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Made with love: sewing to support key workers

Made with love: sewing to support key workers
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Made with love: sewing to support key workers
Siobhan Stirling - Sharp Minds Communications for Capital Space by Siobhan Stirling - Sharp Minds Communications for Capital Space
Owner/Director - Sharp Minds Communications Ltd

Business owners have been finding their feet since the coronavirus lockdown was announced over two months ago, finding new ways of working and adapting their business models to fit this new remote-working world. Some SME owners have also found the time and resources to support key workers during this challenging time – among them our Harlow customer FBL Quilting and Crafts Studio, which has produced an astonishing amount of handmade PPE for key workers after a drastic change in business operations.

Working before the lockdown

Becky Preen, owner of FBL Quilting and Crafts, has been based at our Greenway Business Centre for over two years. Normally teaching leisure sewing and craft classes up to five times a week, Becky would have regular groups of clients coming in for morning, afternoon or evening classes. At weekends, she would hold one-day workshops covering patchwork, quilting, jewellery making and dressmaking.  

Changes after the lockdown announcements

“As soon as social gatherings were discouraged, even before they closed the bars and restaurants, I had to stop teaching,” says Becky. “Most of my clients are older retirees, and many have underlying health conditions. I packed up some sewing things and took them home.”

Becky began sewing fabric gowns for St Clare Hospice, and became aware of a demand for many other items that could be made to help front-line workers.

“I somehow ended up gathering a community into a Facebook group, ‘Made with love for those who care: PAH Essex Herts borders.’ We now have over 250 people sewing everything from ear-saver bands, headbands with buttons for mask elastic, face coverings, scrub hats and sets and uniform washing bags.”

Community building and assisting key workers

After the success of the Facebook group, Becky started a GoFundMe page to help buy the odds and ends needed to continue making the equipment, such as cord for the drawstrings and thousands of buttons of just the right size for bands and ear savers.

“We have also had support from Harlow College and the Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall Trust,” commented Becky. “People have raided their airing cupboards to donate bedding in good condition for us to turn into bags and scrubs. More recently we were also given a very generous donation of 400m of drill fabric to make heavy-duty scrubs for the community nurses and GPs.”

The community that Becky has created has led to an astronomical amount of equipment being produced. To date, over 200 sets of scrubs for local health and care workers have been produced, going to care homes, NHS Hospital staff, GPs and hospice nurses. They have also distributed 2,039 headbands with buttons for mask elastic, 1,816 ear saver bands, 1,009 fabric face masks and 3,037 uniform washing bands – and much more.

Challenges throughout the pandemic

“I’m lucky to have a lovely large unit, so I can lay out fabric and have lots of things on the go at once. The thing I found hardest in the beginning was that I could only be here by myself. At first it was difficult to figure out how people could help me with the admin and organising supplies,” says Becky.  “I couldn’t just have someone come in and help me do a job, and I had to figure out what I could delegate safely for them and me.”

Becky has managed to adapt her operations throughout the lockdown, getting someone else to organise the transport of resources to and from the studio and individuals’ homes. 

Lockdown lessons

When asked what she’s learnt throughout the lockdown, Becky replies, “That there are a lot of people who sew, or want to sew and don’t normally have the time. It’s been a great boost to everyone’s mental health to be able to do something productive and relevant.”

Be it making a drawstring bag for someone to store their used uniform when changing at work, or sewing a couple of buttons onto a piece of ribbon so someone wearing a mask doesn’t get sore ears, those involved in Becky’s fantastic operation certainly have a lot to be proud of.

Capital Space’s support of FBL Crafts

“I am very grateful to the Greenway Business Centre management team for their support and guidance, especially in the early days.  Their policy for registering us all separately for business rates meant I was able to get a SBRR grant quickly,  giving my business the stability of being able to suspend normal operations for months without having to worry about how I was going to pay the rent with zero money coming in. They have also been supportive in giving me some temporary storage for my lovely wheelie office chairs which don’t stack so just get in the way when not being used by the students.  It seems a small thing, but they take up so much space!” comments Becky.

Celebrating the joy of sewing post-lockdown

Looking forward to our slow ease out of lockdown, Becky says, “When the lockdown is lifted and classes can restart, I’m going to have a party – lots of people who have found me didn’t know I was here before. They have found the joy of sewing again and want to continue.  It will be nice to welcome them properly into my happy place, with tea and cake, but I might need to take over the car park at the weekend!”

FBL Quilting and Crafts Studio is a fantastic example of the community built during the coronavirus lockdown as well as business ingenuity.  Responding resourcefully to a unique health and business challenge by ceaselessly helping those on the front line means Becky has certainly earnt her new customer base of sewing enthusiasts!

To find out how Capital Space virtual offices or business premises

could benefit your growing business,

call 0800 107 3667