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Covid Memorial Wall should become permanent if the public wants – Archbishop

Laura Parnaby, PA
·4-min read

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said bereaved relatives should be allowed to decide whether the National Covid Memorial Wall in central London should be made permanent.

Justin Welby spoke with people adding tributes to the wall, which features roughly 150,000 pink and red hearts representing those who have died with coronavirus, along with Rabbi Daniel Epstein and Imam Kazeem Fatai in a show of support and solidarity.

Mourners began painting on the wall opposite the Houses of Parliament, to ask the Government to acknowledge the deaths and make the memorial permanent, on March 29.

The memorial, which stretches almost 500 metres between Westminster and Lambeth bridges by the Thames, is still being added to as the death toll rises.

After speaking with bereaved relatives and saying prayers with them beside the wall, the Archbishop said: “It’s like a huge wave that’s about to break over you of sorrow, it’s the most extraordinary sight, it’s quite overwhelming.

Coronavirus memorial wall
Michelle Rumball (centre left) with her daughter Courtney Rumball talking to Imam Kazeem Fatai, The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Rabbi Daniel Epstein (Victoria Jones/PA)

“It’s very moving, very impressive, to think of the depth of love that they’ve shown been here and working their way down the wall where all these hearts are … it’s a great privilege to be here.”

“The Rabbi, the Imam and I were together … it sounds like a bad joke doesn’t it … but the Rabbi, the Imam and I were saying it’s such a privilege to come down together, because this is about everyone, it’s about the national community.”

When asked whether the wall should be made permanent, he said: “I think that’s up to the relatives, I think we listen to those who have done it, is the first and most important thing.

“It’s organic, not planned, it hasn’t been worked out by a committee, and that makes it all the more powerful.”

Rabbi Daniel Epstein said the wall gives the personal stories behind the “overwhelming” coronavirus death toll.

He said: “If you come back and focus on a single heart, and you have a name on it with a date and some words, and you take everything that is overwhelming as a statistic and it comes back to a single story … that’s the only way to find out about such an overwhelming experience.”

Imam Kazeem Fatai agreed the wall should become permanent.

Jo Goodman talking to The Archbishop of Canterbury
Jo Goodman talking to The Archbishop of Canterbury (Victoria Jones/PA)

He said: “It’s affected a lot of people, it’s a global tsunami, so us believers we need to reflect … it should become permanent.”

Ben Spencer drew a heart for his father Brian Spencer, who was a cab driver for 20 years until he died aged 71 on April 24 last year, and the family were not able to hold a proper funeral for him.

He said: “We thought it would be nice to have somewhere to remember him … it’s good to feel that you’re a greater part of something too.

“He was a joker, the life and soul of the party, and so, so argumentative. We used to like to wind each other up quite a lot.

“He was known as ‘The Walrus’ throughout his adult life because he had a handlebar moustache … it stuck for almost 50 years.”

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Michelle Rumball, 49, a carer, and Courtney Rumball, 20, a drama student, etched a red heart for their mother and grandmother Violet Partington, 78, who died on April 20 last year.

The Archbishop said a prayer for Ms Partington, who was a Church of England Christian, which Miss Rumball said had been “amazing” because they had not been able to properly grieve until this moment due to coronavirus restrictions.

She said: “We were telling the Archbishop about my nan… it’s been like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from.

“Those in Parliament aren’t recognising (the deaths) so someone has to.

“Something I’ve found as a young person who has lost someone to Covid is my nan’s death and other people’s deaths haven’t been addressed.

“There’s been no support, there’s been nothing, so coming down and meeting other people and realising you’re not on your own… it just gets us talking, and talking is something we haven’t had the opportunity to do.”

After his visit, the Archbishop tweeted that the wall was “a moving public testimony to so much private grief”.