Unsung Heroes

In 2011 and 2012 LHSA worked in partnership with the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh College of Art (eca) and IC: Innovative Craft to deliver an exciting new permanent installation in the Infirmary. The project was organised by Ginkgo Projects for the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Arts Committee with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Nurses League and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Volunteers.


Working with postgraduate students at Edinburgh College of Art’s jewellery and silversmithing department, the project focused on LHSA's historic collection of enamelled badges. This collection covers nursing and Edinburgh’s hospitals and healthcare from the early twentieth century through the two World Wars; and also the AIDS awareness campaign of the late 1980s and ‘90s. We are delighted that the badges we hold in our historic artefacts collection are now being showcased as part of a project bringing old and new together for the benefit of Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh patients, staff and visitors. It is gratifying to think that these badges, so treasured by those who wore them, have inspired new works of art by eca students.


Leith Hospital School of Nursing Badge. LHSA ref: O159 S.U. badge. LHSA ref: O196 Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Nursing badge. LHSA ref: 0258


As well as helping the students with the background research for their pieces by facilitating access to archival material, LHSA staff were active in the steering group for the project and facilitated two seminars for eca students and tutors. The first provided an overview of LHSA and its collections, in particular the historic badges, and the second brought a wide array of collection items to the eca students for them to examine and draw.


Volunteer nurses and students, trained by our staff, interviewed current and retired nursing staff wishing to tell their stories. These interviews were used to help build up a picture about nursing life in Edinburgh in living memory as far back as World War II, and these stories have been woven into the pieces created by the eca students.  The interviews have become an oral history collection held by LHSA for future research.


Prior to their permanent installation in the Infirmary, the new artworks and historic badges were displayed together in the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh. The completed exhibition was launched on 30th March 2012 - some pictures of the exhibition can be found on our Flickr page. The striking display of new artworks alongside historic badges has provoked thought and discussion about what badges have meant in hospital life both now and in the past.


Further links


Read more about the project on the Unsung Heroes project blog.


Listen to excerpts from the oral history interviews on the Tales of Things website.


Check out our Flickr page for pictures of the exhibition, and for more photos of our historic badges collection.