Wigan Infirmary nurse's photographs from frontline of coronavirus pandemic form new exhibition

The harsh reality of life on the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic can be seen for the first time in a moving exhibition of photographs taken by a nurse on Wigan Infirmary’s intensive care unit.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 1:58 pm
Updated Friday, 13th August 2021, 2:00 pm

Petro Bekker is a keen photographer and worked as clinical informatics manager for Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WWL).

But when the Covid-19 outbreak began, she responded to a call for help and returned to her former role as an ICU sister to care for patients.

It was a hectic time for Petro and her colleagues, as they worked to treat patients and save lives at a time when so much was still not known about coronavirus.

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The exhibition features photographs from Wigan Infirmary

However, she also realised it was a moment in history and decided to take her camera to the ward during the second wave of the pandemic to capture what was happening.

Petro said: “In March 2020 Covid-19 hit us. NHS staff with ICU training were asked to go back and support their colleagues and with 15 years’ experience, I didn’t hesitate to go back, although it was a very scary prospect. Reality hit me. I can only describe it as a war where we could not see the enemy. Everything happened at a rapid pace and I had no doubt in my mind to return immediately to help my ICU colleagues on the frontline.

“When the first wave hit us, it was so overwhelming that it was impossible to capture anything. However, when the second wave came, as a keen photographer, I knew that I had to document this journey as it was history in the making. I could not miss the opportunity to record it for future generations.”

The emphasis was very much on the journey of the ICU team and probably reflected many other ICU teams across the region, country and even the world.

Petro Bekker

In the most difficult of times, she captured the team in moments of joy, strength, determination, collaboration, support and utter resolve.

Many of Petro’s photos were shared via the trust’s critical care Twitter account over the course of 100 days, generating interest, warmth and uplifting replies from the public.

Further images were then shared as part of the online #OurWiganFestival celebrating extraordinary events within communities, supported by mental well-being charity MancSpirit.

This led to MancSpirit making Petro’s dreams as an amateur photographer come true, in the form of an exhibition of her photographs.

Named Behind Closed Doors, the exhibition opened at Manchester Central Library on Monday and runs until Saturday, August 21.

It has been welcomed by bosses at the hospitals trust, who say it shows what staff faced during the outbreak.

Mary Fleming, deputy chief executive for WWL, said: “This is a very real and raw example of the reality of ICU during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges our amazing teams faced and the emotions that caring for the sickest of patients brought out of our staff.

“I speak on behalf of the entire WWL family when I say thank you to everyone who works for the trust for going the extra mile every day, and this exhibition is an excellent opportunity to show people the dedication shown and pressure faced during one of the most testing times the NHS and our trust has ever faced.”

WWL’s chief nurse Rabina Tindale said: “We are incredibly proud of Petro, not only of her brilliance as a compassionate nurse, but also in illuminating the team’s journey through her brilliant photography skills.”

The exhibition is part of the MancSpirit Caring For Our Carers programme, which highlights the incredible acts of support and kindness shown by the people of Greater Manchester during major crises, such as the pandemic and the Manchester Arena bombing.

Charity co-founder Paul Ludden said: “This is an opportunity for people to experience the emotion, friendship and dedication that most would never see in a busy intensive care unit dealing with something they had never experienced before. It is an important snapshot of our social history and it is essential for me that people have the opportunity to see it for themselves.”

Co-founder Damian Carr said: “As a proud Mancunian, whose partner is a ward manager in a local hospital, it is really important to me that we continue to show our love and admiration of those people that put their lives on the line to protect and support us.”

The charity’s bosses insist the exhibition is just a snapshot of the amazing people doing great things across Greater Manchester.

Behind Closed Doors runs at Manchester Central Library until Saturday, August 21, open from 9am to 8pm Mon to Thurs and from 9am to 5pm on Fri and Saturdays. For more information, visit the MancSpirit website at www.mancspirit.com.

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