NHS quilts are on show in Brighton today

Two handcrafted quilts go on show today, Saturday 01 July, at Dorset Gardens Methodist Church to celebrate 75 years of the NHS. Supporters came together at 11am to admire the handiwork of 27 people aged from 11 to 82 who sewed the quilts.

On Saturday, the ‘Threads of Survival’ exhibition will be open at the church until 4pm and will run to Monday, 3 July when it closes at 3pm. It will then move to the ONCA gallery near the hospital. (Details below.)


Charlotte Stevens who is a professional quilter, advised on the structural side of how to join the pieces together. She said: “It’s been a wonderful, collective thing to have the chance to work with the group.” Some people who are passionate about the NHS, she said, wouldn’t go on a march but they were keen to sew a piece of the quilt.  There is a history of collective quilting dating back to the AIDS campaign in the 1980s, Charlotte explained.

Mike Aiken is an activist from Sussex Defend the NHS. He said as the NHS approaches its birthday next week, it’s important to do more to raise awareness and find ways for people to get involved. He said: “I think we all forget about the NHS until we are ill and then we find bits of it aren’t there anymore.”

Madeleine Dickens from Sussex Defend the NHS, who organised the event, said the exhibition of the quilts is about celebrating the NHS because the government is driving it into the ground. She said: “The NHS saves thousands of lives every day and undertakes hundreds of thousands of treatments but it’s in a state of disintegration. We need to acknowledge the NHS. Many more people need to become aware of what’s happening and sign the scroll.”

Madeleine also paid tribute to Steve Carne who died earlier this year. He was a very active NHS campaigner and a friend to many in Brighton and Hove. There is a piece of the quilt adorned with a yellow boa in memory of Steve.

Madeleine Dickens
Madeleine Dickens and Paulo Boldrini who organised the exhibition

The Ukrainian Voices Choir from Brighton entertained us by singing some traditional, Ukrainian songs. Most of the singers are refugees who came to Brighton a year ago after the war broke out. Iryna and Kira were manning a stand where people can buy Ukrainian souvenirs and make a donation. They sang their last song called ‘The hope is here’ in Ukrainian and English.  They sang: “Hope is a powerful force that never fades away.”

Louise Bray-Allen who is a Community Mental Health nurse spoke at the exhibition of the quilts about the importance of the NHS. Catching up with me beforehand, she said you can monetise a hip replacement and asked, how can you monetise mental health?

Louise Bray-Allen
Louise Bray-Allen, Community Mental Health Nurse

In her speech, she said: “I’ve seen a lot of changes, a lot of reorganisations over the years but the NHS has taken a phenomenal hammering under the Covid 19 pandemic tragedy. I fear for its future and fear that it won’t reach its 75th birthday without it being effectively privatised by stealth by this brutal government.

“Back in the good old days when a patient needed a hospital bed, a local bed was always found. Now many patients have to be accommodated out of area (mostly in private facilities – at considerable expense.) But more importantly – increasing the distress for that patient – as they are located far from home without any chance of visitors.

“Hospital bed number have been absolutely decimated! The years of Tory austerity plus the ravages of Covid have made this situation much, much worse. Nursing staff are thoroughly demoralised at not being able to provide the quality care we have been trained to deliver. Vacancies are at an all-time high. Where are the next up and coming generation of nurses going to come from? The Tories took the bursaries away and plunged student nurses into huge debt…

Our NHS Heroes

“And what about social care? This still hasn’t been addressed at all… So, the NHS has to provide the safety net for these people at the detriment of care being focused elsewhere in the system.

“The latest insulting pay rise? It’s effectively a pay cut. I certainly didn’t go into nursing to earn a huge salary, but I did naively expect my wages to go up occasionally! People say nursing is a “vocation” but try telling that to the bank manager when the overdraft limit is reached every month… And now some nurses have been forced to use food banks which I find utterly shocking and completely unacceptable.

“This brutal government has taken full advantage of the Covid 19 crisis to slyly give contracts to their friends in the private sector, hoping that people won’t notice, well we have, haven’t we?

“We must resist all attempts at privatisation by stealth.

Steve Carne tribute
Steve Carne tribute

“We must stand together in our unions and local communities, and together we must fight for a decent, well-funded and resourced NHS free at the point or delivery for all. The rich must pay their taxes and that money must be channelled into the NHS.

“I will not be a nurse for a private company – I will not be wearing a red virgin healthcare uniform. I would rather be unemployed than work for a private healthcare provider.

“How can you make a profit out of somebody’s psychological pain? How can you make a profit out of someone suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar?

“The NHS is not dead yet! We must do everything we can to stop the Tories forcing us to have an American two-tier service. We must reject the Tory propaganda that the NHS is broken and needs privatisation. It’s not broken, just under-funded.

“I want to work for a properly funded NHS that does not sell our personal, confidential, medical data to private companies and that upholds the values that Nye Bevan so eloquently expressed in 1948:

“’The NHS will last as long as there are fold left with the faith to fight for it.’ There is fantastic work going on in the NHS. There is the love for the NHS visually represented in these amazing quilts. Let us all keep the faith, join together and fight to cherish and save our NHS.

“I give hope out every day of my working life. There is hope.”

Ukrainian Voices Choir Brighton
Ukrainian Voices Choir Brighton

On 5 July, the Threads of Survival group will be celebrating the NHS birthday with Sussex Defend the NHS. Professor Rob Galloway, an A&E consultant and medical advisor to the NHS Support Federation will be speaking at 10 30am outside the ONCA gallery. The quilts will be displayed in the ONCA Gallery Window, 14 St George’s Place, Brighton BN1 4GB from Wednesday 05 July (NHS birthday) to Monday, 10 July.