Traditional blacksmithing skills and the powerful rainbow symbol have been brought together to create a lasting thank you gift for the NHS. Three unique rainbow benches have been produced using 3,000-year-old forging methods, and gifted to prominent London hospitals.

The Royal Free London is one of the trusts to receive a donated rainbow bench, which has been given pride of place outside the main entrance of the Royal Free Hospital. It stands as a symbol of hope and support for staff arriving on shift and patients receiving treatment.

The bench is the design and handiwork of Fred Suffield of the Anwick Forge in Lincolnshire. Following the struggles of COVID-19, Fred applied for a Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) grant to keep the forge in operation. 

He was successful, and the work was commissioned by the trustees of Grandey’s Place, a centre dedicated to the conservation of Britain's Heritage Crafts. Trustee Clive Beecham said:

“Donating these rainbow benches is a chance for us to say thank you to the NHS while also supporting our heritage crafts. We wanted to show our support and gratitude for the key workers who have kept the country going through a difficult year.

“The pandemic has been a health crisis first and foremost – but it has also been a real challenge for traditional English crafts. Our craftspeople are struggling to get commissions, and in some cases this can lead to people losing jobs or even shutting down businesses. We hope that this donation will also encourage others to consider commissioning traditional craftspeople.”

The bench was unveiled on 10 November, with the Royal Free Hospital’s chief executive Kate Slemeck there to receive it.

Kate said: “We are delighted to receive this wonderful gift of craftsmanship, generously donated to the Royal Free London to thank staff for their care, hard work, bravery and commitment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are very grateful to Clive, Fred and their colleagues for thinking of us all during this time. They have provided us with a beautiful bench that will be a lasting legacy for our staff and patients.

“The COVID-19 pandemic requires an enormous response from our hospitals, but of course we are not the only ones affected. It makes this gift even more special to know that it was created by skilled craftsmen whose industry continues to be impacted by the pandemic.”

The bench has been crafted using steel, stainless steel, brass, copper and oak, and has a unique single-legged design. It features an inscription of thanks to the NHS and key workers which has been translated into 15 languages including braille. The Royal Brompton and St Bartholomew’s Hospital are also receiving gifted benches. 

Fred Suffield and Clive Beecham unveiled the bench.