Birmingham Hippodrome and BrumYODO have commissioned Birmingham poet Jodi Ann Bickley to write a new poem to commemorate the installation of In Memoriam by Luke Jerram in the city.

Jodi founded the One Million Lovely Letters project in 2013 which has seen her hand writing more than 4,000 letters to people and releasing a best-selling book. She performed her poem In the wind at In Memoriam during its installation at Aston Park.

Jodi said: “The poem is about the memories and lives of the people the flags represent, that they are always there and aren’t erased by their deaths, they’ll be in the wind, in memoriam, everywhere.”

In Memoriam consists of 120 NHS bedsheets arranged in the shape of a medical cross. Coloured in NHS blue and white, the artwork is a commemoration of people who have died of COVID-19 and to thank the many front-line workers caring for them.  It was presented in Birmingham between May 8-16 by BrumYODO and Birmingham Hippodrome as part of A Matter of Life and Death Festival.

More than 1,000 people visited the artwork during its installation at Aston Park and hundreds more took part in the festival through remote community activities and online events.

Emma Scott, of Longbridge, visited In Memoriam with her family including children Stephen, aged ten and Denis, aged six. She said: “We came to pay our respects. It was quite an emotional experience but also very peaceful.”

Hundreds of people across the city also created flags inspired by In Memoriam either at home, school or in workshops organised by BrumYODO and community partners including Bearwood Community Hub, Sew Marvellous, Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project, TAWS, John Taylor and Birmingham St Mary’s Hospices, and Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.

Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice Inpatient Nurse Jo Ferro said: “The flag-making was an inspired idea and very much needed to get conversations started about some of our most difficult, heart-breaking memories. It was emotional and cathartic and gave us space to pay tribute to the many amazing patients, friends or family members who have died. It also allowed us to share those rare but beautiful moments we have all experienced throughout the pandemic. Everyone who worked collaboratively on this project – both patients and staff – were very grateful to have this opportunity.”

Pupils at local schools including Braidwood Trust School for the Deaf and Queen Alexandra College created their own flags inspired by In Memoriam. At Wilson Stuart School in Erdington, 250 students and staff made flags which were then put together to create one artwork as part of their Eid celebrations. “This whole school collaborative piece thanks heroes that have helped during the pandemic as well as marking the loss of the many thousands of people from COVID-19,” said a school spokesperson

More than 200 people also attended online events during the festival including panel discussions, workshops, a Death Café and a Grief Gathering. A Matter of Life and Death is an annual festival taking place in Birmingham in May to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week, organised by BrumYODO – a community interest company dedicated to encouraging open and honest conversation around death and dying.

Graham Callister, Director of Festivals at Birmingham Hippodrome said: “We are so grateful to all our partners and supporters who enabled us to bring another special cultural experience to Birmingham and give people a unique opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months.”

BrumYODO Director Antonia Beck said: “We were so pleased that so many people have been able to engage with In Memoriam in Birmingham either by visiting the installation in Aston Park or by taking part in our remote flag-making activity. Jodi’s poem is a wonderful way for people to keep connecting, providing a beautiful, poetic moment for Birmingham to reflect on the past year.”

In Memoriam in Birmingham was kindly supported by Arts Council England, Without Walls, Birmingham City Council, Aston Hall and A Natural Undertaking.

In Memoriam by Luke Jerram was originally commissioned by the Weston Arts + Health Weekender. Supported by Without Walls and FESTIVAL.ORG. Informed by the Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Weather Lives’ project, led by Dr Cassie Phoenix at Durham University.