Blue skies and brilliant sunshine mark the official unveiling of the figures by NHS and frontline workers, a sombre ceremony as the 300 photographed figures look over the city, a moment of peace in the clear air, on a grassy slope, looking over to the new horizons, as the world looks toward a future where coronavirus has been beaten. It is a humbling and poignant sight at Oxford’s South Park – where the new installation of 300 NHS heroes overlook the city’s famous dreaming spires, masked and suited in their career uniforms.
The creation of community charitable action group Standing with Giants (the group behind the For Honour – For Love – For Freedom installation commemorating fallen soldiers), the display marks not only the continuing commitment to the nation from the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, but also a solemn tribute to those we lost in the battle. For many of us, this includes some familiar faces – friends, family, neighbours, people who have cared for us before or during the pandemic. From the back, the silhouettes are unseen figures, the many working quietly, on full throttle throughout: we may clap for them, but now, as we ascend the park’s slope from the city centre side, we can see the individuals represented, face on.
Organised by Dan and Janette Barton, and Jules Gregory, the installation has been made possible (as previously) with support and pro bono services from local businesses to provide the materials (recycled as much as possible). Showing 200 Giants at Blenheim, invited by the Duke of Marlborough, within tight COVID-19 safety restrictions raised more than £40,000 for the Poppy Appeal, and brought in many hospitality staff who had been furloughed or out of work due to the pandemic.
The leveller for the NHS Tribute installation is of course the UK government announcement heralding the release of all lockdown restrictions, against a surge of new cases in Oxford – the seven day average for the city has rocketed from 1,800 in mid-April to over 30,000 in mid-July. Against this stark figure, the masks and five metre distancing of the figures remind us that with more freedom, we must still act responsibly, as the remembered guardians watch over our city. Fittingly, all those attending the opening of the installation have been asked to respect social distancing and wear face masks throughout.
The installation encourages people to donate to NHS Charities Together – the official partner of the NHS, comprising 240 charity members based with hospitals, mental health, ambulance and community services UK-wide. Together, the charities rely on donations and support to provide help supporting the mental health of frontline NHS staff, help provide urgent, sometimes lifesaving frontline paramedic response, and support patients and families facing terminal or life-impacting conditions.
Dan Barton: Founder of Standing with Giants, says:
“The figures have been made as a tribute to NHS staff who lost their lives in the fight against Covid-19. Our previous installations have proven hugely popular and this time we will be raising funds for NHS Charities Together, as well as our community project, Standing with Giants, hopefully enabling us to take the installations on tour around the country for many more people to see and experience.”
Cllr Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Tourism at Oxford City Council, says:
“The Standing with Giants installation is a moving and thoughtful piece of art. It gives us all a chance to reflect on our experiences over the past year and a half and the loved ones we have lost. I encourage members of the public to visit the space to experience the atmosphere the artist has created and allow themselves a moment for contemplation and the opportunity to grieve.”
Ellie Orton, Chief Executive of NHS Charities Together, says:
“We want to give a heartfelt thanks to Dan Barton and all those involved in creating and showing such a stunning installation in tribute to our NHS frontline. The installation is a poignant reminder of the tireless work of the NHS workforce who looked after the nation throughout the pandemic, despite the huge impact it has had on their mental health and wellbeing. Sadly the pandemic hasn’t yet gone away and we need to continue to be there for them – money raised will go towards supporting our NHS staff, volunteers and patients both practically and emotionally, now and in the longer term as the NHS recovers from the most challenging time in its history.”
Jules Gregory, Standing with Giants spokesperson, says:
“Dan and the team have been working tirelessly for over three months to produce this installation. You’d be amazed at the amount of work that goes into a project such as this, and we are absolutely indebted to the generosity of our volunteers and sponsors who, like Dan, are determined that the selfless work and dedication carried out by the NHS staff and key workers, plus the awful losses suffered by their colleagues is never, ever, forgotten. We are delighted to welcome NHS Charities Together as a partner and look forward to continuing our fundraising efforts from which they will benefit, well into the future.”
Standing with Giants: NHS Tribute will be at Oxford’s South Park (what three words location: https://w3w.co/tiles.target.scout) until August 1st.