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23rd March sees the first National Day of Reflection, a campaign by the charity Marie Curie to mark the loss and grief suffered by millions in the past year.

New research will show how history can inform future memorials to coronavirus victims

New research will show how public remembrance of traumatic events of the 20th century can help those planning memorials to the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

23rd March sees the first National Day of Reflection, a campaign by the charity Marie Curie to mark the loss and grief suffered by millions in the past year.

Marie Curie will use research by Dr David Tollerton, from the University of Exeter, on the impact of past public memorials, their effectiveness and legacy, to inform future work to mark the impact of the crisis.

Dr Tollerton will work with other charities, faith groups, and public bodies to examine lessons from the past which could make new memorials or events most beneficial. This include memorials of the two world wars, the Holocaust, and previous pandemics.

As part of the UKRI-funded research Dr Tollerton will host workshops with experts and others, and will produce a report for Marie Curie and others which will inform preparations for future national Days of Reflection.

The workshops will allow Dr Tollerton to collect different opinions on the format, organisation, and narratives of a national Day of Reflection on COVID-19 that can be used in the planning of future memorial activities.

One workshop will be an opportunity for organisations to discuss how a national Day of Reflection should be framed. During the second experts will discuss the impact of historic memorials in Britain.

Gathering information on the history of memorials in Britain, and opinions from a wide range of people from around the country will support the Marie Curie campaign and bring new insight into how the public are dealing with the losses, upheaval, and ongoing challenges surrounding the pandemic.

Dr Tollerton said: “I want to see the relationships there have been between state-led memorials and more individual and local events, how memorials have been used to create unity and to reflect social diversity, and how to achieve a balance between mourning loss and celebrating achievements of health workers and carers, scientists and others during the crisis.

“I think it is vital to think about these issues, which can be contentious. Hearing more about the views of organisations and looking back at the past is crucial.

“It seems over the past century there have been many memorials to wars, and few commemorations of the Spanish Flu pandemic, but both have caused families loss and grief and have had a big impact on wider society. Perhaps the difference is the association of war with heroism, bravery and national identity.”

During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been an online book of remembrance organised by St Paul’s Cathedral, the proposed construction of a physical memorial at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire, a planned memorial forest in Lancashire, and several museums actively collecting pandemic artefacts.

Dr Sabine Best, Head of Research Management at Marie Curie said: “We’re delighted to partner with an established academic researcher who will support our activities on the National Day of Reflection. It’s so important to investigate our responses, as individuals and organisations, to such a momentous event as the pandemic and draw from historical examples of remembrance to learn how we can make sure these experiences are not forgotten. Death, dying and bereavement has come to the forefront over the last year and it is vital that we find ways to remember and grieve.”

Date: 17 March 2021

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