Amazing new digital exhibition celebrating how migrants around the world came to the aid of the NHS

Author and Poet Michael Rosen, recently recovered from Covid-19, narrates this short video on the exhibition

Migration Museum reveals the huge contribution of people overseas who came to the UK to work in the NHS

The NHS has been in people’s minds ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began and will continue to be so if there is a second wave of the virus.

During the worst part of the pandemic people came out in their thousands to clap and cheer the nurses, doctors, paramedics, care workers and ambulance drivers who work long hours in difficult circumstances to try and save people’s lives.

The Heart of the Nation exhibition puts a human face on the thousands of people who come to work and settle in the UK and take jobs in the National Health Service. People often say without them the NHS could not function and this exhibition rather proves the point.

It is not a sentimental account of the role of migrants helping the NHS to provide services for the last 72 years. It is a hard hitting. Some of it is “in your face”. It doesn’t pull punches about what it is like to be an immigrant in the UK.

A picture from the past: Nurses accommodation for new arrivals

It illustrates how migrants have over the years faced racial prejudice, hostility from landlords and even includes a racist cartoon in the national press. that would never be published now. It highlights migrants who found the traditional British diet tasteless and too heavy in carbohydrates which nowadays would be no problem with such a modern diverse range of cuisine in the UK. It includes some very tragic stories – including migrants who died in the Covid-19 outbreak while working in hospitals valiantly trying to save the lives of dying patients.

And it goes behind the scenes in the NHS to show the large number who work as porters and in the labs and stores.

But it is also a celebration – including a Spotify playlist of the music the migrants chose – and tales of young nurses dressed up to the hilt dancing all night to reggae and R & B only to shower and rush back to work at 7.0 am. And one of them was a founder member of a Notting Hill Carnival band designing the first colourful costumes that are a trade mark of that event.

As Allyson Williams said: “Carnival means so much to me. It has always been a celebration of our freedom and emancipation and acknowledgement of our ancestors. Here in London it’s all about family, community and inclusivity. “

“A story that needs to be told “

Aditi Anand, head of creative content at the Migration Museum and curator of the exhibition, said:

“Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain – as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told.”

You can download the digital exhibition here. As a Friend of the Migration Museum myself I am a supporter. But I think you will not be disappointed. It is an eye opener and reminder in times when populist nationalism is on the rise that Britain is also a very diverse and international country and all the better for it.

What have the Germans ever given us

De La Warr  Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, a German architect's contribution to Britain

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, a German architect’s contribution to Britain

The Germans have never had a particularly good press in Britain. They are traditionally presented as the ravaging Hun after we fought two world wars against them in the last century.They can be  stereotyped as brutal, beer swilling technocrats with no sense of humour and always obeying orders.

And no one has forgotten the 1966 World Cup – when England beat Germany 4-2 – though many might be happy to forget the 2010 World Cup when Germany beat England 4-1.

Yet there is another side to all this. The German contribution to Great Britain – what contribution you might ask?

There is an eye-opening exhibition organised by the Migration Museum Project at the German Historical Institute in Bloomsbury Square, London, that tells a different story. You have probably not heard of either, so if you are a passionate supporter of UKIP look away now because this is no story of EU benefit  scroungers rushing to Britain to take our jobs and squander taxpayers’ money.

Rather it is a tale of how German immigrants to Britain have created jobs,iconic buildings, boosted trade between the two countries and made us laugh and cry and fought for women’s rights. I have to declare an interest as you would guess from my name – Hencke – I am from part German descent and my great grandfather came to Britain around 1863 and I am afraid, UKIP supporters,subsequent generations  have stayed here ever since.

Indeed this exhibition reveals that in Britain’s first census in 1861 German immigrants were the largest group of immigrants , amounting to 28,644 people, just 0.09 per cent of the population. By 2011 there were 273,654 German born Brits, amounting to 0.43 per cent of the population.

The most fascinating part of the exhibition is the less familiar contributions from German immigrants. Two German chemists built London’s first gas works, the iconic and now listed De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea was designed by a German architect, and one of the leading suffragettes, Kitty Marion (Katerina Shafer) was a German immigrant.

And there are many German academics, traders dating back to the Hanseatic League in 1300, and the big wave of Jewish immigration in the 1930s after the persecution by the Nazis.

Less well-known is that there is also a German speaking Somali and Vietnamese population in the UK, people who came as asylum seekers to Germany and have moved to Britain.

And yes there are stand up German comedians in Britain – you can watch one, Henning Wehn, on  a video – and he is funny!

All this is a real antidote to the anti-immigration frenzy sweeping the country, showing the benefits to Britain rather than harping on the horrors of immigration ruining our society.

The exhibition is on in London until October 24, times are on the German Historical Institute website (link above) and admission is free. The exhibition  will move to Manchester and Belfast later.