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Coronavirus: Hundreds of Northern Ireland volunteers rise to challenge of sewing scrubs and facemasks for key workers


Belfast-based fashion designer Chloe Dougan is pictured leaving her home with material being used to make scrubs

Belfast-based fashion designer Chloe Dougan is pictured leaving her home with material being used to make scrubs

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

With a facemask

With a facemask

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Mary Murphy (pictured) and Kelly Black are part of the 'Covid-19 Facemasks for All-Ireland' group

Mary Murphy (pictured) and Kelly Black are part of the 'Covid-19 Facemasks for All-Ireland' group

Kelly Black

Kelly Black

Belfast-based fashion designer Chloe Dougan is pictured leaving her home with material being used to make scrubs

Hundreds of people on lockdown have risen to the challenge of sewing facemasks and scrubs for those working to keep vital services going.

Award-winning Belfast fashion designer Chloe Dougan, better known as a designer of exotic creations for women and drag queens, said she has been blown away by the response to a recently created NI Scrubs Group page on Facebook.

It has already enlisted over 2,000 people from across Northern Ireland willing to get behind the sewing machine and produce essential wear for medical professionals as they battle the coronavirus outbreak.

"Seeing just how many people have bought in to the idea of us all being in this together has been brilliant," said Chloe, whose GoFundMe page for the campaign has already raised almost £4,000 towards the cost of fabric.

The original campaign was started by Omagh woman Clara Maybin.

"Like Clara, so many of us have family and friends working on the frontline of this battle," Chloe said.

"With work no longer an option, like so many more over the past couple of weeks, I wanted to get involved and try to do something practical to help.

"We're not doing this for payment, and since I signed up to get involved on Friday I've been sourcing as much material as I can and getting it to those who want to help by making the scrubs or masks.

"Most of those now joining up have found themselves unable to work through this outbreak and just want to do something practical to help.

"These items are in short supply in hospitals, care homes, even local shops staying open to serve us. I'm so grateful to Sew 'n' Sew in Belfast city centre for providing what material they could, and more outlets have been kind enough to pass on the material with a promise to pay later when the GoFundMe money is released." Chloe will be co-ordinating the Belfast and Lisburn campaign and for more information visit the NI Scrubs Group on Facebook. To donate, search on GoFundMe.com for 'NI Fund Fabric For Scrubs Etc'.

Elsewhere, Co Londonderry mum-of-two Mary Murphy has been astonished by the response to a Facebook group she set up a week ago called Covid-19 Facemasks for All-Ireland.

Drawing on her skills as a qualified aeronautical engineer, Mary has put together a pattern for a "fail-safe" mask.

Since launching her group just over a week ago, she already has over 27 requests for hundreds of masks from GPs, nurses, care home staff, community care workers and even individuals caring for vulnerable relatives.

Mary (40), who runs her own bridal underwear company, Sioda Lingerie, lives in Magherafelt with her husband Adrian (43), an engineering professor at Queen's University, and their two children, Sophie (7) and Johnny (9).

She said: "I saw the chaos facing New York three weeks ago where only 1% of people had PPE [personal protective equipment] and I knew there was a great need here, too.

"I am into product design and so I have been able to come up with a pattern which is fail-safe for those wearing it. My approach is that we need to work like a factory and sew like the clappers and hopefully get thousands of masks out in the next few weeks."

Mary launched her group on Facebook a week ago and within just a few days was amazed to have 700 members.

She has already got supplies to over 130 people sewing from their homes right across Ireland to meet demand and requests for masks are also coming in from throughout the island, north and south.

"The response has been astonishing and we have everyone from home economics teachers to teenagers and people who haven't sewed much before to those who are more experienced," Mary said.

In order to fund the purchase of fabric for the masks, the group has set up a GoFundMe appeal which yesterday had received over £1,600 in donations.

Among the many who answered the call for volunteers is Edel Ni Ghribin (32, below left) who lives alone in a remote part of Coalisland.

She has one sister, who lives in Norway, and admits she has been struggling to cope with her fears and isolation.

"This day last week I was consumed by the news and just seeing all the bad things online filled me with anxiety and I was feeling completely overwhelmed by what is happening," she admitted.

"When I saw Mary's post on Facebook, I thought that was something I could do to help.

"It has been amazing for me to be able to focus on the good things and the people we can help.

"It has done wonders for my mental health this week. I've always enjoyed sewing and since Saturday I have made 50 masks."

Also making masks and helping Mary to organise the group is Newtownabbey businesswoman and mum-of-three Kelly Black.

Kelly (41), who has had to close her wedding dress alterations business Kelly Black Design, has been isolating at home with husband Philip (36), an electrician, and children Reece (15), Evie (9) and Daniel (4).

"It has definitely helped me to cope with lockdown as, having to close my business, I needed something to do to keep busy.

"It has really helped me mentally to be able to give something back.

"We now need donations to help buy the fabric and I hope people will go on to our GoFundMe page and donate what they can."

To support the team you can donate at gofundme.com/f/cloth-masks-for-ireland-and-uk

Belfast Telegraph