At the beginning of the pandemic Princess Alice Hospice experienced, among other things, a shortage of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) after the NHS was overwhelmed with demand. This very difficult situation inspired loyal supporters to organise groups of dressmakers and pattern cutters who made beautiful scrubs for Clinical staff on our In-Patient Unit (IPU). One of those groups, Kew Sews Scrubs was created by Ela Kaczmarska who shares her story here -

Just before the first lockdown I drove to work to pick up my PC, books, notes and folders, arming myself with lots to do as I prepared to work from home. I was expecting to create a den full of history books but instead I found my dedicated office space consumed by sacks of bedlinen.

During lockdown my husband’s team of Haematologists had volunteered to do shift work to alleviate the pressure and the risk of infection for those doctors who were dealing with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis. We were all apprehensive about the coming weeks and one day he brought home an old pair of tattered surgical scrubs. I gave my good friend Louise a call and asked her whether she could help. Within 24 hours she had taken the tattered scrubs apart, drawn up a pattern and returned with a perfectly sewn pair which she had created from a blue bedsheet. That was when I decided to look to our community in Kew and set up a group to sew scrubs.

News spread speedily through Kew and bags of bedding began to arrive on my doorstep. Offers to sew also came quickly and before I knew it I was coordinating a team of proficient dressmakers and garment cutters.

I had heard that Princess Alice Hospice needed gowns and scrubs as they were taking in COVID-19 positive patients to alleviate pressure on the NHS. Coincidentally, that same day, the first thing my husband said to me as he walked through the door was that we ought to sew for hospices and care homes as hospitals were sending positive cases there and staff had insufficient protection.

And so our ‘small’ team started to sew. Mornings were spent cutting paper patterns and afternoons delivering them to groups of volunteers which were growing day by day. Already we were beginning to feel the stress of such a big initiative, especially managing the hundreds of offers of help we were receiving through the Facebook page I had set up. There was lots of washing and ironing of sheets, donations from well-wishers including a supplier who sent me his stock of Liberty seconds. It was a delight to use this pretty fabric for Princess Alice Hospice.

I signed up to scrubhub.org.uk, which was created to provide a way for organisations to find local hubs. At the time we were the only group in SW and W London and Surrey so enquiries were endless!

A few weeks into the initiative I began to feel overwhelmed and stressed. We had nearly 100 volunteers and another 300 waiting to join. I was still working in my day job and losing all sense of time. The dining room was cluttered with pins, scissors and offcuts which I was sweeping to one side to make room for dinner plates set out for regular mealtimes. Our sacrosanct family time was taking second place. It soon became apparent that I needed to be more organised to be able to cope better. So I asked an experienced friend, Rose McGrath to manage the administration and I continued to oversee the production and distribution.

Together we became a kind of consultancy, advising people on how to set up local hubs. We provided groups with patterns (by now professionally printed), top tips on how to set up an efficient practice, how to quality control etc. Six further hubs were born as Rose and I continued to liaise with other hubs across London. This extension of our work would not have been possible had it not been for Rose.

After the first Lockdown and following a ZOOM meeting with hub leaders from scrubhub.org.uk, it was decide that it was time to start preparing our groups for winding down. And so, I attempted to de-mobilise our volunteer workforce.

However, not everyone was keen to stop sewing. Some had enjoyed the work immensely and during Mental Health

Awareness week I became conscious that I could not take away something which a number of people had become so reliant upon. So I still managed smaller orders so that those who were keen to carry on sewing, could do so.

By late Autumn 2020, it was obvious that there was no longer a need to provide large numbers of protective clothing, evident by the demand waning and also the return to work by many of those across the country who had given up their time to sew.

I still receive the odd request – most recently from a group of volunteers training to be vaccinators.