Answering the call: Our NHS Commonwealth Nurses
Heritage England: Glenside Hospital Museum

Project Summary

“The NHS owes a great debt to migrant nurses the world over who answered the call to tend a welfare state in its infancy. We mustn’t forget the nurses from Africa, India and the Caribbean who lit the path.” Dame Donna Kinnair, Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
‘Answering the call’ will explore the under-researched history of the many Commonwealth nurses who worked at Bristol’s Glenside psychiatric hospital from 1948 – 1994. This is an oral history and participatory event led by a co-creation team of ex-nurses, students, and community, giving them the opportunity to tell their stories in their own way.

Project oversight will be provided by a steering group of participants, key partners and volunteers and will further shape the future of co-curation and participatory work at Glenside Hospital Museum (GHM). The team will be supported by volunteers from the Museum, who will provide archive material and project support.

Glenside Hospital Museum, situated in the 1881 asylum church within the grounds of the hospital, houses a unique collection that illustrates the history of mental health care, destigmatises mental illness and helps us understand how to maintain our own wellbeing.

Background to the Project

On the outskirts of Bristol, the Corporation built a beautiful pennant stone asylum in 1861. Glenside psychiatric hospital was built to provide a therapeutic community where the patients were engaged in meaningful occupation as part of their treatment. This continued for many years until the First World War, achieving a 48% success rate in enabling patients to return home. After the Second World War Glenside Hospital became one of the many hospitals embraced by the NHS.

Glenside has had a nurse training school on site from 1880 up until today. An analysis of 320 trainee nurses from 1956-66 shows 22% were from the Commonwealth, with 17% of these coming from the Caribbean islands. At this time the ethnic minority population of the UK was 1.6%.

Choices were limited in terms of employment and accommodation for many newly arrived communities. Nursing was one of the few professions that offered secure employment and accommodation in the early days of recovery after the Second World War.
GHM, Bristol Archives, and the RCN all have papers and photographs pertinent to the uncovering of this story. We have their names but nothing more and hope to gather information not just about their professional life but the stories of their family life and personal histories, their journey to and life in the UK through oral history interviews, historical nursing journals and newspaper records. The RCN have digitised nursing registration records 1916-1968, available on

The Project

At Glenside Hospital Museum we are committed to using our collection to promote well-being through an understanding of mental health care. This project aims to collect and disseminate untold stories of care delivered by Commonwealth nurses at a psychiatric hospital by:
• Involving 30 ex-staff of Glenside Hospital, with a particular focus on people from the Commonwealth who were trained on site to work as nurses in the NHS. They will share their stories of coming to Britain, their training and work as nurses
• Providing training in oral history, curating events and exhibitions and creative methods of engagement to 10 volunteers (project delivery team) from the local communities we serve, including young people from the University of the West of England, medical professionals, people with lived experience of mental illness and the retired community of Fishponds
• Programming a travelling exhibition and events linked to care and wellbeing that arise from the information collected
• Highlighting the contribution of people from all over the Commonwealth to the NHS and linking these historic stories to current stories of sacrifice and dedication provided by NHS staff during the pandemic, to help GHM and Historic England broaden the public’s understanding of their heritage.

Community Volunteer and Engagement Manager
Freelance Contract Description

General Purpose
To plan and facilitate community engagement and support volunteers to work and co-create the research and collection of oral histories.
Fee and Terms
Work will involve visiting archives with volunteers, working on site in the community, in Glenside Hospital Museum, and at home as required.
The role is freelance, and the contractor will need to be able to provide their own IT and office equipment.
22 days from November 2022 – April 2023.

Main Role Includes:
• Supporting the Project Manager in the planning, and collection of oral histories and stories
• Organising and delivering training on research and the collection of oral history
• Engendering inspiration and enthusiasm for the project and the research
• Keeping records and files of the research, collating all findings
• In consultation with Project Co-ordination Group and Project Manager, being responsible for identifying which strands of research to pursue
• Editing material collected with the volunteers
• Contacting and visiting relevant archives in the UK and overseas
• Continued support of volunteers through the research and interpretation process
• Organising training sessions as appropriate
• Providing opportunities for volunteers to share ongoing research
• With the support of the Project Manager, organising podcast training and other digital media training to create material for an online audience
• Attending Project Co-ordination Group meetings.

• Experience in researching using archival material
• An interest in social history, people, and their stories
• Experience of using personal stories to engage an audience
• Experience of working with and training volunteers
• Experience of community projects
• Good oral and written English
• Experience in collecting oral histories

Key Skills
• Planning and organising
• Decision-making
• Training skills
• Communication skills
• Delegation
• Teamwork and able to work on own
• Negotiation
• Adaptability
• Reliability

How to Apply
• Please supply a CV (no more than three pages) and brief covering letter (no more than 2 pages) highlighting why you are interested in this role and how you are equipped to carry it out
• Please provide two referees
Proposals should be sent to Answering the Call Project Manager Stella Man at
The closing date is 9am on Monday 31st October with interviews to be held that week if necessary.

Planning Phase
• Identify archives with relevant material (UK/overseas)
• Liaise with local community members to identify participants
• Determine volunteer needs and expectations
• Support the Project Manager and volunteers to begin the research and oral history collection
• Produce a schedule to complete the collection of 30 stories from Commonwealth nurses
• Develop training content and schedule
• Develop a creative starting point for interpretation
Skills for Planning Phase
• Long term vision
• Research
• Creative interpretation
• Training
• Goal setting
• Attention to detail
• Scope, time, quality, resource, risk and cost management skills
• Interactive communication skills

Project Execution Phase
• Implement project plans to build deliverables
Proposed plan for Community Volunteer and Engagement role, in conjunction with Project Manager support and volunteer delivery:
November 2022
• Volunteers recruited to work on oral histories and research
• Volunteer researchers inducted and training provided on researching archives and oral history interviewing (2 days)
November 2022 – February 2023
• Volunteers from local communities across Bristol engaged in research
• Interviews booked (2 days)
• Support 5-10 volunteers to take a collection of names to see if they can uncover the history, make links with family members, gather stories and images (4 days)
• Promote project seeking stories from local families (4 days)
December 2022
• Project Co-ordination Group meeting to review project so far, make sure all participants, organisers and advisors have the support they need to continue to be engaged in the project (0.5 day)
• Trip to London to work on RCN archive (6 researchers) (1 day)
January 2023
• Support volunteers to write up individual stories and research findings
• Collect further stories, follow up leads
• Promote project through stories and encounters (2 days)
February 2023
• Book accessible and local venues for travelling exhibition and develop digital promotion
• Project Co-ordination Group Review (2.5 days)
March 2023
• Complete collection of stories (4 days)

Skills for Execution Phase
• Organisational effectiveness
• Team building
• Motivation skills
• Conflict resolution
• Diversity appreciation
• Staff/volunteer development
• Problem solving
• Adaptability
• Creative interpretation
• Training
• Researching/ archiving and editing
• IT skills
• Communication and negotiation skills