Volunteers stitch together to make scrubs for NHS | World news

When thecoronavirus lockdown came into force, Jayne Maxwell was forced to close her sewing shop in Rotherham and furlough her staff.

She was expecting a quiet few weeks, yet the seamstress is now busier than ever, as she coordinates a growing local team of volunteers making scrubs for NHS staff facing a nationwide shortage.

“We’re getting messages every day through Facebook with orders, and we’ve done 30 pairs in a week but it was hard going,” said Maxwell, the owner of From Rags to Stitches. “I dare not advertise it or we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand.”

Staff from Doncaster, Bassetlaw and Rotherham hospitals, as well as from local GP surgeries, have all put orders in. “We’re struggling, but we’re trying to keep up,” she added.

Scrubs, the plain clothes worn by medics when dealing with patients, are being used by an increasing number of NHS staff as part of their personal protective equipment and changed more frequently in order to stop the spread of Covid-19, so volunteer sewers around the country have come together to make up the shortfall.

They are not only making scrubs in a range of sizes, but also scrub caps, scrub bags so the clothes can be transported and washed safely by staff at home, and headbands to alleviate the pressure of face masks.

Some people, such as Sarah Featherstone, a teacher self-isolating in Sheffield, are adding personal touches such as “thank you” messages on the label. “I think when you’re isolating, it feels really good to know you’re part of a big network of people and part of the bigger picture, actually working to help people on the frontline,” she said.

Finished scrubs at From Rags to Stitches in Rotherham.

Finished scrubs at From Rags to Stitches in Rotherham. Photograph: Jayne Maxwell, From Rags to Stitches

Scrub hubs have popped up all over the country to coordinate sewers willing to offer their services, while the For the Love of Scrubs Facebook group has gained nearly 40,000 members.

A group in south London, one of the areas worst hit by coronavirus, has raised nearly £10,000 for materials, with people from all walks of life getting involved.

“We’ve got grandmothers working on vintage Singer sewing machines churning out scrub bags, some professionals, some competent costume designers and some novice sewers,” said one of the group’s coordinators, Elizabeth Price, who has recruited more than 100 volunteers in just over a week. A costume designer for The Lion King stage show has even helped connect them with a tailor.

“Is there a case of saying this really shouldn’t be necessary? It’s unprecedented circumstances and I think the procurement process perhaps isn’t sufficiently nimble for the current situation,” Price said.

“But I’m constantly welling up and humbled by people’s loveliness,” she added. “From people dropping off quarantined fabric in a socially distanced way with a shy smile, to the top West End tailors, everyone is just desperate to do what they can to help.”

Denise Cleal is the wardrobe supervisor at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. After finding herself at a loose end when the theatre was shut, she has instead turned her sewing machine skills to making scrubs at home.

Scrubs for the NHS made by Denise Cleal, a wardrobe supervisor at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester

Scrubs for the NHS made by Denise Cleal, a wardrobe supervisor at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester. Photograph: Denise Cleal, The Barn Theatre

“You do feel quite under pressure because you know that a surgery is sitting there waiting for you to finish making them,” said Cleal, who has been using spare material from the theatre wardrobe. “It’s not like a hobby or ‘Oh yeah, I think I’ll do a bit now’. I’m working 10 hours a day.

“But the sewing is a pleasure and to be able to put it to such a worthy cause is tremendous for me,” she said.

While some hospitals specify plain dark fabrics, others have said they are happy for the scrubs to be made from different coloured or patterned material, meaning the sewers can use fabric donations such as good quality, clean bedding.

For Maxwell, making the scrubs is an important way of supporting her daughter Emma, a nurse sister at Rotherham hospital working on the frontline treating Covid-19 patients.

“It takes my mind off where she is and what she’s doing because obviously as a parent I worry when I see things on the TV,” she said. “But I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do, not for a round of applause.

“The business might not come through this, and if it doesn’t then so be it – we’re trying to save lives and that’s what it’s got to be about now.”

Coronavirus and volunteering: how can I help in the UK?

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