Lives lost to Covid and the impact on all those left behind have been commemorated in a work of art, created entirely from the ‘Shared Hearts’ sent in to the NHS from members of the public during the first wave of the pandemic.
Back in April 2020, patient experience and critical care teams at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (UHSussex) came up with an idea on how to connect people, separated by lockdown and infection control, with their loved ones struck down with Covid and battling for survival in intensive care units.
Inspired by a similar project at a Trust in the North of England, the Shared Hearts project saw handmade hearts donated by the public given to a patient dying with Covid, and a matching heart would be given to a relative unable to be at the bedside.
Once the patient had passed away a card, with a heart and a personal message would be sent to the next of kin.
This simple act of kindness was greatly supported by people across Sussex, and hundreds and hundreds of knitted hearts were sent from across the county to the hospitals that make up UHSussex.
Once lockdown was lifted and loved ones were allowed in to visit patients, the project stopped but hundreds of hearts were left over.
They have now been turned into a stunning work of art, ‘Dream over Feeling’, by artist Joe Laffan, and commissioned and framed by UHSussex arts programme Onward Arts, funded by the Trusts’ BSUH charity.
It is thought to be the only work of art of its kind in the UK and hangs in reception of the Audrey Emerton Building, the education centre at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.
Joe, an arts graduate who works at the Trust as a Faculty Administrator for Medicine, said: “I was asked by onward arts if I would create a piece of art from the hundreds of knitted hearts they had left over from the project.
“I had about 400 hearts to use and I wanted to create something that would commemorate all those people who have been lost to Covid but also all those left behind after loss – families and friends, healthcare staff who felt helpless as people died.”
The subject of the artwork is a human eye and part of a face, which was actually modelled on one of Joe’s clinical colleagues. The technique he used is known as ‘latch hooking’, and saw Joe individually hand-stitch 125,000 yarns!
Joe added: “I finished it in October this year. It took me four months of working 4 hours every night and then 8 hours on a Saturday and Sunday.
“The eye and the mask were created using the same technique and in all, 46 different colours of wool were used. A lot of wool.
“I am really happy with the piece. I saw so many doctors and nurses suffering throughout this pandemic. It was my obsession to finish the piece and I see it as a memorial and tribute to all of the dedicated work of our NHS staff and for all the lives lost and people impacted by this terrible disease.”
The team at Onward Arts strives to enhance the experience of patients, visitors and staff, and to create healing hospital environments through the use of the arts.
Project Manager Erin Burns said: “The piece has truly brightened up the reception at the building, and will continue to be an emotional reminder to everyone who visits of an incredibly difficult year. I want to thank Joe, the BSUH charity for funding the project and to the wonderful local people who donated the hearts which made this possible.”