Putting our best feet forward for action on diabetes

When visiting Manchester Central Library you expect to see thousands upon thousands of books, not thousands upon thousands of socks hanging from the ceiling. However, the ‘Seven Thousand Feet’ installation, created to draw attention to one of the region’s most destructive diseases – diabetes, challenged this expectation.

Masterminded by artist Christine Wilcox-Baker in conjunction with scientists and clinicians at University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester hospitals, the exhibition was one of the major attractions at the 2018 Manchester Science Festival. The 7,000 socks represented the 7,000+ lower limb amputations each year in the UK among diabetic patients caused by complications of the disease. The installation was built using socks donated by Diabetes UK support groups and lower limb amputees and contained thought-provoking messages from patients with the condition, encouraging people to look after their health. Amputations become necessary due to the most severe effects of diabetes including nerve damage and poor circulation, leading to ulcers – most commonly located on the foot.

While the message delivered by Seven Thousand Feet was deliberately stark, the exhibition was also helping to raise awareness of the pioneering work being done in Manchester to reduce the impact of the disease. Visitors were given the chance to interact with academics from the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Gastroenterology, and final year Biomedical Sciences students, who had a number of exhibits and activities to showcase ground breaking approaches to tackling type 2 diabetes-related issues.

Dr Karen Cosgrove, lecturer from the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health said: “Manchester Science Festival has been a wonderful opportunity to bring together scientists and clinicians from across a number of Manchester institutions with the common aim of raising awareness of diabetes. Children and adults all enjoyed getting hands-on with our activities and learning more about the causes of type 2 diabetes, and how we can prevent it. We hope that our Seven Thousand Feet project may help to drive the changes we need in order to prevent more people developing this condition in future.”

These seven thousand hanging socks serve as a memorial to the feet and limbs lost, a fresh perspective on the condition, and a motivating force to alleviate the personal and collective burden of this dreadful disease.

The exhibition is hoping to be on display once again at the University’s Community Festival on Saturday 15 June.