heart of the Nation showcase, the museum will debut its Departures exhibition when it reopens at the end of the month. The installation will explore people leaving the UK and migrating to other countries. Initially due to launch in April, it has been postponed until now. After such a lengthy delay, Anand admitted she is “very excited” by the prospect of its opening.
“It’s so nice to finally get it out there and have it be part of the conversation around migration,” Anand said. “We hope that people will come and see us and check it out.”