Written By Trevor Sterling
A historic memorial statue celebrating the life of Mary Seacole, the nurse of Jamaican and Scottish descent, best known for her brave and compassionate work with soldiers and sailors during the 19th century Crimean War, was unveiled on the 30th June 2016 by Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, in a colourful celebration. The statue has central place in the garden of St Thomas’ Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament on London’s Southbank.
The Mary Seacole statue is the culmination of over 12 years of campaigning by the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal (MSMSA) established by Lord Clive Soley, with the primary aim to raise awareness of the Crimean war nurse, symbolised through the statue capturing her spirit, and to remind the public of her historic relevance. This is the first statue dedicated to a named black woman anywhere in the UK.
The MSMSA are to be credited for working tirelessly to raise the necessary funds for the iconic bronze statue created by the sculptor Martin Jennings. Over £500,000 was raised through donations from thousands of individual supporters as well as several larger donors. In November 2015, the Chancellor George Osborne, announced that £240,000 of LIBOR banking fines would be donated to the appeal to pay for the installation and a memorial garden to remember nurses killed in conflict, which paved the way for the work to begin.
In acknowledging that the campaign and the success of the Appeal has in essence brought together a wide range of people extending from the army, the NHS and others from across the social, cultural and ethnic divide, the MSMSA trustees recognised that whilst the statue of Mary Seacole is important in symbolising and recognising Mary Seacole’s contributions, there is now an opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to harness the positivity from the renewed awareness of Mary and to create a legacy beyond the statue. It was therefore decided to reconstitute the MSMSA charity and to create the Mary Seacole Trust “MST”. I am excited to assume the position of Chair, succeeding the excellent Lord Soley who is to be congratulated for his endeavours achieving such a historic landmark, supported so ably by the many Trustees and Ambassadors of MSMSA.
The MST is well placed to inspire future generations and to encourage people of all ages to embody Mary’s qualities. These include determination, hard work and to strive to be compassionate, entrepreneurial and caring. Additionally, MST will try to inspire generations, through recognising Mary’s role as a nurse, to promote the values of the NHS, the work of nurses and to ensure that there is not only equality of opportunity but also equality of outcome within organisations, with a particular emphasis on the NHS. The MST will be clear and focused in achieving its objectives, endeavouring to always promote the NHS and the contribution of nurses in particular; and to encourage harmony and fairness across our communities, particularly within the workplace. Details in respect of the MST programmes will be announced in more detail in the coming months.
In the meantime, the story of the historic journey in respect of Mary’s statue will be told in a commemorative book called: “A Statue for Mary: The Seacole Legacy”. The book includes contributions from the Appeal’s Trustees and Ambassadors, capturing the entire statue process, from sculptor Martin Jennings’ vision for London’s latest landmark, his journey to the spot in the Crimea where Mary Seacole’ s famous British Hotel was sited, the making of the statue at Pangolin Editions foundry in Gloucestershire to its installation at St Thomas’. The author is Lord Soley, Chair of the MSMSA with the foreword written by Baroness Amos. It can be pre-ordered online at Waterstones: www.waterstones.com and will be available to purchase at the British Cultural Archives in Brixton and the Florence Nightingale Museum at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
Fundamental to all we do, whilst celebrating Mary Seacole’s achievements and the huge dedication of the trustees, ambassadors and supporters, as well as the achievements of so many other nurses and individuals who have made huge contributions to our society, the Mary Seacole Trust aims to celebrate our rich history of common endeavour and diversity and above all celebrate all the opportunities this brings.