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Ciara's masks raising a smile... and cash for charity during coronavirus lockdown

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Ciara Duddy at work on the masks with her family

Ciara Duddy at work on the masks with her family

Some of the finished products

Some of the finished products

Ciara Duddy with one of the finished face masks

Ciara Duddy with one of the finished face masks

Ciara Duddy at work on the masks with her family

When the Covid-19 outbreak hit, business for Beautiful Day Bridal Cottage in Co Londonderry ground to a halt.

To adapt, the Greysteel store's owner Ciara Duddy (42) began sewing face masks for healthcare workers on the frontline of the pandemic and those most vulnerable.

With so much free time, plenty of fabric and a sewing machine to hand, Ciara was keen to keep busy - mainly to look after her own mental health and to raise vital funds for AWARE, the depression charity for Northern Ireland.

It's a cause close to her heart as she and several family members have suffered with their mental ill-health in the past.

The mum-of-two has three generations of her family in her house during the current lockdown who have been helping produce the masks, including her mother Rosemary (68), a retired seamstress, and 13-year-old daughter Dearbhla.

"Mental health is something that we talk about openly at home as so many of us have had to deal with it including myself about four years ago," Ciara said.

"I had a lot on my mind at the time due to family sickness and death so I felt that everything was beginning to get on top of me."

"Then there was the challenge of trying to keep the business going and painting a smile on my face every day but things would fall apart once I got home.

"I got help and still take medication to this day to keep things at bay."

Ciara was speaking at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme for 2020 is kindness.

She added: "I wanted my future self to look back someday at this 'pause time' and see that I had done something productive.

"So, inspired by some of my fellow sewing buddies, I gathered non-woven breathable material, elastic and thread and we all got to work making the masks."

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Some of the finished products

Some of the finished products

Some of the finished products

Ciara has already tripled her initial £500 fundraising target for AWARE, which involved a minimum donation of £2 per mask.

"We have been inundated with requests for the masks from all over Ireland, the UK and some to family in America and overwhelmed by people's generosity.

"We have made about 350 masks so far which has been fantastic and we are very thankful for any donations, no matter how small," Ciara said.

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Ciara Duddy with one of the finished face masks

Ciara Duddy with one of the finished face masks

Ciara Duddy with one of the finished face masks

Karen Collins, AWARE CEO added: "This is a really difficult time for people in Northern Ireland. We were already facing a mental health crisis in this country before the Covid-19 outbreak, and the current situation is certainly not helping matters.

"We have been blown away by the kindness in our community and donations that have been made to us so far. Any donation to AWARE will help us continue to support those in Northern Ireland who are struggling with their mental health."

Ciara's face masks in aid of AWARE can be purchased from justgiving.com/fundraising/ciara-duddy3

Belfast Telegraph