What I did in Lockdown - Mel (Work Supporter)

When the Covid Pandemic led to a complete “Stay at Home” order from the Government on 23rd  of March, like many people I thought it would just be for the initial three weeks.  Knowing lockdown was imminent I had stocked up, not on food or toilet rolls, on DIY products!  We (me, my husband Paul and daughter Kirsty) threw ourselves into a programme of decorating, repairs, cleaning in all the forgotten corners and a myriad of other annoying jobs that had been on the “to do” list for ages.  Then what… Lockdown was extended. There’s only so many jobs to do and why keep cleaning when you can’t have visitors to see your sparkling home! I have plenty of “at home” hobbies; gardening, sewing, scrapbooking, reading and so on.  All my unfinished projects were next to be done (still not cleared that pile 5 months on !) However my sports mad husband was struggling in the total absence of anything to watch, participate in or write about.  There’s only so many zoom calls, quizzes and phone chats you can have, we were running out of things to talk about .  It was getting boring.  Then we heard about the NHS need for Scrubs (lightweight pyjama like outfits usually worn by hospital theatre staff).  Several people mentioned this to me knowing I sew.  Eventually I was directed to the Warwickshire Scrubbers Facebook page. 

What a brilliant feat of organised volunteering this quickly became.  An enormous group of sewers (eventually over 1600) across the county keen to put their skills to use for free for the sake of protecting those NHS workers on the frontline of the pandemic.  The county was rapidly subdivided and I became part of the Kenilworth team.  The local coordinator was appointed and set about using people in the most efficient way dependant on their skills. Many non-sewers were keen to help too.  It was really important that the Scrubs we made were high quality as they would be worn and washed every day at 60 degrees.  Huge rolls of coloured cotton were bought with money kindly donated by local groups such as Round Table and Lions Club.  This fabric had to be pre-washed and ironed by a dedicated team before being cut out to eliminate shrinkage.  The coordinator persuaded a local church to allow us to use their hall and set up trestle tables  - at distance, four people only in a cavernous space that somehow remained freezing cold despite a heatwave outside.  There we cut out  on average 25 full sets of scrubs a day.  I volunteered for the cutting team as my sewing skills are not really in dressmaking - although I’ve had a go in my extended spare time now! 

Paul still sat at home bored, but not for long.  The size of the team was growing daily and the local coordinator was having to deliver the pre-cut fabric out to her team of home sewers in the evening and somehow collect the completed ones back, all within her allotted one hour of daily exercise, observing the rules of quarantine.  Paul had a long career in Logistics before moving into Sports Journalism so I saw his chance to help and volunteered him too.  Rapidly our dining room transformed into the control centre. It looked like a wartime bunker with maps, pins, coloured blu tack blobs, lists of people and their addresses ,  a trusty laptop and our phones buzzing almost constantly, day and night,  with messages.  Another group of volunteers, non-sewers, stepped forward as couriers .  Each day the pre-cuts were delivered to us and we plotted routes around the town for the couriers to deliver to the home sewers and collect any completed items.  By this time sewers were also making laundry bags, headbands and scrubs caps,  out of their own fabric or donations, for the NHS and interestingly, the Police. The laundry bags allow uniforms to be carried home separately to avoid contamination. To support this we also began moving donations of sheets, pillow cases, duvet covers and similar to be cut up for these items.  Each courier had a Covid Volunteer sticker for their vehicle to allow for non-essential travel but some chose to cycle, memorably one poor lady was routed up the steepest hill in town twice in one night with a huge delivery parcel because we didn’t realise she was not in a car ! She still came back for more in the days that followed.  Gradually the NHS orders were fulfilled,  the numbers of sick reduced and the fabric ran out, as did the donated money.  People began to drift back to work as lockdown eased and Operation Wormwood in our dining room was wound up in late June. 

In the 6 or 7 ridiculously busy weeks of production we had managed to help 85 Kenilworth sewers produce 602 sets of Scrubs, 1202 laundry bags, 324 headbands and caps and more face masks than we can possibly count!

It was  a great team effort and something to look back on with great pride as our contribution to the “We’re all in this together “ message.