The Mail’s campaign to help create a magnificent memorial for British Covid victims in St Paul’s Cathedral has smashed through its £2.3 million target.
Just four weeks after the fundraising drive was launched, it reached the milestone last night thanks to the incredible support of Mail readers and a string of donors.
Prince Charles and Boris Johnson led tributes to the remarkable generosity of all those who contributed, which means that work on the St Paul’s memorial can finally begin.
Cathedral officials said they were ‘hugely grateful’ to the campaign’s supporters, while NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens applauded the ‘huge achievement’ and paid testament to Mail readers’ generosity.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said last night: ‘The Mail’s Remember Me campaign will leave a lasting legacy to those who have lost their lives to Covid.
The Mail’s campaign to help create a magnificent memorial for British Covid victims in St Paul’s Cathedral has smashed through its £2.3 million target. Pictured: An artists impression of the planned Covid Memorial
‘Thanks to its readers and their generous donations, every person from every faith, right across the UK, will be honoured in a memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral.’
Prince Charles said: ‘As we now rebuild our communities after this most testing of times, we have a duty to remember all those we have lost.’
The Mail’s Remember Me drive to help create a commemorative space for all those who have lost their lives in the pandemic was lifted over the £2.3 million finishing line thanks to an incredible triple boost last night.
Philanthropist and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg donated a significant sum, the Virgin Group also gave a sizeable donation and an unnamed Mail reader gifted a stunning £250,000. The generous reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they felt ‘compelled’ to contribute after reading about the campaign.
The contributions mean the fundraising drive, which was only launched on May 1, has smashed through its target, and now stands at £2,348,030. It is hoped the national multi-faith memorial will open in time for the second anniversary of the pandemic next March.
The Mail’s Remember Me drive to help create a commemorative space (a visualisation, pictured) for all those who have lost their lives in the pandemic was lifted over the £2.3 million finishing line thanks to an incredible triple boost last night
Thanking Mail readers for their support, the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Reverend Dr David Ison, said: ‘All of us at St Paul’s are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed. In the coming years, the memorial will continue to touch people’s hearts and ensure we do not forget the loss, the pain and the courage we have seen through the pandemic.’
Cathedral director of development Nicky Wynne said she was humbled by the heartfelt donations from readers which flooded in online and by post. She added: ‘Working on the Remember Me fundraising and awareness-raising campaign with the Daily Mail and its readers has been an amazing journey of joy. Thanks to you, we’ve smashed it! We now have £2.3 million and can make Remember Me, for everyone in the UK, a reality.’
One of the driving forces behind the project, Sir Lloyd Dorfman, said: ‘I am delighted that we have reached the point in our fundraising whereby we can commence building. The money has been raised from people of all faiths and none, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim donors.
‘Covid has affected communities all over the UK, and we have been united through loss and grief.
Paying her respects: Lilly Hawkins, nine, with a Remember Me candle
‘By remembering, we cannot change the past, but we can acknowledge its pain and commit to building a better future together.’
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who together with the Dean of St Paul’s came up with the idea of the online book, said she was ‘hugely heartened’ that there will be a physical memorial to those lost.
The cathedral is still accepting donations which will go towards expanding the Remember Me legacy both inside and outside of St Paul’s. Readers can still claim one of the Mail’s limited-edition Remember Me candles by donating at least £25.
Always loved never forgotten
We knew our readers were beyond generous. But to have raised £2.3m in just weeks for a Covid memorial in St Paul’s is astonishing – and now every life lost can be treasured for ever…
By Robert Hardman for the Daily Mail
They include a baby boy who never got to blow out his first candle, a much-missed teenager and a war hero just shy of his century. They include everyone else in between.
And if they all have one thing in common, aside from being taken by this ghastly pandemic, it is that they leave behind a legion of loved ones for whom life is never going to be the same again.
However, as of today, it may be fractionally less bleak. For the Mail is pleased and proud to confirm that every single British life lost to coronavirus will now be honoured with the dignity and majesty which each one of them deserves.
Thanks to our famously generous readers, the Remember Me national memorial can now take shape at one of our greatest national landmarks. In a mere matter of weeks, your donations have helped St Paul’s Cathedral raise the £2.3 million it needs for a dedicated place of commemoration and contemplation, freely available to those of all faiths and none.
As the Prince of Wales – who embraced the idea at the very start of the pandemic – said yesterday: ‘We have a duty to remember all those we have lost. This is why I am so very pleased that the Remember Me memorial has reached its target and that St Paul’s Cathedral can now begin work’
As the Prince of Wales – who embraced the idea at the very start of the pandemic – said yesterday: ‘We have a duty to remember all those we have lost. This is why I am so very pleased that the Remember Me memorial has reached its target and that St Paul’s Cathedral can now begin work.’
A magnificent new commemorative portico – an entrance hall – will lead in to a special remembrance space in the North Transept. There, everyone can pay their respects, light a candle or bring up a loved one on the special screens which will display the ever-growing online Book of Remembrance.
Further funding will be needed for staffing and extra educational features, but the main thing is that the dream is now a reality.
We know how vitally important this is to the families of all 127,000 Britons who have died from or with Covid-19 – as well as the families of those whose deaths are directly attributable to the pandemic. They can all rest assured that there will be no dithering or delay.
The plans are already approved. There will be no chin-scratching committees standing in the way of the hard hats.
As of next week, the hoardings will go up as the builders begin the delicate task of preparing Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece for the most extensive overhaul since the Luftwaffe passed overhead eight decades back. This time, though, it is, emphatically, going to be a labour of love.
For that is what lies at the heart of the Remember Me project. Just take one look at the virtual Book of Remembrance which is central to this visionary scheme. Pick any one of those names or faces and you find a story of deep love and unfathomable grief.
Here, for example, is 57-year-old Susan Sullivan.
Prince Charles walks down the street during a visit to Clapham Old Town, south London on May 27
‘Our beloved Daughter, Sister, Auntie & Niece,’ reads the message alongside her photograph, ‘loved by so many, you lived your life to the full & gave so much love & joy to everyone you met. Taken without the chance to say goodbye. ‘Fly High with your Angels Darling’.’
It’s those words – ‘taken without the chance to say goodbye’ – which haunt so many of the thousand upon thousand of entries in this vast anthology of anguish. The very cruellest element of this pandemic is the way in which so many people have died without their loved ones by their side.
Geraldine Brooks is still coming to terms with losing her 81-year-old mother, Barbara Missin, in January. ‘Mum collapsed at home on January 3 and was taken to hospital. I spoke to her on the phone each day. I felt certain she would be OK,’ says Geraldine, 54, a London marketing executive.
‘But four days later, in the early hours, she phoned to say she was really struggling for breath. I stayed on the line while the nurses made her comfortable. I felt so helpless. Mum’s last words were that she would speak to me in the morning. But she died just a few hours later.
‘I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fact that I wasn’t able to be with her at the end. She was always there for me.’
It is why the Remember Me campaign at St Paul’s means so much to Geraldine.
‘When I heard about the memorial in St Paul’s I felt so happy despite the sorrow I’ve been carrying with me,’ she said.
‘She loved that cathedral. We’d often visit it together, lighting a candle for my late dad. To know that she will be honoured there is such a comfort.’
No memorial can ever come close to filling the void. But it is, for so many, a source of great solace that their loved ones are to be remembered at the heart of national life. For it is at St Paul’s that this country pays its respects. It is where the UK bid farewell to Winston Churchill and to Lord Nelson (who lies in the crypt).
It is where we gathered to honour the dead of 9/11, of the Falklands and Afghan conflicts, of the Grenfell Tower disaster. This is neither a memorial for the capital nor for Christians but for everyone of any faith or none, from Shetland to the Scilly Isles. All are welcome.
It must be said that, here at the Mail, we had our doubts before calling on our readers yet again in these troubled times.
In the past year, your response to our Mail Force emergency appeals for help with personal protective equipment (PPE) and computers for vulnerable children has been simply unparalleled, with record-breaking donations amounting to more than £25 million.
We were wary of asking for yet more help with yet another Covid-related campaign. We need not have worried.
Once again, you have done this country proud. More than 10,000 individual donations have come from all parts of the UK. Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter has given £250,000, as has Manchester’s Matt Moulding, founder of The Hut Group. Our donors span all ages, all backgrounds, all faiths. They include philanthropists Mohamed Mansour and Mohamed Amersi (both Muslim) and Lord Sugar and Sir Lloyd Dorfman (both Jewish).
It was the latter who kick-started the Remember Me campaign with a substantial six-figure sum.
Sir Lloyd, who is also chairman of Prince’s Trust International, explains that, for the nation, St Paul’s has always been a source of inspiration and reassurance.
He points to one of the greatest images of the 20th century – that photograph (taken by the Mail) of the cathedral defiant during the Blitz. ‘If we are going to do justice to all these bereaved families, then we have to have a memorial in a place which speaks for the whole country – and that is what St Paul’s does,’ he says.
His family have already included his aunt, Fay Laub, in the online Book of Remembrance and Sir Lloyd encourages everyone to do the same. It is free and it will ensure that the memory of a loved one will never fade.
Take John Ashwell (pictured), from Hertfordshire. ‘You hear stories about people being on ventilators for weeks,’ says stepdaughter Sue Williams, 51, ‘but John was taken into hospital at 11am and was dead by 3pm’
On any page, you will instantly understand why this memorial is so important. Take, say, Keith Sanford from Grimsby who died in the early stages of the pandemic at the age of 57.
‘It was not your time to leave us and you had so much more to do,’ say his family. ‘He was loved more than he could ever know by so many. Until we meet again.’ The Mail has spoken to Keith’s daughter, Marie, 36, who is a nurse.
‘We were in regular contact with him. But as he deteriorated, he was unable to take calls any more,’ she says.
‘On April 2, the hospital rang to say he didn’t have long left. I raced there but can only have been in the room for 30 seconds before he passed away. I do hope he knows I was with him. Outside, I heard nurses crying.’
Or take John Ashwell, from Hertfordshire. ‘You hear stories about people being on ventilators for weeks,’ says stepdaughter Sue Williams, 51, ‘but John was taken into hospital at 11am and was dead by 3pm.
‘The nurse who sat with him when he died told us that he wouldn’t have been aware of what was going on, which was some comfort. But we can’t get our heads around any of it.
‘The funeral was hard, with only eight people and about ten minutes at the graveside.’
It is not just families who will find comfort in this memorial but whole communities. The town of Clacton-on-Sea was in mourning after one of Britain’s oldest serving doctors, Karamat Mirza, died at the age of 84.
‘He was utterly fearless, a superman who had cheated death numerous times,’ says his wife, Estelle, 72, who caught Covid at the same time. ‘It never occurred to us he would die. But, while I recovered, he was rushed to hospital where he died five days later.
‘The whole town was in shock. He was so well loved. He had seen some of his patients grow up and have children and grandchildren. A permanent memorial will help us all.’
Michael Rooney, 30, a primary school teacher from South Tyneside, is still coming to terms with the loss of his ‘Granda’, Tommy Oliver. At 88, Tommy had certainly lived a full life but it was the speed of his passing which hit the family.
‘At one point he seemed to be reasonably OK. He loved singing, and the nurses told us that he’d been serenading them,’ says Michael. ‘That was the Friday. On the Monday, we got the terrible phone call to say that he was dying.’
Denied a memorial service, the family draw great comfort from the fact that he will now be honoured at St Paul’s. ‘He loved visiting cathedrals,’ says Michael.
‘To have him honoured in St Paul’s – the finest cathedral of all – means so much to us.’ Inevitably, this roll of honour leans more to the older generations. I spot a photo of a proud Alan Cunliffe in RAF uniform. Born in 1923, he survived the horrors of Bomber Command (half of them never came home) but not Covid.
There, too, is a picture of Jan Klonowski, 94, with flag and beret. ‘Remembering our special dad; World War 2 Veteran and Polish Combatant, husband to Doreen who he couldn’t live without,’ says his entry. It sits alongside the one for Doreen.
Yet there are many – far too many – young faces here too, like that of teenager Daniel Wickramaratne.
‘Our precious son Daniel, our angel full of love, joy, and the peace of Jesus,’ says the message from his parents. ‘One day we will be reunited in Heaven.’
Youngest of all is Edwin Jackson, whose happy little face, full of life, only amplifies the agony of the accompanying words: ‘Our ever-beloved & cherished Little Baby Edwin. Thanks for blessing us with your presence for 10 precious months. We’ll remember you always. Eternal love from Mummy, big brother Stanley, Nanny, Papa & all who knew you.’
This great memorial is about doing justice to all of them. It is why the memorial’s designer, Oliver Caroe, is scouring Britain for the very best oak, the best metalwork, the best joinery and the best stonemasons for this project.
‘We are treading very carefully because we will be going into some spaces which have not seen daylight since the days of Sir Christopher Wren,’ says Mr Caroe, who even holds the same title as Wren: ‘Surveyor to the Fabric’.
He knows how much this matters to all those enduring what the Prince of Wales calls ‘the most profound sorrow’. The book of remembrance includes his mother, Surrey GP Mary Caroe.
No doubt, after some of this week’s latest revelations, many people will be feeling renewed anger and pain about the handling of this pandemic. However, thanks to our readers and our wonderful donors, there will now be a place for healing.
It cannot come soon enough for someone such as Kaz Foncette. Five months ago, she lost her mother and grandmother to Covid. Worse still, Suzan Kazim, 60, and Munever Kazim, 82, died within an hour of each other – and just weeks after the death of a cousin.
‘We are all very emotionally raw and struggling to get through all the ‘firsts’ that they are not around for,’ says Kaz, 35, a digital creator.
However, this new national memorial, she says, will be great source of comfort. ‘This is such a monumental location where people can forget about race, creed and religion and simply remember those we have all lost.’
Amen to that.