March 2020 was the start of an incredibly difficult time for many people. The pandemic confined people to their homes as the disease spread around the world. Many were infected, and some did not survive. The nurses, doctors and medical professionals were working round the clock, providing care and compassion. The tourism industry collapsed, the culture sector ground to a halt, and for tour guides there was no work at all.
We all changed our routines, spent more time locally, and found activities to occupy ourselves. For Julie and Debbie, that meant continuing to read about Florence Nightingale. And with the increase in the use of conferencing technology, Julie was able to offer online talks on Florence Nightingale’s London.
After four months, the rules eased, and the summer looked promising. The Rule of Six was brought in. Julie and Debbie ventured forth, using public transport for the first time since March. They walked the route, and checked each stop – to see whether there was enough space for social distancing. They took tape measures and board game characters, to represent potential customers. Each location was scrutinised, to see whether a group of six people (one guide and five customers) could safely stand two metres apart from each other.
It soon became obvious that the walk had to be revised, since people walking between stops would also need to be two metres apart, and this would inevitably mean it would take longer. So, Julie and Debbie decided that the walk should stop at the statue of Florence Nightingale in Waterloo Place, rather than at the museum. In guiding terms, it is always sensible to make an impact at the end of a walk, preferably with a strong visual subject. The larger than life sized statue of the Lady with the Lamp certainly fits the bill.
The Florence Nightingale Museum re-opened on 1st August 2020, with reduced opening hours, restricted numbers and enhanced cleaning measures. Florence Nightingale was very keen on fresh air and ventilation, hand washing and hygiene. Her message had never been more relevant.
And the guided walks resumed. The groups were small – no more than five people – but most of them were fully booked. It was such a wonderful feeling to be out and about again, talking about Florence Nightingale, interacting with new people, earning some income, and enjoying the sights of London.
But the pandemic was not over, and it appeared inevitable there would be another lockdown. It looked like it would be a very long winter. However, over the intervening months, a question had been forming in Debbie’s brain. With all the research that Julie and Debbie had done on Florence Nightingale’s London, would there be enough material to write a book? Debbie and Julie discussed the idea over a working lunch in a City restaurant, and then arranged a conference call with the museum. Everyone agreed, it was certainly worthwhile trying.
So Julie and Debbie started writing.
Two Guides started to write about locations in London connected with Florence Nightingale, or as they like to think of them “flocations”. [Thanks very much to Hannah Smith, from the Florence Nightingale Museum, for inventing this word.] They had already amassed a good deal of knowledge from initial work on their walks and talks. But they now had an opportunity to deepen their research, and to look for flocations in other parts of London.
Since this was in the middle of a lockdown, a desk-based approach was the most obvious starting point. Having each amassed a small private library of books on their subject, Two Guides set about reading in depth.
One of the most useful and comprehensive works on the subject was “Florence Nightingale: The Woman and Her Legend” by Mark Bostridge. This book became a constant companion to Two Guides as they delved into it, looking for places, people, subjects and stories.
Florence Nightingale herself was also a published author, and reading her own words was inspirational. Her book “Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not” has never been out of print.
And there were also plenty of resources available online. Some of these obviously need to be taken with a pinch of salt. But, there were some authoritative sources which were well worth exploring. Two Guides are completely indebted to the world’s leading expert on Florence Nightingale, Professor Lynn McDonald. The online resources provided by her team at the University of Guelph, Toronto, Canada are world class.
And not forgetting the online version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is accessible to anyone in the UK in possession of a library card.
Having two co-authors for a book brings many benefits, including someone to share the workload, sound out ideas and discuss options. However, it also brings an increased need for co-ordination. Initially, Julie concentrated on locations featured on the guided walks, and Debbie focused on Florence’s friends, family and colleagues.
The writing of this book would have been a lot more difficult without the use of modern technology. The manuscript was drafted using Microsoft Teams, as if it were a shared drive for documents. That way, there was no need to send each other attachments, there was only one version of the document at any one time, and each could see what the other had written. On weekly Zoom conference calls, Julie and Debbie would discuss progress and agree priorities for the period ahead.
Two Guides set themselves a target of writing the descriptions for 100 flocations before the end of the year (2020). A daily routine emerged of researching, writing, checking and editing. Then each would review the other’s work, and suggest amendments or improvements. Two Guides did not always see eye to eye, but in the end a compromise was always reached. Julie and Debbie know exactly which of the flocations they have written, but they hope that this is not obvious to the reader.
Two Guides reached their target of 100 flocations, but they realised they had not finished their research. So what did they do? They carried on writing.
2020 was going to be a big year for the Florence Nightingale Museum. It is a small museum, based in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital in London, but it had big plans for a special anniversary.
Florence Nightingale had been born in Florence, Italy, on 12th May 1820, so 2020 was the bicentenary of her birth. The museum had a three year project underway, and a whole programme of events lined up. There was an exhibition: Nightingale in 200 Objects, People & Places; there were plans for a Choral Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral; the Museum was due to take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show through the streets of the City of London; and much more. The World Health Organization had declared 2020 to be the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
In 2018, the director of the museum, David Green, had asked Julie to see whether a guided walk through Florence Nightingale’s London would be feasible. After some initial research, Julie confirmed that it would indeed be possible. She set about planning a route, starting at Florence’s home in Mayfair; wending a way through the upmarket areas of Westminster; passing the statue of Florence at Waterloo Place; and finishing at the museum. Since the route was ready in early 2019, the museum director decided there was no need to wait until 2020 to launch the walks, and so they were advertised on the museum website. Julie mentioned to Debbie that she might be needed to lead walks in 2020.
Reservations for the walking tours started slowly, and gradually built up. Then a group booking arrived, for 50 people from Brazil. That was too big a group for one guide, however proficient, so Julie called on Debbie. All of a sudden, Debbie needed to get up to speed much earlier than anticipated. Fortunately, Julie had prepared thoroughly, so Debbie had some excellent research to rely on. The walk went well, the customers were happy, and the museum was delighted.
Meanwhile, Julie had also started developing some talks about Florence Nightingale’s London. The advantage of a talk is that you are not limited to a particular area, and can mention locations (flocations?) that do not appear on the walk route. This enabled Julie to include one of the places Florence had worked as superintendent (matron): The Establishment for Gentlewomen during Illness, in Harley Street.
Debbie and Julie were also delighted to learn that some of the buildings of the German Hospital in Dalston, East London still existed. They knew that Florence had first visited in 1846, but did not realise it had survived.
As 2020 started, Julie and Debbie were looking forward to a busy year of guiding. The Florence Nightingale Museum planned a launch event for their exhibition, with a distinguished guest list, including the Secretary of State for Health. The launch party took place, with many illustrious guests. Unfortunately, the minister was unable to attend.
And then the world changed, as the pandemic took hold.