In 2010 journalistic photographer Gemma Thorpe began to document the changing face of Walsall Manor Hospital as it entered the final phases of its epic redevelopment.
Although this project was based on a new building for the hospital, for me the focus wasn’t so much on architecture and construction but on the people that use the hospital, and the relationship they have with the buildings. There is a real sense of community at Walsall Manor Hospital; around 3500 people work there every day. As staff member Geoff Hateley said, “It’s like a small town, or like a big wheel, with each department as a cog to turn it”.
I was particularly interested in how people added character, made their mark on the old buildings; the details of murals that had been painted years ago, how patients had peeled away parts of a frosted privacy screen in order to see the new construction going on below. Then, once departments started to move out, I could see where people had been; faded notice boards that had once been full of health advice leaflets, marks where a carpet had been worn down. Although the building was worn, it was full of life; many people working in the East Wing and Sister Dora Outpatients spoke fondly about the buildings and were sad to see them go.
It was a challenge to go from photographing in a building full of character and history, to the new building, which is full of light and space, but felt so big and anonymous at times. I began to highlight the freshness of the architecture and the ways people were interacting with these new spaces. During my last couple of weeks at the hospital I began to notice a real sense of pride developing for the new building, how people were bringing life to it. It’s interesting to think that one day this building too will be layered with memories.
Gemma Thorpe, May 2011
Following the exhibition at The New Art Gallery Walsall, the photographs will be on permanent display within the new hospital building on Pleck Road.
Photo courtesy of Gemma Thorpe