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  • Writer's pictureSophie Sheinwald

Behind the Mask with Major Angela Laycock

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

The year has started bleakly with another full lockdown in the UK. However, despite being at the mercy of this pandemic, we really need to find those silver linings!

For this project, it is humanity, kindness and camaraderie. We have the ability to impact others in positive ways, we have the capability to do so and have done so historically. With that in mind, we hope that these posts featuring healthcare workers across the nation, will uplift and inspire you.

In 2021 we will continue to share stories and wonderful portraits that have been organised and taken by wonderful UK photographers for the 2020 Vision Project. Through this project we bring to light the human story of healthcare workers who tirelessly worked through the intense period of the Covid-19 pandemic – and continue to do so.

For the most part with this project, we showcase healthcare workers who attend directly to patients’ needs. However we also have the opportunity to highlight valuable people within healthcare, who work outside this direct dynamic. We have maintenance workers, managers as well as people who are there when a bereavement hits a family. So in this post, we highlight a British army officer in the Corps of Royal Engineers, Major Angela Laycock. She supported the NHS with her team, when assigned to the Covid-19 Nottingham Operations RESCRIPT.

Angela pictured wearing her military officers mess dress, holding the Nightingale Hospital plans.

Despite a tough, male dominated environment, Angela became an officer commanding of her own squadron of men. When the military were called upon to support the NHS in a time of national crisis, she was tasked with leading the military project and construction team to build the Birmingham Nightingale Hospital.

“Many parts of the Armed Forces were mobilised in support of Operation RESCRIPT, assisting the NHS and the healthcare sector in so many vital tasks, from mobile testing facilities, to ambulance driving, transporting nurses and patients and distributing vital medical equipment.
I led the design and build team constructing the Birmingham Nightingale Hospital – in under 2 weeks. This epic project required mobilising the many trades of the Royal Engineers, civilian contractors and the NHS to work as a coordinated team to create a fully equipped and functioning COVID 19 hospital.” says Angela

An Officer and a Photographer

When Nottingham portrait photographer Deb Hall joined the 2020 Vision Project, she wanted to highlight someone she very much admired for her dedication.

“Angela has always been an inspirational person. She has a natural drive and determination to succeed, but without a shred of arrogance or aggression. She just gets on and does whatever she has set her mind to do, no matter how insurmountable the task may seem. She has an explorers spirit, with the mind and mental agility of a great inventor.”

Deb further explained how during their photo session, Angela revealed how ingenuity came through at the most critical of times. ”To keep medicines at very low temperature when the normal refrigeration equipment wasn’t available, she (Angela) designed a way to convert an ice cream van to do the job!”

What inspired Deb Hall’s visual narrative with Angela

“We decided that we would have the session in the Officers Mess, at Chetwynd Barracks, Nottingham, where she is stationed. It also seemed fitting, as the photograph is celebrating her service, as a military engineer, that we photograph her in her military mess dress – the formal attire that officers wear for significant occasions. Her dark dress contrasted beautifully with the rich red and gold of her jacket and medals and drew attention to her within the dark, traditional colours and wood of the Officer Mess. We were also keen to have a small hint of her achievement within the image and I incorporated her plan document for the hospital build."

Deb asked Angela to take her to her favourite spot. “Here she really relaxed and I was able to talk to her about some of the most memorable moments of her time on the Nightingale Hospital Project. She told me about how the little things really kept her going when the challenges were hardest.” It was talking so naturally that she got Angela's true smiles and quiet pride through Deb’s camera lens.

Did your method change from your usual portraiture work?

Yes, the environment was very different from my usual portraiture. This was a very dark, formal environment, with very little natural light. I wanted to remain agile and able to explore the environment with Angela, so didn’t want to bring lots of lighting equipment. It required that I look for pools of natural light which showed off Angela and her uniform.

How were you affected by Covid?

“COVID left me feeling very isolated, as my husband was also deployed on Operation Rescript, supporting the NHS in Wales. My family are 3.5 hours from me in Southampton and my Husband’s family are about 3 hours away in Merseyside. My child has disabilities and I found myself trying to support him, educate him, keep us both sane, support my husband on operations, my family remotely with their health concerns, run a household and run a business with no support or relief. "

"As a military child myself and a military wife, I am frequently left in this position, so instead of feeling sorry for myself, I started to think about what I could do to help, around my commitments to my child and home."

"By luck I saw a post on social media from Sophie Sheinwald about the Vision 2020 Project and I thought to myself that it was the perfect way to help. To be able to commemorate into history those individuals who have gone above and beyond to save lives in these extraordinary times. These times should never be forgotten, the lessons learnt about the fragility of the human race, the sacrifices made for the common good and sadly the lives impacted and lost.”

Each of the ‘behind the mask’ 2020 Vision Project portraits, reflect our healthcare workers’ dedication, resilience, courage and teamwork throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to highlight more stories, as we work towards more exhibitions of these beautiful validating portraits.

The 2020 Vision Project is a collective of talented UK portrait photographers and visual storytellers. Each share their creative vision towards a visual commemoration of healthcare workers nationwide.

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