The Memorial



In 2015 a Steering Committee of eminent UK-based humanitarians was established to create such a permanent memorial to humanitarian aid workers. The Committee’s first step was a fund-raising campaign, directed principally at humanitarian organisations based in the UK and internationally, including non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, as well as humanitarian workers themselves, their families and friends. 

The national memorial is intended to recognise and remember not only those who have died in the service of people in need, but all those inspired by the humanitarian ideal who continue to dedicate themselves to help others around the world. This memorial is to be a celebration of lives well lived, rather than a traditional monument to the dead, encapsulating the best of humanitarian tradition and principles – humanity, independence and impartiality. The memorial is also intended to raise awareness of the history and practice of humanitarian work, offering insight into the successes achieved, the experiences of those affected by crises and the challenges faced in delivering life-saving assistance and support to people affected by conflicts and disasters. 

The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) was appointed by the Committee to help commission a contemporary artist of renown to design the national memorial. After a rigorous shortlisting process, Michael Landy CBE RA was commissioned by the Committee. Born and raised in London, Michael’s practice encompasses drawing, painting and installation, all of which are unified by an interest in bringing audiences into his works as interactive participants. Michael has developed the memorial design in collaboration with the Committee and its partners, as well as the CAS. His proposal is for a work of art that creates a space which people can walk around, through and become a part of. It comprises a circle of 15 human-scale figures linked in groups of five, with three spaces between that allow visitors to interact with the memorial and to ‘complete the circle’. Inside the circle, first-hand humanitarian testimonies from disasters all over the world, and icons and motifs, are displayed on the figures, vividly telling the story of human experience in crises, and humanitarian aid work, for audiences young and old. 

The search for a suitable site for the memorial has taken some time, given the requirement for an appropriate setting, including space to allow for quiet contemplation. The site needs to ensure both the visibility of the memorial and access to it for national and international visitors. It also needs to be able to serve as a focus for annual commemoration on World Humanitarian Day.

Steering Committee Membership (as at September 2022):

Sir Brendan Gormley, former CEO Disasters Emergency Committee

Sir John Holmes (Chair), former diplomat and UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs

Harbinder Kaur, consultant, former Director of HR CARE International 

Dr Elaine Laycock MBE, retired GP, former medical director Lifeline

Victoria Metcalfe-Hough, consultant, senior Research Associate at ODI Humanitarian Policy Group

Sara Pantuliano, CEO Overseas Development Institute

Nick Roseveare MBE, former CEO MAG, former Oxfam Humanitarian Director

Saleh Saeed OBE, CEO Disasters Emergency Committee, former CEO Islamic Relief

Dame Barbara Stocking, former CEO Oxfam

Sir Nicholas Young, former CEO British Red Cross