Government denies it has asked him to design a covid memorial

Thomas Heatherwick has been asked by the government to advise on how to commemorate the pandemic and help the nation mourn.

The designer met Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith earlier this year for what a spokesperson termed an “informal discussion of general ideas around how the nation could remember those who have lost their lives and recognise those involved in the unprecedented pandemic response”.

Contrary to some reports, the meeting was not specifically about a memorial, said the spokesperson, adding that no decisions have been made.

In May Boris Johnson announced he would establish a memorial commission but its members and terms of reference have yet to be confirmed.

He also backed an initiative to create a memorial at St Paul’s Cathedral to those who have died. That project, Remember Me, hit its £2.3m fundraising target in less than a month after striking a chord with the public and enabling work started on site six weeks ago.

That memorial, a classically inspired curved portico which may contain a digital book of remembrance, has been designed by Oliver Caroe, who is surveyor to the fabric of the cathedral and whose mother died of covid-19.

Caroe said he hoped the main contract would be let “very soon”. The project is not set to complete until next year.

Responding to questions about Heatherwick’s involvement, a government spokesperson said: “On May 12 the prime minister announced that the government will establish a UK commission on covid commemoration, which will take forward work in this area. Membership and terms of reference for the commission will be announced in due course.”

The government recognised a need to mourn those who have died during the pandemic and to “mark and remember this period as one of immense struggle”, added the spokesperson.

Heatherwick, who is Boris Johnson’s go-to designer, was behind the 2012 Olympic cauldron created from individual “petals”, the new London Routemaster bus and the aborted and notorious Garden Bridge project.

Heatherwick Studio said: ”As designers who have experience creating moments of national significance, we were approached in an advisory capacity. Covid has affected us all, and finding the best way to commemorate those who lost their lives and those who gave so much to save lives is a huge and serious matter requiring the thoughts of many.”