A VOLUNTEER army of more than 150 volunteers are working from home across Devon to provide vital PPE back up for local NHS and healthcare front liners after a community fundraising appeal netted more than £2,000 in just one week.
Across Devon, the talented crew of craftspeople are stitching and cutting around the clock to provide essential scrubs, laundry bags, and headbands, as well as printing 3D visors, to help protect key staff in hospitals, care homes and in the community.
Devon Scrubs started out as an appeal called Scrubs For Plymouth on a social media site before taking off across the county.
Founder Georgia Simone, from Plymouth, has worked as a professional pattern cutter and sewer and wanted to use her skills to support local healthcare services after learning of shortages in other parts of the country.
Georgia said: “I have a background in sewing and have worked professionally in that field, and I know many other people with the same background and skills. I knew that with these talented people and the resources that we could access, we would be able to help make a difference, so I decided to set up the group page to see who was interested in helping and I then set up the fundraiser to be able to raise enough funds to buy the materials we would need.”
Fellow supporters quickly signed up, including Jessica Bevan who works for NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, which is coordinating the drive to secure PPE supplies, and Kelly Lee who works at a company called Riverbridge in Ivybridge.
Bosses Steve Newton and his son Dave Newton stepped in to offer workshop space, covered the cost of some materials, and made themselves available to support the project. "The generosity of Riverbridge has made all of what this group was set up to achieve, possible to be done on a large scale,” said Georgia.
IT manager Gordon Wells was already 3D printing visors from his home in Buckfastleigh and added his weight to help establish the group, printing and distributing over 1000 visors.
Seamstress Leah Matchett, a good friend of Georgia's from Plymouth, brought valuable support and professional knowledge as a seamstress, and Kala Whyte also from Plymouth and a good friend of both Georgia and Kelly, helped to get things off the ground and even learned new skills to help in the production of badly-needed items.
Georgia said: “I want to thank each and every person who donated and every single volunteer. Without the generosity of these people, it would be impossible to achieve our goal.”
Just over a week after the fundraiser was set up, the group had beaten its own target and raised £2,500 - but this was just the first hurdle.
“I had a lot of trouble sourcing the materials as there are shortages the world over,” said Georgia.
“Eventually we managed to source fabrics online and have got other materials such as elastics, threads, labels and also 3D printing materials from all sorts of places, both online and from wholesalers around Plymouth.”
The online group has attracted over 300 members in less than two weeks and around 150 volunteers so far.
“We are being very vigilant to stick to the social distancing and essential travel policies set by the government, as there would be no point in trying to help the healthcare services if we were risking further spread,” said Georgia.
“Therefore people are working at their own houses, other than the few of us who are in the workshop, which is also working to the distancing rules.
“To minimise people on the roads and the distances that are travelled, I have drivers that work within their areas to collect items from makers near them and deliver them to where they need to go.
“It would be quite an undertaking even without the social distancing and lockdown orders in place, so in the current situation it has been a major challenge, but
thanks to the cooperation of everyone involved, we are able to realise our ambition.”
So far the group has already delivered nearly 1800 visors including Gordon's contributions, to the CCG's central supplies collection point in Exeter; to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth and to district nurses, care agencies and other NHS practices across Devon.
They have now started delivering laundry bags and ear protectors and are in the process of cutting and preparing the fabric pattern pieces for scrubs so that they are ready to be stitched together.
The group is planning to continue to make as many items as possible to support the front line workers in local healthcare services.
Anyone interested is asked to visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1455995621225627