Leicester Museum and Art Gallery is the current host for a touring exhibition from Lewisham’s excellent Migration Museum, on until 29 October. It tells the story of how people came to the UK from across the world to help realise the world-first idea of a health service, free at the point of use, based solely on citizenship and not the payment of fees or insurance.
Telling the complete story
The exhibition is an engaging mix of photography, written and spoken word and personal artefacts. At its centre is a wraparound video experience combining performance, singing and personal stories featuring seven NHS migrant workers.
Visitors are taken on a journey from the foundation of the NHS in 1948 and are shown how the British Nationality Act of the same year helped ease the recruitment of people from Britain’s former colonies to make up a significant shortfall of medical professionals needed to effectively run the service. In fact, at the time, many doctors were leaving the UK to live and work in Australia, Canada, the USA and beyond.
We meet Allyson Williams (MBE), who arrived from Trinidad in 1969 to train as nurse in London. We are first taken through a written and photographic account simply displayed on a clipboard alongside other individual accounts. Later we see her party dress, worn on nights off from a gruelling shift system, a recent photographic portrait, a headdress she wore at the Notting Hill Carnival, and finally we see and hear her relate her experiences of the racism she experienced from patients: “They’d slap your hand away and say, ‘don’t touch me, your black is going to rub off on me’”.
Dr Nitha Naqvi was born in the UK in a hospital in Wigan where she lived with her parents, who came to the UK from Pakistan. We see a display of her toys and books from her early life living in the hospital. One of those stories on the clipboards alongside that of Allyson Williams tells how Nita’s Father, Dr Nayyar Naqvi OBE, arrived from Pakistan in 1969 and became a consultant cardiologist. His ID card from medical college in Karachi is also on display.
The integral role of migrants
Visitors are left in no doubt by the end of the exhibition that without the role of migrants, which continues to this day, the NHS simply would not function effectively and never would have. Above all, it shows how important it is that these stories are told, heard and celebrated.
The Migration Museum itself is also a ‘must visit’, as is the Migrant Makers Market on the same site. It will be at its current home in Lewisham Shopping Centre until at least 2025/2026 before moving to a new home in the City of London.
It is also well worth visiting the Museum and Gallery’s highly regarded, long-established and growing collection of 20th Century German expressionist art. Featuring paintings, drawings, sculpture, and printmaking from many artists including Otto Dix, Lotte Laserstein, Renée Sintenis and, a personal favourite, Kathë Kollwitz.