The Migration Museum is opening Heart of the Nation: Migration and the Making of the NHS, a national touring exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary year of the National Health Service (NHS), at its new pop-up museum in Trinity Leeds shopping centre on Friday 10 November 2023.
The NHS has faced huge pressures over the decades – never more so than today. Yet the NHS and the millions of people who sustain it remain close to our hearts. And without its international workers, the NHS would not have become the beloved institution it is today.
Ever since its creation in 1948, people have come to Britain from all over the world to make this grand vision for a better society a reality. Today, around 1 in 6 people working in the NHS has a non-British nationality. And many others are the children and grandchildren of migrant healthcare workers, forging multi-generational legacies. But their crucial role has largely been ignored.
NHS workers care for us from the moment we’re born, until the moment we die. Heart of the Nation is an immersive media exhibition that asks the question: who are the people who care for us? And do we care enough?
Featuring dozens of personal stories contributed by people who have come from all over the world to work at all levels of the NHS from the 1940s to the present day, alongside photography, film, newly commissioned artwork, unique artefacts and historical ephemera, Heart of the Nation shares the stories and experiences of the migrant healthcare workers who built and have sustained our health service.
The exhibition features stories of West Yorkshire-based NHS workers alongside people from around the world working in the NHS across the UK. Featured stories include Dr Arnab Seal and Dr Sunita Seal, who moved to the UK from India in 1992 and have spent much of the past 30 years working as doctors in Leeds and Bradford, with Dr Arnab Seal also a lecturer in child health at the University of Leeds; Josie Cauldfield, who arrived from Ireland in 1958 and worked as an A&E nurse in Leeds for 30 years; and the Dimov family, originally from Bulgaria via New Zealand, five of whom spanning two generations now work for the NHS.
The centre-piece of the exhibition is SPEAK, a newly commissioned interactive music and video installation co-created and performed by seven people currently working in the NHS, exploring themes of care through singing and storytelling.
Visitors will finish in an interactive healing space, where they’ll be invited to reflect on and share their stories and experiences of care, and add messages for NHS workers who have cared for them throughout their lives to an evolving participatory installation.
The exhibition builds on a digital exhibition that the Migration Museum launched during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, which has been updated and integrated into the new exhibition. Visitors will also be able to contribute their own stories to this evolving, participatory exhibition.
Aditi Anand, Artistic Director at the Migration Museum, said:
“For all its challenges, the NHS remains an immense source of national pride and is often painted as a distinctly British success story. Yet the NHS simply wouldn’t exist without the generations of people from all over the world who have built, grown and staffed it.
“Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain – as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told – and we’re delighted to be able to tell this story in the heart of Leeds.”
Steven Foster, Centre Director at Trinity Leeds, said: “The Migration Museum’s exhibition, Heart of the Nation, tells the inspiring stories of NHS workers from across the globe and their hard work and dedication to helping others.
“We’re thrilled to host the interactive touring exhibition, including incredible stories from Leeds-based migrant healthcare workers which we’re sure will inspire and inform our guests.”
Dr Adil Akram, a psychiatrist working in the NHS who is one of the singers and co-creators of the music and video installation, said:
“My father came over from Pakistan in the 1960s to practise as a doctor in the NHS – and I’ve followed in his footsteps. This exhibition is close to my heart – it’s about the contributions of people like my father who came to this country and spent their lives and careers helping to build the NHS into the fantastic institution it is today, that symbolises all the good things about the UK.”
The exhibition opens at the new Migration Museum Pop-Up in Trinity Leeds on 10 November 2023 and runs until 18 February 2024, the second destination of a national tour. The exhibition launched in Leicester in June 2023 and will move to London in Spring 2024.