NHS England’s chief executive has today given his heartfelt support to the Daily Mail’s campaign to help create a lasting memorial to honour the victims of the pandemic.
Speaking on behalf of all health staff who have worked tirelessly to fight Covid-19 and save lives, Sir Simon Stevens ‘warmly welcomed’ plans for a stunning tribute at St Paul’s Cathedral.
The London landmark is planning a breathtaking new entrance and a chapel will house screens showing a virtual book of remembrance containing the names and photographs of lost loved ones.
Covid victim Salina Shaw died a week after giving birth to her third daughter and never discovered her name was Love
Generous Mail readers have stepped in to help raise the £2.3million needed for the oak portico, donating an incredible £65,500 in just two days. It takes the total already raised by St Paul’s to more than half a million pounds.
Backing the campaign, Sir Simon said NHS hospitals had treated 400,000 seriously ill patients with Covid-19 – which has claimed the lives of 127,524 across the UK to date.
‘Nurses, doctors, and countless other staff have witnessed first-hand the terrible toll this virus has inflicted,’ he said.
Never met her baby daughter
Salina never found out the name of her daughter, pictured with her father Abdul Bangura
When Salina Shaw discovered she was pregnant, she wanted the sex of her baby to be a surprise.
But, tragically, the fit and healthy 37-year-old never found out that she was having a baby girl named Love.
For she was struck down with Covid when she was close to full term with her third child and admitted to hospital last April.
Her baby was delivered by emergency C-section – but Miss Shaw from Southend, Essex, never regained consciousness and died eight days later.
‘Salina was over the moon to be pregnant,’ her partner and Love’s father Abdul Bangura said. ‘But she never got to know it was a girl. She never woke up so she did not get to meet her at all.’
The first-time father is now raising Love on his own while Miss Shaw’s other two daughters from another relationship are cared for by family.
‘We’ve had to make it work but there is nothing that beats a mother’s love at all. My child will never experience that,’ he said.
Backing the campaign, Mr Bangura said a memorial was important for children like Love who have lost a parent in the pandemic. ‘It would be a safe place for her to go to remember her mother,’ he said. ‘It will be something that will help Love understand what happened.’
Aged 111, the oldest casualty
A great-grandmother who survived the Spanish Flu and lived through two world wars became the UK’s oldest coronavirus victim.
Matilde Coulter died aged 111 on January 19 after she had caught the virus six days earlier in her residential care home. The Villa Scalabrini home in Shenley, Hertfordshire, had its first cases of Covid just a few weeks before vaccinations were due.
Family visits had been limited during lockdown and Mrs Coulter only met her newborn great-granddaughter through a glass divider last June.
Granddaughter Helen Holding, 55, said: ‘We haven’t had the proper time to grieve, a proper funeral or any of the things that come with saying goodbye. A national memorial is very important because it gives everybody a place to go to and focus on those who have died during this pandemic.’
Mrs Coulter was originally born in Bovino, southern Italy, in 1909 and had moved to England with her British husband, Cliff, and son, John, at the start of the Second World War.
‘The hugely successful NHS vaccine programme – the biggest in the health service’s history and the fastest in Europe – is helping us to emerge from this pandemic.
‘But as restrictions lift and we return to a more normal way of life, it is right that we honour and remember all those whose lives were taken by this cruel virus.’
Sir Simon added: ‘That is why on behalf of all those across the NHS, we warmly welcome the memorial planned for St Paul’s Cathedral. Few of us have remained untouched by what is the greatest public health emergency in a century. This important initiative will help bring consolation to families across the country.’
St Paul’s hopes to raise the funds by midsummer, so work can be completed in time for the second anniversary of the start of the pandemic next March.
The portico will be engraved with the words ‘Remember Me’ and a chapel will house screens to display the touching virtual book of remembrance launched last year.
Bishop of London Dame Sarah Mullally, who together with the Dean of St Paul’s Dr David Ison first came up with the idea of an online book of remembrance, said it was ‘hugely fitting’ that the cathedral should house the permanent memorial. She said St Paul’s was ‘a symbol of the nation’s collective experiences, both triumphs and tragedies’.
‘It would create a focal point for everyone, of all faiths and none, to remember, reflect and cherish lost loved ones, as part of the collective healing process for our country,’ she added.
The multi-faith memorial dedicated to the lives lost – directly or indirectly – to Covid already has the backing of Prince Charles, grieving families and politicians across the UK.
Leaders from the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish faiths are also wholeheartedly supporting the memorial which is open to everyone from all of the UK nations and of any faith or none.
Umesh Chander Sharma, of the Hindu Council (UK), said: ‘The idea of having a physical memorial to remember and respect them all is a very thoughtful and welcoming one. It will provide an opportunity to the whole nation to grieve together and a feeling that we are all members of big family regardless of our colour, religion or nationality.’
Lord Singh of Wimbledon, of the Network of Sikh Organisations, added: ‘This virus doesn’t distinguish between people and it reminds us that we are all one humanity, our destinies are completely entwined, and we should look to the future as one people.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue said it was important to have a ‘site of collective mourning’ after the ‘biggest peacetime trauma’ was inflicted on the country.
He added: ‘We need to grieve, to remember and to commemorate, and this memorial will be an important step in the healing process.’
Donations have flooded in with £65,500 being donated to the St Paul’s crowdfunding website since the Mail’s campaign launched on Saturday.
The donations take the total raised to £505,500 – with £440,000 being raised previously by St Paul’s since it set up the site in February.
Many donors are grieving relatives who have welcomed the opportunity to remember those lost with a permanent tribute.
Julia Abbitt who gave in memory of her father, who died of Covid-19 last April, wrote: ‘This important memorial is much needed as we must not forget the dreadful toll on the population and our loved ones are not just a statistic, but they all have names – names not numbers.’
Another donor Tracy Wallis said: ‘For our beautiful mum Linda Williams. She loved St Paul’s so to have a permanent memorial for her there would be incredible.
She added: ‘So many lives have been lost to this horrific virus. We will remember them always.’
And Sara Fellows, who paid tribute to her ‘amazing’ father, who died last March, said: ‘I feel his loss everyday, but this allows me to know he will be remembered, as will all the others that Covid claimed.
‘We can all share this monument, a physical showing that they are not just numbers on a graph.’
It is free to add a name to the virtual book of remembrance and the national memorial will be free to enter as well.
BEL MOONEY: This Covid memorial will be a place of pilgrimage to ensure nobody is forgotten
Make no mistake, the commemorative space planned within the ancient, hallowed walls of St Paul’s Cathedral to honour all those lost, directly or indirectly, to the coronavirus pandemic, is destined to become an important place of pilgrimage.
Indeed, what better way to focus our grief and to reflect on what we have all endured over this past momentous year than to be able to visit a dedicated national memorial.
It will take the form of a new entrance – a spectacular oak portico engraved with the words Remember Me – to the cathedral, and at least four screens showing the book of remembrance installed in the Middlesex Chapel.
When I read on Saturday about the Remember Me campaign, launched by the Mail to support a £2.3million fundraising appeal by St Paul’s Cathedral Foundation to build the portico, I went straight to the crowdfunder site to make my donation – just as so many of our wonderful, generous readers have done.
This is a rare chance to do our bit for all of us – and for history. Private remembrance is endless but the point about a national site is that it becomes a shared destination.
The urge to remember and to acknowledge the sorrow of others is a vital aspect of our humanity, and to make a pilgrimage to achieve that obeys a deeply-rooted human impulse.
For thousands of years people all over the world have made special journeys to sacred locations.
A pilgrimage is a transformative journey and the act of travelling meaningful.
One of the most beautiful places in Britain is the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire where 300,000 people visit the military service memorials.
There are other memorials there too – more than 350 in all – including the beautiful secluded garden where visitors place stones bearing the names of their stillborn children.
It may seem strange that people should make a day out of travelling to a place that commemorates death – but anyone who has been there will know how serene and joyful it is. A place of hope.
The whole site proclaims that all lives matter. Yes, even those poor young men shot by their officers for desertion during World War One. Nobody is forgotten.
Names engraved on stone or bronze are more than just words. They represent living, breathing souls who loved and were loved.
Likewise the Cenotaph, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the hundreds of commemorative monuments, statues and plaques around in villages, towns and cities across the UK all draw visitors who wish to bow their heads in respect. To be serious and reflect on life and death. To give thanks. And of course, to mourn.
On four trips I have made to the World War One battlefields of Northern France and Belgium, I’ve watched people contemplating the names of long-dead men to whom they have no connection and seen them shed tears of compassion.
Others may be searching for the name of a great-great uncle, and will leave a little letter.
Twice I have stood before the mighty Thiepval Memorial to 72,337 missing British and South African servicemen who died in the Battles of the Somme and studied the solemn faces of schoolchildren as they try to understand the enormity of sacrifice and death.
Then I shut my eyes and seemed to hear the voices of the dead cry ‘Remember Me!’
And those are the simple but eternally powerful words – inscribed in different languages – that will greet visitors and be the focal point of the planned memorial in St Paul’s. When we visit memorials, we are sharing in the everlasting suffering not only of loved ones but also of strangers.
The sheer numbers of the dead can be overwhelming – and at the height of the pandemic the effect of the news each night was numbing.
As T.S. Eliot wrote, ‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality.’ And yet we must bear it. A memorial site reminds us of real people, not statistics. And the effect of reading the names of others is a further reminder that mortality affects us all.
In the words of John Donne, the great 17th century Dean of St Paul’s: ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’
Those who will pass through the revolving door to enter the new oak portico in the North Transept of St Paul’s will leave the everyday world behind and be part of a shared experience. So let us help build this special place.
Let us remember that the pres-ence of the grief of others is the thread that unites us all – and that is the message this special, sacred place will carry forward to future generations.
What is the plan?
To create a memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral to those who died as a result of the pandemic, whether direct victims of Covid or those whose medical treatment was disrupted by lockdown restrictions. The memorial will let people of any faith pay their respects to family and friends at a permanent site.
How will it work?
St Paul’s has set up Remember Me – an online book of remembrance. Anyone wishing to remember a loved one can submit, free of charge, the name, photograph and a short message in honour of their loved one at www.rememberme2020.uk
At least four virtual books of remembrance will be installed in the cathedral’s Middlesex Chapel. Visitors will be able to light candles or simply sit in contemplation.
Where will it be?
A newly built wooden portico will be set in the north transept of the cathedral, away from the busier main doors. Entrance will be free. It will sit on the site of an earlier hallway which was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941.
Alongside works of non-religious art, the words ‘Remember Me’ will be written in all the main languages of the UK. Visitors will walk through the portico to reach the remembrance area in the Middlesex Chapel.
How much is needed?
£2.3million. Of this, £1.13million is needed to pay for the portico and £670,000 to run the exhibition for two years. Money is needed for the preparatory design work, symbolic artwork and signage. The hope is to open it in March 2022 for the second anniversary of the pandemic. Around £440,000 has already been raised.
Any money raised over the £2.3m required will be used in a variety of ways to help preserve the memorial.
Is it part of Mail Force?
No, the Mail is supporting the St Paul’s Cathedral Foundation to raise funds for the memorial.
Is this the official national memorial?
There are no other current plans for a national memorial. What started as an online St Paul’s memorial, backed by the Prince of Wales and all major faith leaders, has now turned into a project for a physical and living memorial inside the cathedral.
Where will it be? A newly built wooden portico will be set in the north transept of the cathedral, away from the busier main doors. Entrance will be free. It will sit on the site of an earlier hallway which was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941
How can you donate?
Go to crowdfunder.co.uk/rememberme. You can donate any sum you like but the first 5,000 people to donate online using the special £25 ‘Limited Edition Candle from the Daily Mail’ button will receive a free Remember Me frankincense scented candle funded by the Mail. By clicking this button, you will have the option of adding a larger sum. Donors using the ‘£50 Reward’ button will receive a year’s free membership to St Paul’s Cathedral, worth £30. Regrettably, donations made by cheque will not be eligible for the free candle or St Paul’s membership.
Make cheques payable to St Paul’s Cathedral Foundation and send it to Remember Me, Chapter House, St Paul’s Churchyard, London, EC4M 8AD. To boost your donation by 25p of Gift Aid for every £1 you donate, please fill in and cut out the form and add this to your envelope.