IN OUR OWN WORDS- THE ROAD TO PARLIAMENT
IN OUR OWN WORDS- THE STORY SO FAR
“Was I got out of it was reflecting on what happened, letting go of what happened and moving
on to what’s coming” Whittington Staff member
Over the past 4 years Wake The Beast artists have interviewed a total of 250+ Whittington Health Trust NHS/Care Home staff to capture their experiences throughout the pandemic. Working hand in hand with the Clinical Health Psychology Team, 7 unique pieces of new writing were creating and toured to over 1000+ NHS staff across multiple NHS trust sites throughout three national lockdowns (June 20, Nov 20, June 21, July 21, Nov 21, Nov 22). The journey from ‘Health Heroes’ to ‘Striking Villains’ throughout this period has been captured and documented using the words of zero hours contractors cleaning Covid wards to Senior Consultants and all the bands in between.
Starting just weeks after lockdown 1, our first play was raw, painful, and humbling. For 8 weeks we interviewed over 40 NHS staff (porters, cleaners, ICU nurses, doctors). The team put together a 25-minute performance and rehearsed in wards at the hospital. Staff were emotional but grateful; having artists engage with them validated their experiences and performing their words back to them allowed staff a chance to reflect on what they had experienced with the psychology team.
Having our artists champion unheard stories, urgently and immediately was an important role for us to hold. Our work created an opportunity to reflect. Allowing senior management to hear what had happened to staff also allowed space for change.
It was clear that the hospital story was not the complete one. District Nurses, Speech & Language therapists and other community health practitioners were still going out for essential visits, using their bikes, or walking miles, carrying PPE on their backs, frequently unsure of the ever-changing guidelines. Many staff were redeployed to other services. Dental nurses, physios and dieticians found themselves at the epicentre of the pandemic in ITU – with very little notice or training.
The further we spoke to staff it was apparent that the voices of Care Home staff and Global Majority staff needed their own platform. Kemi Coker from Wake The Beast interviewed another 42 Global Majority staff, Tonderai Munyebu wrote the script and Sibusiso Mamba directed the performance which toured in rep with the Care Home piece ‘London Rain’ to 5 health centres, 4 care homes and the Whittington Hospital (July 21).
The work spreads
Throughout the pandemic more NHS trusts got in touch and the WTB team interviewed over 40 staff from Central North West London (CNWL) Trust (Surrey, London, Milton Keynes)– where the wellbeing team worked with WTB to curate a Wellbeing festival featuring 10 short films written by WTB using the interviews. Camden and Islington Trust, a mental health Trust, also requested a bespoke theatre tour. The team interviewed 30+ staff from this trust and created ‘Stories from C&I’ which toured hospitals and wards for two weeks in July 21.
A ‘red carpet’ event for staff and the public was hosted at Jacksons Lane, Highgate in May 2022- where content was streamed for free for NHS/ Social Care staff across the country.
We recently finished our 7th piece of theatre for the Whittington Trust and were invited to perform at Parliament so advocate for NHS/ Social Care staff mental health and wellbeing. We are proud to have charted their experiences over the last 4 years.
To have used theatre as a tool to support our NHS & Social Care staff at a time when most art went online is something we are deeply proud of. The bravery, tenacity and humour of the staff interviewed shone through in the content and we are so grateful for their contribution and how it has helped to support so many colleagues.