In May 2020, UCLH invited acclaimed photographer Tom Pilston to take portraits of staff at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom came to us with a really simple idea. He wanted to capture "a series of proud, sensitive and authentic portraits of UCLH staff at a historic time for the hospital, the country and indeed the wider world".
"As a photographer you get to see, in many troubled parts of the world, just what battling through trauma does to the human face and particularly to the eyes of those living through such an experience. Here was a conflict of a different kind, right on my doorstep; in fact, all around me," Tom wrote in July 2020 in a short essay accompanying the first publication of these pictures.
"We were all coming out of our homes every Thursday night to applaud these people we felt were our heroes. I wanted to meet them, to look into their eyes, to see who they really were and express what this experience has meant to them."
This is his story as much as it is theirs.
Media Manager, UCLH
One year on, event on 22 March 2021
The pandemic has undoubtedly had a universal impact, and we wanted to give you a glimpse of how working in a hospital at this time has marked us all, so we held a short event tied to the exhibition to mark the past year’s efforts at UCLH.
At the event, photographer Tom Pilston spoke about the project and what he wanted to achieve, and consultant respiratory physician Ronan Astin described how he and his team built a High Dependency Unit in seven days at the start of the pandemic.
Speech and language therapist Rebecca Kimber spoke about the patient she referred to in her quote, how he recognised her and got back in touch and how she saw him again recently and he was a changed man.
Arts curator Guy Noble spoke of the importance of art in hospitals and what it gives to staff and patients.
The event was closed by a visibly-moved chief nurse Flo Panel-Coates who reminded us all of the need to stop and take stock after such a challenging year.
We recorded an audio podcast of the event so if you missed it and would still like to hear what our staff had to say, you can listen here.
We received some lovely comments from the people who attended. Here are some of them:
- I just want to express how lovely it was to look at all the art work along the walls when I attended an outpatient appointment recently. Quite something to behold and so impressive. Jan Thomson
- I think it is so important to reflect on how much everyone has gone through and achieved over this last year; we should not forget and just move on. These images are a perfect way to commemorate our experience and should be a permanent fixture. Anonymous
- Thank you UCLH for your wonder healthcare. I am sending you all spiritual hugs. Maggie Clinton
- So good to hear this discussion of calm professionalism. I'm a retired UCH nurse (opened the AMU). I really dislike terms like 'angels' & 'heroes'. Sally Hind
- I just think everyone has been amazing. It was very scary as we were all in a position of not knowing enough and also being in the very real fear of our lives. That in the midst of all this you cared enough to get someone M&S Organic Lemonade is just awe inspiring. Where did that courage come from? Anonymous
- I applaud you all and look forward to lingering over those photographs. Thank you for organising this evening. Susan Barnes
- Thanks so much. I’m just a patient, but am so proud of you all. Marcia Saunders
- This meeting has been excellently organised. I am proud of you all who have organised it. I have enjoyed and will be in touch in the future. Quite touching. Thank you all. Wendy de Silva
- I have to say how proud I am of my local hospital. You have done a fantastic job in unimaginable circumstances and found space for Tom to capture your heroism. I look forward to seeing the exhibition. Thank you for everything you did and continue to do. Marlene Winfield
- This was so engaging, touching and impressive. Thank you all for everything you do - you should feel very proud of yourselves. Margaret Conroy
First published on Tortoise on 8 July 2020
This exhibition was made possible by the kind assistance of UCLH Charity, the Wellcome Trust, GAMA Healthcare, Farrar Foundation and Tortoise.
UCLH arts and heritage is the hospital arts and heritage project that serves UCLH NHS Foundation Trust and its surrounding community and is funded entirely by charitable donations and fundraising. UCLH arts and heritage is committed to providing a welcoming, uplifting environment for all patients, visitors and staff through the use of a varied and stimulating arts and heritage programme. Its work aims to improve the patient experience, boost staff morale, increase engagement with the arts and celebrate the Trust’s unique heritage and community.