AHRC-funded projects honour NHS and Windrush anniversaries

Cropped hand of man writing in notebook

Two creative writing projects at Manchester Metropolitan University shed light on the previously untold stories of the NHS and the Windrush generation.

The first project saw Dr Kim Moore, a Forward Prize-winning poet, collaborate with staff across Trafford Hospital, Manchester.

The project helped them to find their voice through creative writing so that they could tell their story of working in the NHS.

The second saw Manchester City of Literature Community Champion Jackie Bailey helping members of African-Caribbean communities tell their stories of working in the NHS.

This marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush.

Both culminate today in the launch of an exhibition and anthology of creative writing produced by NHS staff and curated by Dr Moore.

Intertwined histories

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Executive Chair Professor Christopher Smith said:

75 years ago, HMS Windrush brought 492 passengers from the Caribbean to the UK.

Many had served in the armed forces in the war, and many would take up jobs in public service, for instance in the NHS which also came into existence in 1948.

These are national stories and personal stories, and they intertwine.

And that entangled history of individuals and of service, of migration and of the experience of health and illness, birth and death, is here brought into focus through the power of writing.

Kim Moore’s curation has given space and voice to allow stories of an institution and a generation that have shaped modern Britain to be told and to be heard, the urgent narrative of our common humanity with all its grief and joy.

Lead on both projects was Professor Jess Edwards, Head of the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Further information

The Porters

By Kim Moore

For Steve S, Steve J, Warren, Charlie, Jed and Reece

We move anything that needs moving
furniture oxygen nitrous gases
we empty the bins or take the post

we deliver the drugs the bloods
the patients
from one side of the hospital to another

the dead bodies
from this world to the other
once we were taxi drivers

welders printers bar staff
now we’re here
we walk ten miles a day

or twelve miles a day
down long corridors
flights of stairs

we say Mavis what you like on your feet
she replies I like my socks
and slippers thanks

can you imagine that
90 years old and mind
still quick as a flash

remember that porter
who hid in the fridge
remember when he hid

inside the hatch
how did he get in there
and out again

no we can’t tell you
about the jokes
they wouldn’t be funny

written down
during covid we worked
double shifts

postman and porter
no it never crossed
our minds not to go

to work
it felt like war
it felt like duty

we slept in separate bedrooms
from our wives
to keep them safe

or in caravans on the drive
we did that ourselves
nobody really told us to

we didn’t know
what we were up against
and when the PPE ran out

we scavenged for more
for gloves
all whilst moving anything

that needed moving
the patients yes
in wheelchairs or beds

but also the drugs
the bloods the bins
the post the desks

and tables and yes
of course the bodies
yes of course the dead

My Journey in the NHS

By Karen Dawn Hutchinson

My Mum and Dad were both NHS employees
It was their love that propelled me,
steered me,
To make the right choice of career.
No holds barred of how hard it would be.
There would be less and less people like me
as I climbed the career tree.

The roles that were mine,
I strived twice as hard to gain.
Loving my work despite the pain
of jobs taken away ..
The ceiling glass,
My race denied me access.

I made a plan to make it differently.
I would read,
I would study, I achieved an MSc.

I still work hard for change to come.
My work is ..I know not yet done.

Change will come some day,  some how. I am impatient I want it now !!

The dreams of the Windrush Generation will be fulfilled ..
the slog is still hard and uphill.

The NHS is OURS … not theirs, despite the challenges ..
despite the fears.

Baba Mi

By Yinka Ekundayo

I dream of my dad.
Can you see me?
A glimpse of another reality.

My experiences of the NHS flash past and other memories unravel.
Much time has passed; it also feels like yesterday.
I am back on the ward; hushed tones we are not the only family present
beeps from electrical equipment, no questions but time (given to us by the medical team).
We acknowledge that silence will follow an agreement from all of us around the bed.
Silence comes; it does not last.

A few weeks later at a new desk that’s not MY desk.
The clean desk policy gives a clinical feeling to the office space
as tears fall silently.
An announcement of a snap election by Theresa May’s government
brings the realisation, that there will be no phone call with my dad.
My personal link to a wealth of lived experiences, post and precolonial
enriching my understanding of the world.

There have been other times when I have returned to that day, that ward.
I wonder about the questions I could have asked/could still ask.
My recent back issues, attempts to understand how my body works,
the importance of fascia, movement, and scar tissue
reminds me of my dad’s discomfort a year before his passing,
I know more now.

His recent visit in my dreams has brought a stillness.
Questions left unanswered persist.
Can you see me?
You……I ask.

Two Doctors

By The Doctor

Some details in this story have been changed to protect anonymity.

I walked along the corridor to the relative’s room to talk about a ‘not for resuscitation’ order. I was armed with the golden nugget of information passed on by my nurse that the son was ‘medical’ and had expressed a wish for his father to remain for resuscitation.

I was going to tell the son that his 87-year-old father had been deemed by the medical team as not suitable to be considered for resuscitation.

I had earlier spoken about resuscitation with the patient – a frail man with a very kind face. He was himself a doctor. He’d listened and quietly agreed it was for the best. He wanted me to convey this decision to his son.

I went to the small family room on the ward. It had plain white walls and a plainer brown sofa. I had spoken to many families in this room, supporting them through difficult conversations. I’d barely entered the room when the son said abruptly that he wants his father to be resuscitated. He felt unable to agree with the ‘not for resuscitation’ decision. He pointed out that his dad had been active and was a very accomplished man.

I’d had similar conversations many times, putting across the most pragmatic and persuasive arguments to help family members understand decisions of this nature. I was used to supporting people through the difficult discussions around the best interests of a patient. But this time was different.

This time I’d just returned from Greece after burying my 87-year-old dad. My dad had been a distinguished doctor and had earned accolades equivalent to the OBE before being struck down by a heart attack. He had been physically and mentally sharp as ever just before. I’d sat down with his medical team. They proceeded to tell me that resuscitation was not in his best interests.

I had given them all the medical arguments I had and all the reasons why he should be resuscitated. I had refused to even acknowledge the current frailty and state of health of my dad. I’d sat in a big open room with multiple medical team members present. I remember thinking that we’d probably been labelled as a ‘difficult family’. They presented me with biochemical evidence of how unwell my father was.

My closest cousin had pointed out to me that ‘even the most active person deserves a compassionate death.’ I had unwillingly subjugated and with pain laid down all my medical arguments and accepted the decision of the ‘not for resuscitation’ decision. 48 hours later I had mourned my father’s death.

The son sitting across from me now proceeded to give me all the reasons why I should keep his dad to be for resuscitated just as I had with my own father. I outlined all the medical reasons he should not be. I remember the son telling me I spoke very well, but he still wanted his father to be for resuscitation.

I saw mirrored in this son myself, two people fighting for their dads, knowing in their medical heart all the reasons why it would not be in his best interests. Both of us refusing to acknowledge it and fighting hard.

Suddenly I desperately wanted to help this man, more than I ever had before. I wanted to support him to go through and reach as quickly as possible the other end of the painful tunnel I had recently crossed. And so I began the talk.

For the first time (but not the last), I shared my personal story. After a few moments he sat back on the brown sofa. His manner changed and a weight seemed to shift.

He paused and asked me what had I done, what decision I had taken. I told him. The conversation afterwards was short. He accepted the decision calmly and was very composed – but I could still see doubts in his eyes. I held his hand in both of mine in an unmoving handshake. Two strangers, two doctors, two sons. And then we parted.

I hope very much that I had in some small way helped him on his journey ahead.

Top image:  Credit: ArtistGNDphotography, E+ via Getty Images

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