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Case study: Royal Free research nurses are stars of online gallery exhibition and new book

“Being involved in the project was a wonderful way of recognising the work that we did. I feel really privileged to have been a part of it.”

Three research nurses from the Royal Free London NHS Trust have been artistically immortalised in an online gallery exhibition and two of the portraits also feature in a new book, Portraits for NHS Heroes published by Bloomsbury, celebrating NHS staff who were at the frontline during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nina Davies, Kayleigh Peel and Jacolene Crause all feature in a Google Arts & Culture “Healthcare Heroes” exhibition, a collection of paintings of NHS staff from across the country done by different artists using a variety of media. All three were redeployed from working in cardiology research to the intensive care unit at the hospital, in London’s Hampstead, in the early days of the pandemic.

The campaign, online gallery and book are the brainchild of artist Tom Croft. Tom wanted to offer his support to frontline workers by capturing the bravery and heroism of frontline workers who were risking their physical and mental health for our wellbeing.

After posting a video message on Instagram requesting participants, he painted the portrait of a nurse Harriet Durkin, based at Manchester Royal Infirmary, for free.

This kickstarted a national campaign. Before long, Tom had paired up 500 artists and NHS workers in the first two weeks. When numbers reached the thousands, Tom set up a traffic light system so that artists and frontline workers could match themselves. Portraits in all mediums followed, from oils to pencil, sculpture to ceramic, mosaic to mural. 

Nina, a senior research nurse in cardiology, was painted in oils by Charlotte Johnstone. Nina said: “The first four weeks were a whirlwind, and everyone pulled together from all over the hospital.  I was redeployed to the intensive care unit (ICU) and it was a very challenging time for everyone. It is remarkable to have this surreal time captured in such a life-like painting”.

Kayleigh Peel, also a cardiology research nurse was drawn by Steph Rew. Kayleigh said: “It was a really unusual thing to get involved in and not necessarily something I would expect to be a part of! But I love my picture and it’s a great way to remember my time being redeployed.”

Jacolene Crause, another cardiology nurse, was painted in watercolours by Mandy Garratt.

She said: “Being involved in the project was a wonderful way of recognising the work that we did. I feel really privileged to have been a part of it.”

Nina, Kayleigh and Jacolene are now all back working in research. Portraits for NHS Heroes is available online and in bookshops. All royalties from the book will go to NHS Charities Together. More information on the online exhibition can be found on the Healthcare Heroes google pages.