Claire Meadows recently interviewed our illustrious Chairman, Sir Marcus Setchell for After Nyne Magazine, a leading platform in the Arts sector.
I was fortunate to be able to meet recently with Sir Marcus Setchell, former Surgeon Gynaecologist to Her Majesty the Queen, and the obstetrician who delivered Prince George last summer.
Now retired, Sir Marcus has thrown himself into a new campaign to preserve the Hogarth-adorned Great Hall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in East London.
In our exclusive interview, Sir Marcus tells me why this treasure should be saved for the nation, how celebrity endorsement has helped the cause, and how he has dealt with opposition to the campaign.
Sir Marcus, thank you so much for talking to me about the Save Barts Great Hall campaign. How are things going with the campaign?
The campaign is going very well. We already have approval from the City of London Planners (April 29th 2014) for the Friends/ Hopkins Plans for making long-needed improvements to the support facilities of the Great Hall: Fire safety escape routes, Toilets and Cloakrooms, Access for people with disabilities, including lifts, Improved catering and kitchens, and enhanced Archive and Museum space.
All of these are essential if the Hall, its art, archives, and architecture are to survive as a recognised heritage site that can have increasing use as a public and private functionally useful building in the 21st Century, but never forgetting its importance not just architecturally, but as a unique living historical record of the development of philanthropic provision of free healthcare for all, leading towards the development of a National Health Service.
Tell me about the origins of the campaign, and how you came to be involved?
The Friends of the Great Hall & Archive of Barts was founded by a small group of us in 2011, because we were aware that it was gradually falling into neglect as a result of lack of adequate maintenance, because of lack of NHS funding, and the failure to move forward a report commissioned by the NHS Trust from Hopkins Architects to develop important improvements.
There had been general agreement for many years that the formation of an independent Heritage Trust which could fund-raise to restore the Great Hall to its former glory, and manage the historic Listed Buildings to become self-financing, thereby freeing the NHS from its obligations to maintain a Grade I Listed building which no longer played a major part in the Management and Administration of the Hospital but retains enormous value for educational, historical, and cultural and social uses.
It was Professor Gerald Libby, the psychiatrist who specialises in the inter-relationship of physical and psychological disorders, and also holds the post of Honorary Professor of Anatomy of the Royal Academy, who initiated the idea of forming a "Friends of the Great Hall" and I was pleased to become the first Chairman of its small Committee, having developed a strong affection for James Gibbs' brilliant uplifting concept for a Hospital, of neo-classical symmetrical buildings around an airy light Square. Although we intended to champion the cause of the welfare of the Great Hall and its treasures, we never imagined that we would need to become the leaders of a campaign to save The Great Hall.
The fact that I retired on 1st January this year fortuitously allows me to devote a large part of my time to lead this campaign.
The campaign has attracted support from such luminaries as Edward Fox and David Starkey. Why do you think the cause has played so close to the hearts of your celebrity supporters?
You only have to walk up the Grand Staircase, past Hogarth's massive paintings, which clad the walls and into The Great Hall to feel its magic, and it's no surprise that people with a well-developed sensitivity to the 'Arts' are keen to share their enthusiasm, and they have been a hugely valuable support to us in generating wider public interest.
What has the level of general public support been? How have you gone about engaging the public in the campaign?
Through the formation of The Friends we were fortunate in quickly acquiring a substantial membership, largely of former Barts students, nurses, staff and ex-patients who knew and appreciated the Great Hall.
It has been less easy to attract support from the general public who have never seen the magnificence of the Hall, but by engaging with them through the press, a Save the Great Hall video (now available on Youtube), and social media, we have developed interest and support from a wider public.
People who have attended functions in The Hall or visited through taking a guided tour with the City of London tour guides immediately recognise what a striking treasure it is, and the Tour Guides' Association has done a great job in publicising the campaign, as have other Art and Heritage bodies.
You're facing, and indeed thus far have faced, opposition from Maggie's. How have you, and other campaign members, handled the emotive argument that the needs of cancer patients should be put before heritage matters?
The Friends and our supporters all recognise the importance to cancer patients and their families of the emotional, practical and pastoral support, and value the provision of this by caring charities like Maggie's.
A Grade I Listed building is protected by law from alterations and additions that threaten their survival and functioning, and a Maggie's tacked on to the east end of the Great Hall would do this, by preventing the implementation of the approved plans for restoring and improving The Great Hall, which necessitate building a small 'bustle' at each end of the North Wing building for lifts, fire escapes and disabled access.
Our architects, (Hopkins) have identified a site for a Maggie's in The Princess Alice Garden less than 20 yards from the Maggie's proposed site. This site is included and identified in their Masterplan, and Hopkins have even offered to do design such a building which would cost less than half Maggie's American designed building, and could be completed within a year of commencement. There is a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve this.
What is your ideal outcome from this campaign?
To see the commencement of the restoration of the Great Hall, with modern, safe and functional support facilities, so that the glory of its original symmetrical design can be appreciated and enjoyed by patients, staff and the public.
With The NHS and Maggie's adopting a more imaginative attitude, the construction of a Maggie's Centre in an alternative appropriate site withdesign complementing, not competing with the Listed classical architecture could be completed for the benefit of cancer patients of North East London.
A fitting tribute to James Gibbs and the late Maggie Jenks will be there to celebrate the 900th Anniversary of Barts Hospital providing first-class medical care in its recently completed superb modern hospital buildings, set in an uplifting and historic environment.
What can people do from this point forward to lend support to the campaign?
Members of the public can help the Campaign in two ways: firstly by voicing their opposition by 1st July to the NHS and Maggie’s Planning Application, which is expected to be heard by the City of London Planning Authority in mid-July. (Google City of London Planners, and hit Comment on current applications, then Quote REF's: 14/00319/FULL and 14//00278/FULL . You need only make your comments in one statement but state your opposition is for the two REFs).
Secondly register your support for the Campaign on the website, www.savebartsgreathall.com, and /or join/donate to The Friends using their website www.bartsgreathall.com. Running a campaign by unpaid volunteers is quite expensive!
Sir Marcus' most recent update on how you can help the Friends save the north wing can be found here.
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