A team of traditional blacksmiths have donated a rainbow bench to St Bartholomew Hospital’s historic square, helping to keep their craftsmanship alive during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The rainbow benches have been given to three hospitals in London, including the Royal Brompton and Royal Free Hospitals, each of which have operated at the centre of the pandemic, as a special thank you to the NHS.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only been a challenge for the workforce of the NHS, but it also has had a huge impact on jobs throughout the country, such as those within the heritage craft sector.
Fred Suffield, a traditional blacksmith operating from his 200-year-old Anwick Village forge in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire faced the prospect of a considerable downturn of conservation work as the virus took hold of the country.
He applied for a special covid-relief grant programme from the Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) and was subsequently funded by Trustees of Grandey’s Trust, a heritage craft centre in Hertfordshire, to create the three unique benches.
Fred and his team of blacksmiths, a family business with just four members of staff, have used the funding to keep colleagues in their job, with each bench taking approximately one month to complete.
As a result, Fred has been able to keep his historic forge working, whilst allowing his staff to apply their century-old skills to these beautiful rainbow benches.
The rainbow motif, which has symbolised the nation’s gratitude towards the NHS during the pandemic, is forged out of 4 materials: brass, copper, steel and stainless steel to achieve a unique and beautiful interpretation.
The oak seat is engraved with ‘thank you’ in 16 different languages, including Braille, each of which represents the diverse workforce of the NHS and the communities it serves.
The bench was crafted completely by hand using solid metals, forged in a fire and then hammered over an anvil to give the whole structure its unique form and texture.
Traditional British solid oak was finally hand carved with white hot metal to inscribe the inclusive and multi-lingual message of thanks to the NHS and key workers.
Fred Suffield, director of Anwick Forge Ltd, said: "It has been a privilege to create this ironwork to show our gratitude to the NHS staff and all key workers.
“We’re also delighted to add to the heritage of St Bartholomew's Hospital and to sustain our historic craft of blacksmithing with this rainbow bench."
Clive Beecham, Trustee of Grandey’s Place said: “It quickly became clear that retaining jobs, as well as the nation’s health, was going to be a massive challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Trustees of Grandey’s Place therefore contacted the HCA and we agreed on a scheme that offered a permanent and imaginative ‘thank you’ to the NHS, in the form of these beautiful benches, whilst still aiming to preserve skilled jobs.”
Justin Creigh, deputy chief executive at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, said: “I’m delighted to accept this bench on behalf of the hospital and would like to thank Fred and his team for their generous gift.
“The pandemic has really brought the NHS closer to other important sectors in the country, and this bench will help bring hope, peace and comfort to our staff under such challenging circumstances.”