Many Happy Returns

Many Happy Returns: A History of the NHS

Many Happy Returns is part of a year-long project of working with communities from across the city with a focus on the east and north east Leeds.

Supported through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Space2, an arts and social change charity working in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Leeds, started working with local volunteers last year collecting stories of life and health both before and after the establishment of the NHS in 1948.  The aim of the project was to record the stories of those for whom the NHS was, and still is, a life saver; those voices who often go unheard, from families who could not afford the health care they needed before the NHS and those who came from all over the world to support its implementation and are part of its skilled and diverse workforce today. 

Professional artists and local people worked together towards the exhibition dedicated to the importance of the NHS. Together they created a book documenting 12 of the stories collected, with photographs of the contributors; three banners, crafted in traditional Trade Union style; four hospital screens printed with collages of stories, memories, quotes and photographs; bunting and an appliquéd chair decorated with the quotes and memories collected.

The exhibition also included medical memorabilia provided by the Thackray Medical Museum amongst Leeds Libraries collection of archived NHS book.  The book Medicine & Memories produced by Space 2, tells the personal stories of people from across Leeds who have been patients, volunteers, campaigners and staff and details how the NHS has touched the lives of so many.

Part of the work was on show throughout the summer at the Thackray Medical Museum, Chapeltown Library and The Old Fire Station in Gipton, with a full exhibition installed at Room700 at Leeds Central Library in June. In the coming months, banners, photographs and oral histories, and a digital version of the book along with other aspects of heritage documentary will be shared through a page on the People’s History of the NHS gallery, hosted by University of Warwick.  The exhibition will become a permanent exhibit at Thackray Medical Museum once they reopen in 2020.

If you would like to find out more about events, activities and exhibitions at the Thackray Museum visit

For further information on the cultural history of the NHS and further projects about what the NHS means and how it has shaped our lives since its creation www.