The National Covid Memorial, a sea of hand-drawn red hearts covering a wall facing Westminster along the River Thames, was started as the UK was becoming desensitised to the scale of daily reported deaths during the pandemic.

With each unique heart representing one of the 200,000 people who have died in the UK, the memorial has become a striking representation of the vast scale of personal tragedy. For organisers Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, its creation gave members a space to mourn their loved ones and put their personal stories at the heart of the national narrative on the pandemic.

“Before the wall, the image that always accompanied articles about the pandemic was Boris Johnson at the dispatch box. After the wall it became more people focused; it was about love and loss and community,” Nathan Oswin, the group’s campaign director said.

Starting as a small Facebook group of six people at the start of the pandemic, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice has become a lifeline for many members who shared similar experiences of loss at a time when rituals and traditions around grieving were removed.

By December 2020 the group had become a registered organisation and by March 2021, as the National Covid Memorial was started, they began to take on a small staff team.

Its members have since grown to a community of 6,500 people, offering continual support to one another and ensuring a collective voice exists, led by lived experience, to hold authorities to account, learn lessons and save lives in the future.

Among the first people to paint the wall and to become one of the many regular spokespeople on behalf of the group was co-founder Matt Fowler.


Matt started the campaign with Jo Goodman after his 56-year-old father, Ian, a retired design engineer for Jaguar Land Rover, died in April 2020. Despite being out of his comfort zone, Matt (pictured above with his dad Ian) and his colleagues kept up the pressure for a public inquiry. 

“The crucial fact is that every one of those statistics was a living breathing person, taken before their time, leaving an empty void in the lives of their families and friends,” he said.

“At the start of the campaign, we wanted to build a support network for people who were bereaved because they really did feel like they were on their own. The information available from the government was pretty sparse and a lot of the time people were coming to us because they didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing or how to deal with things.”

While Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice regrets not being able to secure a rapid review to learn immediate lessons from the start of the pandemic, it has been successful in calling for an official public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic which opened in July 2022.

They hope it will shed light on what happened, who was accountable for key decisions, and, ultimately, that it will lead to long standing policy change to ensure lessons are learned ahead of an “inevitable” future pandemic.

Crucially, they will continue to work to ensure the memories of their loved ones and the lived experience of their members are at the centre of this process. 

“Everyone agrees that the focus of the inquiry must be on saving lives in the future, and that means that those who have been most affected, including bereaved families, must be at its heart,” Matt said. 

“This is a one-off, historic opportunity to learn lessons to protect lives across the country.”
•    In 2022, JRCT made a 36-month cross cutting grant to Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice under the Power and Accountability and Rights and Justice programmes. This restricted grant is for the organisation’s project to inform the Covid-19 public inquiries.