A poignant statement of the United Kingdom’s most recent tragic event, the Memorial Wall on the South Bank is a place for quiet reflection, and a stark visual reminder of the deaths which are still so raw in this ongoing pandemic.
Started in March 2021, the mural consists of thousands of red and pink hearts painted on the wall by volunteers, organised by the campaign groups Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice and Led by Donkeys. The intent was for each heart to be “individually hand-painted; utterly unique, just like the loved ones we’ve lost”.
Its message is achieved through its complete lack of officialdom, pomp and ostentation – instead it’s a simple, spontaneous outpouring of grief from bereaved families, and as such is a powerful expression of loss and accompanying bewilderment and anger.
The messages are individual and personal – families decide to make the journey to London to show their feelings through their own writings about those they have lost to the pandemic. Meeting others here on the same mission helps to lose any sense of isolation – they are not alone, sharing their experience with (to date) the families of 130,000 people struck down by the coronavirus.
Inevitably it’s haphazard and untidy as people write – but that’s its attraction and its strength too – there is complete freedom here to record emotion and distress. It’s a living document, a breathing statement, not an impersonal stone façade.
There is no getting away from it as a political statement as well as a memorial.
Positioned directly opposite and in full view of the Houses of Parliament, it is a place of anger and disagreement.
Its funding by Led by Donkeys, an anti-Brexit group, politicises what could just be a neutral memorial, and in between the hearts and messages of remembrance you will also find angry messages from people who lost their loved ones after having the vaccine.
People donating money for the upkeep of the wall are also contributing to the founders demands for the government to 'listen' to them to prevent the pandemic from claiming more lives. What they are demanding is unclear, as the answers to ending the pandemic have so far eluded the world's scientists. The wall makes it clear that whether people support increased lockdowns and vaccines, or freedom and the right to choose vaccination, both sides lay the blame firmly at the feet of the government.
In a sincere recognition of the wall's importance, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Imam Kareem Farai and Rabbi Daniel Epstein walked the wall together in April. Inevitably, politicians’ responses seem to be less clear cut, and there is no decision as yet as to whether the wall will remain or be replaced by some other officially sponsored monument. Indications are that an official memorial will be constructed in St. Paul's Cathedral, but this wall may well remain as an unofficial reminder.
For now it’s a hugely important place in the hearts of everyone who has been so deeply affected by the pandemic that hit our shores in early 2020 and continues to take its toll upon us.
Visitors can walk the wall and listen to audio of memories from the families affected on the official website.
Where to find the wall: It is on the Thames footpath next to St Thomas' hospital between Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge.