Brighton-based arts collective Nimbus has been working with artist and graphic novelist Daniel Locke on ‘Crucible’, a permanent artwork and online archive celebrating the history and heritage of the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
Commissioned as part of Connect, the public art programme for the redevelopment of the Royal Sussex County Hospital, and funded by the Trust and Arts Council England, the artwork, which will be sited on the ground floor of the new hospital, will tell the story of hospital over nearly two centuries.
A flatscreen kiosk in a nearby waiting area, and a permanent online archive, will enable visitors to delve deeper into the hospital’s fascinating history, exploring shared stories of changing times, medical breakthroughs, and individual experiences of both personal and public significance.
The artwork represents the hospital as a ‘Crucible’ – a melting pot – in which social change combines with developments in healthcare, changes in thinking around the relationship of mental and physical health and the ethics and economics of care.
“As a student children’s nurse, I wore a pink dress, a white apron with straps that went over the shoulders, crossed at the back and tied in the front under the apron ‘bib’. Also a rather ‘fancy’ distinct linen hat, it was obvious I was different from the student adult nurses who wore pale blue dresses and a different apron and hat.”
The development of the artwork and online archive drew on research and resources from a Heritage Lottery Funded project, ‘The Royal Sussex County Hospital: A People’s History from the 19th Century to the 21st Century’, which identified, preserved and interpreted the social heritage of the hospital leading up to the new development.
Personal stories are interwoven, shedding light on the public history. Hospital staff, ex-staff, patients, and residents of Brighton and Hove took part in comic book workshops, contributed oral histories and shared stories and memories over tea and cake in a series of workshops with Daniel Locke and oral historian Margot Thomas. These took place over the course of 2019, at a variety of venues and with a diverse range of communities.
“During the Great Storm, all night, firemen carried women in labour up 8 flights of stairs in chairs, in arms. Life went on. Birth went on. Nothing, not even a hurricane could stop the natural process of labour. Under torch light babies were born.”
“I never forget that the patients I treat are people, they send the ward these letters of thanks, pictures of themselves with their children, or on holiday, sometimes for years after they’ve been here.”
“During the workshops I taught the participants how to script and draw a short comic strip about their experiences. They kindly donated their finished artworks to use as inspiration for the artwork. The individuals I met struck me with their vitality, generosity, and resilience. I have tried to provide them with a portrait that reflects these attributes.”
“Alongside the workshops, I kept a sketchbook that recorded my own feelings and drawings about the people I was meeting and the hospital. During this time, I also found myself a patient, very briefly, and so witnessed first-hand how caring and reassuring the medical staff of the hospital are.”
“All of this, together with the access I was given to the Hospital archive and the support provided to me by the Nimbus group’s Jamie Wyld and Carina Westling, have enabled me to develop a brightly coloured mural that intertwines stories of the living city with that of its fascinating past.
“I already loved our city, having been born at the hospital and lived here for most of my life, but this project has deepened my love for it.”
To find out more visit www.thecrucible.org.uk