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sarah jenson

Portrait ace Rankin photographs key workers

Powerful portraits of key workers responding to the Covid-19 pandemic – including a Bristol pharmacist and a porter – have been unveiled by acclaimed photographer Rankin to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the NHS

As a mark of respect to the NHS, renowned photographer Rankin, who has previously shot the Rolling Stones, Kate Moss and the Queen, recently took a series of portraits featuring 12 people who have played a vital role in the NHS response to the pandemic. The collection has been showcased across the country at bus stops, on roadside billboards and in pedestrian areas including Piccadilly Lights in London. “As the pandemic began to unfold, I was moved by the incredible efforts of people across the NHS and I wanted to document who they are and their role in fighting this disease,” said the director and cultural provocateur. “Taking a portrait is a unique and intimate experience, even with social distancing in place. Everyone had their own inspiring story which to them was just doing their job. I hope these images portray the resilience and courage they show every day in the face of real adversity.”

An ICU consultant, a critical care nurse, a midwife, a psychiatrist, a hospital porter, a ward cleaner, a paramedic, a GP, a pharmacist, a district nurse, a 111 call centre worker, and a chief information officer were photographed, all having supported those impacted by the disease. “This has been the most challenging year in NHS history, with our amazing staff providing care to almost 100,000 hospitalised covid patients, and many more in the community,” added Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive. “Nurses, doctors, physios, pharmacists, cleaners and countless others have pulled together, bolstered by thousands of former NHS staff who came back to help, alongside a new generation of students who stepped up. These striking portraits pay tribute to all staff and their extraordinary dedication.

Bristol has had two key workers profiled with their stories from the frontline – over to Ade and Ali to tell us more.

Ade Williams, superintendent pharmacist, Bedminster Pharmacy

“My mum was a single mother with four kids. One thing she instilled in us was the need to live our lives beyond our own comforts and look at how we can support other people. She was unflinching in this belief, and it made me want to have a career that helped my community – those lessons, coupled with my faith, anchor all I do.

“I moved to the UK 23 years ago from Nigeria and lived with my aunt, a nurse in Brighton. I was just a teenager, yet utterly awestruck at how the NHS functioned. When I was old enough, I jumped at the chance to study pharmacy. I’ve lived all over the country but settled in Bristol, providing clinical care as a community pharmacist, alongside working at a GP practice and advising on the board of a local hospital.

In an average day, you will get to see so many types of people who rely on your help – each with their own unique needs and challenges. I am continually thinking about how I can best tailor the support I provide them. Clinical knowledge is essential – but it’s certainly more important to take the time to talk to each person, to understand what they are going through. Those connections make all the difference and bring colour to your life.

“In our team, working alongside my wife, also a pharmacist, we all share the belief that health inequality is a form of injustice. We literally have it written on our wall! Our goal every day is to help address this – which means there is never a dull moment. That is what gets me up in the morning. That, and my four-year-old son who is very much into drumming at the moment. Our community provides an inspiring backdrop. I pray we can emerge from this pandemic with a more generous, equal society. We owe it to our patients, those that have lost loved ones and colleagues that have paid the ultimate price, to build a legacy that breaks down barriers and brings us all closer. We have faced a common fear; now we must together embrace kindness and hope to build a better future.

“The shoot was really fun and you could tell it meant a lot to Rankin, that he really wanted to use his lens to tell our stories through the pictures.”

Ali Abdi, porter, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust

ali abdi

“I honestly couldn’t tell you how many miles I must have walked around my hospital helping patients, transferring medicines or carrying specialist equipment. As a porter, it’s my job to make sure the right people get to the right place at the right time. Every day is different, and you are never in one place for long. All the excitement and adrenaline mean it’s hard to switch off. Even at the weekends. I like to keep active and ride my bike but in the back of my head I’m always thinking ‘when can I get back to work and help the team?’

“My wife is a carer and my daughter is a nurse, so you could definitely say looking after people runs in the family! They are the most important people in my life. We are fortunate to have and to be able to understand each other. Having someone to talk to at the end of the day can be great motivation to carry on.

“Even though I work 12-hour shifts the day goes so fast. My favourite part is talking to patients and helping them feel at home. It’s even more important in this new world we live in. All our jobs have become more difficult and we have to take extra special care to look after our patients, ourselves and each other. Hospitals can be an intimidating place to come to even in calmer times, so having someone to navigate it alongside you can bring a lot of comfort.

“Sometimes it can feel like everything has changed and got much harder. It’s a difficult time but we are pulling together as a team. Everyone is pushing themselves and doing an amazing job. I couldn’t be prouder of them all. That’s probably why, even after 15 years, I still love and would recommend my job. The NHS has a way of attracting so many different people from all walks of life – and making them all feel they belong. I feel so extremely proud to have been photographed on behalf of my team and to represent the role of the porter across the NHS.”

Main image: Sarah Jenson, chief information officer Barts Health NHS Trust

Portraits are being donated to the NHS as an ongoing legacy. The full selection and their stories can be found at england.nhs.uk/rankin