The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public mental health and on health and social care staff working in the community is explored in a new digital exhibition called A Centenary of Caring, a joint project between University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) School of Health Sciences and Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) and Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership.
The exhibition, which falls during the centenary year of nursing and midwifery becoming a registered profession and is open now, is the result of a collaboration between university students and health care workers in Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership.
Students from UEA’s School of Health Sciences and NUA held a series of remote meetings with NHS staff to discuss what they were experiencing day-to-day in the community and their emotional response to the pandemic.
With input from NUA and UEA academics, the discussions led to the creation of works of art in different forms: from video and photography, to painting to poetry and textiles. UEA’s ImpACT Research Group helped to facilitate the creative workshops, manage the project and supported the co-creation of two of the exhibits: Behind Closed Doors and the film from the Brooklands Care Home.
Emma Wakelin, Head of Workforce Transformation for the Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership, said: “The health and wellbeing of our workforce is a key priority for the Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership and one of the four objectives in our #WeCareTogether People Plan. Focussing on good health and wellbeing has never been more important than now for our people who have all experienced very different ways of working and personal challenges since the start of the pandemic.
“The opportunity to collaborate with both our health care professionals and local art students to share experiences and gain insights into the impact of the pandemic has been incredible. I have personally been humbled by the honesty, integrity and passion of experience shown through the finished pieces of art. Taking the time to visit a virtual gallery allowed me some time for personal reflection and again be thankful for the amazing NHS, Social Care, and wider communities we have in Norfolk and Waveney.
“We look forward to building on the exhibition with UEA and NUA over the coming months with more artwork and expression as a living history of the pandemic.”
Professor Sally Hardy, Dean School of Health Sciences at UEA said: “We have witnessed a massive outpouring of support for the UK NHS from local communities sharing their appreciation through many different activities such as weekly clapping for NHS workers, rainbow banners and blue ribbons, whilst tolerating social isolation and lockdown. As the pandemic progresses, we have a great deal to learn about the impact on community mental health and wellbeing strategies that promote the resilience of our health care workforce, alongside the communities they serve.
“We hope you will join the experience through our exhibition and leave your own thoughts and comments to enable your own self-expression. Few projects of this kind have attempted to bridge a gap between wellbeing and creative arts during a pandemic, of which we all are experiencing.”
Carl Rowe, Associate Professor and Course Leader in Fine Art at NUA, said: “What we originally set out to achieve was purposeful, creative, cathartic dialogue and something quite simple in terms of a physical outcome. We didn’t expect art from everyone, because not everyone involved is an artist. But the results are astounding, ranging from performance, film, poetry, infographics, portraiture, drawing, prose, photography and textiles. All of the resulting artworks reveal an insight into the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. To that end, we can say with confidence that art and creative thinking has the power to make at least some sense of the profoundly incomprehensible.”
Libby Seymour, a third year Fine Art student at NUA, produced an embroidered piece with question that came out of one of the discussion groups: “Who looks after the strong ones?”
Libby, whose father is a consultant in public health, said: “For me this project has been an opportunity to reflect on both my own and other people's experiences of the pandemic. At home we have supported my dad who works in public health, but I have become more aware of the mental strain working during the pandemic can have on those who don’t have the same support. I hope this exhibition acts as a moment to pause and reflect for others too.”
The exhibition runs until Friday 12 March and can be seen at https://artspaces.kunstmatrix.com/en/exhibition/4400380/a-centenary-of-caring