Celebrating 200 Years of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Birmingham

Finalist for the Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by Young People at the Historic England Angel Awards 2018.

Some might think that only the bravest would invite almost 200 Year 5 and 6 schoolchildren to spend the day looking around a hospital, but the children’s visit to mark the bicentenary of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham has provided a model of how such visits can create a unique artistic legacy, stimulate young people to think about working in medicine in future, and enhance their pride in having a local specialist hospital.

A place in history

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Northfield, Birmingham is one Europe’s largest specialist orthopaedic hospitals, specialising in bone and joint problems and currently under the leadership of Dame Yve Buckland.

The hospital has a fascinating history dating from its foundation in 1908, amid the rapid expansion of Birmingham. The main building, dating from 1840, was donated to what was known as the Birmingham Cripples Union by Bernard Cadbury, whose family once lived at the address.

In 1925, the Royal Orthopaedic and Spinal Hospital and the Birmingham Cripples Union amalgamated and King George V approved the title “the Royal Cripples Hospital, Birmingham” being bestowed upon the hospital.

A Heritage Schools project

As part of the Heritage Schools project, which teaches schools the importance of their local history, almost 200 pupils from Bourneville Junior School and St Brigid’s Catholic Primary School visited the hospital to mark its 200-year anniversary.

The schools were chosen because of their pupils’ evident interest in the project and the children took part in the excursion in the same spirit of enthusiasm, asking thoughtful questions and behaving impeccably, according to staff and everyone who met them. Many of them have a personal connection to the hospital through relatives who work or have worked there in the past.

The children were fascinated by the opportunity to get up close to surgical instruments, plaster casts and prosthetic models. They also pored over at artefacts, photographs and historical documents with the aim of incorporating their learning about local heritage in a range of subjects, such as science and geography, for example, back at school. They even met a former patient who had undergone spinal fusion therapy as far back as the 1950s.

The pupils learned about key moments in the history of the hospital. These include a dark episode during the Second World War in 1940, during which two nurses were killed during a bombing raid, but also medical breakthroughs such as the development of the metal hip-resurfacing technique that is used instead of full hip replacements in many countries around the world today.

They were absorbed in stories of individuals who played an important role in hospital life including Fanny Smith, matron for 23 years, and Naughton Dunn, the first orthopaedic surgeon. And they got the chance to talk to current staff including the head of learning, and England’s most senior nurse, Dame Professor Donna Kinnair.

An inspiration for children

One of the aims of the children’s visit was to stimulate an artistic response to the surroundings and the children left a lasting reminder of their visit in the form of eight large-scale prints on permanent exhibition in the main thoroughfare.

This beautiful, vibrant art project, entitled “Birthday Bones”, was created in partnership with Birmingham-based visual artist Jake Lever and celebrates 200 years of the hospital’s key moments and successes. The work has been remarked on for pupils’ evident imagination, patience and care in interpreting the evolution of the hospital over the years and its mission.

Why this category?

The decision to invite almost 200 children to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital reaped many important rewards for both sides. The children’s beautiful and unique artwork highlighted some of the achievements throughout the hospital’s long history in a thought-provoking and original way, and will continue to do so.

Taking part in the day enhanced the children’s pride in having a specialist hospital on their doorstep and meeting a range of clinical and medical staff opened their eyes to some of the different jobs on offer in a hospital setting. For the children, too, being invited to ask questions, meet staff and view important artefacts showed them they were trusted in the hospital environment where they might even see themselves working one day.

At the same time as being encouraged to relate the hospital’s history to the context of their city and communities, they left their own statement about an important institution. The schoolchildren have more than shown that such visits are viable in future.

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