I feel charmed to have led this project, to have spent seven Thursday evenings in the company of great women working across Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. We laughed when we read the instructions from Artichoke Trust, ‘start making in week four’, we thought we might be finished by then, it turned out that I added in that seventh session, without it, we’d have still been stitching up as the procession began.
Our design is a real collaboration and grew from a trunkful of fabric samples, a real cloth rainbow. This produced a colour palette that reflects the diversity of the trust, its staff and patients. It is also very celebratory, a nod to the long and distinguished history of the trust and the many women who have worked there. We have described it as both ‘party’ and ‘disco’ banner – yes, there are a few sequins too.
Early on we chose to celebrate pioneering women in healthcare, so the river that runs across the banner is embroidered with many names, including Mary Seacole ‘battlefield nurse’ of the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and more contemporary women, such as Dr Kate Granger MBE, whose legacy #hellomynameis has been adopted across and beyond the NHS as a way of improving communication between staff and patients. We also acknowledge the Windrush Nurses and Midwives. And there are names of women directly involved at Guy’s and St Thomas’, like the Chief Nurse, Dame Eileen Sills. Only one of the group is a nurse, she doesn’t know it yet, but her name will appear too, a fitting tribute to a woman who has worked there for forty years. The rest of the group includes scientists, administrators, managers and lawyers, a reminder of the many ‘behind the scenes’ roles needed in modern healthcare.
And we have talked and laughed a lot. Shared stories of work, our lives and individual women who have inspired us, the bottom of the banner features flowers whose green stalks are stitched with their names. I am so happy with how we have grown as a group. After the BBC came to interview us, and everyone spoke with such eagerness, I went home feeling like I really understood the idea of sisterhood, they were fabulous.
Several weeks ago, I listened to Helen Pankhurst speak at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, she asked what do women want in the ten years leading up to the centenary of full universal suffrage. As women in health, we have chosen to celebrate all we have done and demand RESPECT … I think there will be singing on the day!
Words by: Angela Maddock