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But it will also be a permanent reminder to a grateful nation of the gruelling work doctors, nurses, midwives, carers and all healthcare staff carry out every day.
The Memorial for NHS Heroes campaign is proudly backed by your crusading Daily Express, which has championed our treasured NHS for decades.
Today, we are asking our loyal readers to help make the sculpture a reality by digging deep and backing our fundraising drive.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday heaped praise on our efforts to recognise those who sacrificed their lives in the battle to beat the virus.
He said: “I want to thank the Daily Express for their campaign championing our fantastic health service, which has done so much for all of us, particularly during these challenging times.
“The pandemic has taken a huge toll on everyone across the country and we offer our deepest condolences to all those who have lost a loved one.
“We know communities will want to find ways of commemorating what we have all been through – sculptures like this will mark the incredible work NHS and care workers have done and continue to do every day.”
The as-yet-unnamed piece of art will carry the names of every NHS and healthcare worker who perished during the pandemic.
They will be remembered with the inscription: “You laid your love for those in life. Your sleep is not in vain.”
The Daily Express has been given exclusive access to the foundry, where British sculptress Nicola Ravenscroft is painstakingly creating the artwork for the first batch of molten bronze to be poured into casts.
She said: “This will be a living, breathing piece of art that will capture the love we all have for those who serve. I am deeply honoured to be working on this sculpture in gratitude to our precious NHS.”
My prayer is this beautiful project will encourage our collective worldwide heart to beat in remembrance and gratitude to the fallen, with healing, with hope, and with great love
Sculptress Nicola Ravenscroft
The artwork has been given the working title Breath and will feature two intertwined trees with hundreds of leaves, each individually hand-sculpted.
The 400kg memorial will have roots tumbling down over bronze rocks in a poignant representation of eternal life.
Official figures show 900 health and social care staff died in the fight against Covid. The real number is thought to be at least 1,561.
The monument will stand at a central London location yet to be decided. It is hoped hand-made leaves, cast into beautiful brooches, will be available for the public to purchase, with profits going to NHS Charities Together, the umbrella organisation for more than 200 NHS charities.
The idea of a lasting memorial to healthcare heroes was the brainchild of Nic Careem, the NHS memorial project director.
His life has been saved three times by the NHS. He contracted meningitis when he was 10, was stabbed 11 times and required 180 stitches when he was 16, and suffered a heart attack in 2011.
He said: “We are delighted to have the backing of the Daily Express and its army of readers and I know we will soon have finished something that will truly honour the memory of those we have lost fighting this dreadful virus.”
Daily Express readers have been unwavering in their support of the NHS for generations and their generosity is well known.
Today, we are again asking you to step up to help make this magnificent monument a reality by donating what you can. It will cost £250,000.
Conservative MP Dean Russell, chairman of the memorial’s organising committee, said: “I’m proud to be part of this important project and we now need to make it a reality. I have no doubt readers of this newspaper, which has proudly championed our health service for decades, will rally to the cause and make this happen.”
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Sculptress Nicola Ravenscroft will spend the next year working on the project. She said: “It’s one of the greatest honours of my life to be a part of the team involved in bringing this groundbreaking work of art to life.
“My prayer is this beautiful project will encourage our collective worldwide heart to beat in remembrance and gratitude to the fallen, with healing, with hope, and with great love.”
The internationally acclaimed artist is the widow of saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft – best known for playing the classic riff on 1978 Gerry Rafferty song Baker Street.
Nicola said: “My first emotions when Nic Careem invited me to come up with a concept for this memorial were gratitude, but also deep sadness.
“I mused on the sacrificial hearts of so many, courageous, innocent, and now silent.” The piece, it’s hoped, will be unveiled at a gala ceremony next year.
“A sculpture reaches out to us, like a piece of music,” explained Nicola. “It draws us close, inviting us to walk around it, to respond to it.
“It’s two trees, with hundreds of leaves and catkins, softly tinkling in the air, symbolic of the living breath of those who’ve passed. There are rocks and roots communicating with the earth, and two earthling children, small and slender, like fairies, sitting between the trees, representing our tomorrow.
“There is a simple lyric carved in the rock beneath their feet: ‘You laid your love for those in life. Your sleep is not in vain.'”
A life devoted to care
Paramedic Malcolm Bonney had worked for the NHS for 43 years before his death with Covid-19 on December 23. He was 65.
The father of three, from York, was an emergency care practitioner looking after people in their own homes.
Malcolm contracted Covid and died two days before Christmas – missing the birth of his first grandchild on January 3. The baby was named George Malcolm in his memory.
His widow, Gillian, said: “Malcolm had a huge heart. He loved his family and he was devoted to his job.
“Working for the ambulance service was more than a vocation, it was a way of life. Nothing was ever too much trouble when it came to caring for others, even if that meant volunteering to help repatriate patients from abroad.
“He was compassion itself, not only for those in his care, but in mentoring new members of staff, colleagues he worked with for many years and, of course, his family and friends.”
Always willing to help
Receptionist Val Stimson handed out masks to patients at the front door of Kent and Canterbury Hospital.
The 62-year-old great-grandmother died in January, a week after testing positive for Covid.
Susan Acott, boss of East Kent Hospitals Trust, said: “She truly went above and beyond to support her team, the wider trust and our patients, and was quick to volunteer when there was a task that needed doing.”
Her daughter, Tina Bass, said: “Mum was passionate about working for the NHS, and really liked the fact she could help people.”
An inspiration to many
Professor Donal O’Donoghue spent his life working in kidney treatment.
He died aged 64 on January 3. He was known as the “big daddy of renal medicine” and awarded an OBE in 2018.
Donal worked at the Salford Royal Hospital since 1992. He was also registrar of the Royal College of Physicians, inaugural president of the British Renal Society and the first national clinical director of kidney care at the Department of Health.
As chairman of trustees at Kidney Care UK say, he was an “inspiration to so many”.
Comment by Nic Careem
My love for the NHS is borne out of personal experience – on three occasions health service doctors and nurses saved my life.
The NHS is one of our greatest inventions along with penicillin and The Beatles.
Whatever your status in life, rich or poor, you can rely on the men and women of the NHS to serve you when you are in medical need and without wanting to know how you are going to pay for your treatment.
Early last year after recovering from Covid – luckily I did not need to be hospitalised – I was hearing almost daily of NHS clinicians and carers working on the frontline succumbing to the virus and, in many cases, losing their lives to it.
Through my middle daughter, an NHS manager at a widely respected NHS Trust, I heard of the courage of her colleagues, not just clinicians, nurses and carers, but cleaners and caterers too. Despite the dangers, they would come into work unhesitatingly.
I felt we must honour these courageous souls who lost their lives working on the frontline, just as soldiers do defend our nation against an enemy.
The latter rightly have many memorials to remember them, so why not for those who lost their lives on the Covid frontline?
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My next step was to contact my artist friend Nicola Ravenscroft and was in discussion with her about this long-held dream project of mine.
She immediately warmed to the idea of an NHS Covid memorial and we came to the conclusion we wanted one that was not just another statue, but something different.
Within a few days, she sent me a beautiful drawing of a pair of trees, which I loved straight away.
I am equally grateful to my friend Dean Russell, co-chairman of the committee I put together to deliver the memorial, for all he has done to help bring this dream to fruition.
He has left no stone unturned to bring this about. Without his support and practical help, the idea would still be a dream in my head.
We are also very grateful to have the Daily Express partnering with us in this immensely important project.
Nic Careem is NHS Memorial project director
Comment by Dean Russell
There is no greater bravery than entering the unknown to save another. And when the nation was gripped with fear as the pandemic took hold, it was the bravery of our NHS and care workers that brought us hope.
For years to come, we will reflect on the scale of the loss, but we must not just talk in numbers; behind every statistic is the story of a life, a family in mourning and colleagues in grief.
We often talk of nurses and doctors, carers and porters, but they were also a mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son. Each had a story that sadly no longer continues but their memory can still live on forever.
The Memorial for NHS Heroes campaign will ensure their stories will be cherished for generations and act as a permanent reminder of their bravery.
Each detail will be cast in bronze to remember every NHS and care worker that we lost to this terrible virus, from the individually sculpted leaves representing their unique stories to the intertwined branches uniting us in gratitude and so much more.
Undoubtedly, as we continue to come back together in person, the impact of Covid will be more evident.
From noticing the empty chair of a fallen colleague to missing the sound of laughter from a loved one.
However, as we mourn, we can also pay tribute to those who saved countless more lives through their selflessness.
As the nation unites in gratitude, I am hopeful this memorial will help the nation heal and mark the bravery of our NHS and care workers for centuries to come.
Dean Russell is Conservative MP for Watford and chair of the Memorial Organising Committee
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