BUSINESSES and volunteers across Northern Ireland are working hard to support vulnerable members of their local communities.
With all non-essential businesses and services either closed or being operated from people’s homes, many companies are facing tough times.
But rather than dwell on difficulties, entrepreneurs are putting their resources and skills to use to help healthcare workers.
Clara Maybin, from Omagh, has her own business, So Social Marketing, running firms’ social media pages. Now she’s turned her organisational skills to coordinating a massive effort to sew scrubs for nurses, doctors and carers.
She has more than 4,000 volunteers across Northern Ireland, mostly people self-isolating with their home sewing machines, making the vital clothing.
“It’s incredible how this has snowballed. A relative who works on a Covid-19 ward said she was running out of clean scrubs, so I put out an appeal on social media. I got loads of responses from people offering to sew,” she says.
"I set up a Facebook page called NI Scrubs Group and was inundated. The following day I had 2,000 volunteers and it's grown from there.
"I've put a scrubs pattern on the page for people to follow and there's a separate fundraising page which has helped us bulk-buy the polycotton needed.
"It's grown so big that we now have sub-groups across the province. As well as supporting our vital NHS staff, I think it's helped the mental wellbeing of people self-isolating by giving them something to do.
"People drop off the scrubs to my house and I sort them and coordinate the orders from frontline staff. They're washed and left in clean packages at my front door for doctors and nurses to collect."
Pilates instructor Neil Healey, from south Belfast, saw his income fall away overnight after the venues where he normally held his classes, such as the Crescent Art Centre and St Ann's Cathedral, were closed.
"I knew I had to come up with a solution fast, so I started running online classes on Zoom. I was dubious as first because pilates is quite hands-on, but actually it's been really good," he says.
"I have an average of eight to 10 people per class already and in the most popular one there's about 30. I even have a former client who now lives in Holland tuning in."
Neil's wife is a nurse at the Ulster Hospital, so he decided to open his classes up to NHS staff - and supermarket workers - for free. They can be found via his website (www.neilpilates.com) and through downloading the free app NeilPilates.
"NHS staff are just incredible people. I want to support them any way I can. I also wanted to support shop workers because they're the unsung heroes keeping our shelves stocked and the registers manned so we can still buy food," he says.
Some firms have been able to use their manufacturing capacity to produce equipment for hospitals and healthcare workers.
Magherafelt-based Bloc Blinds started making the face shields that form a vital part of personal protective equipment (PPE).
After designing a prototype, the production line was repurposed to manufacture around 22,000 face shields per day. Mid Ulster District Council supports the initiative by providing Meadowbank Sports Arena as a space to work.
Bloc Blinds managing director Cormac Diamond says: "I have been blown away by the support of the Bloc Blinds staff since repurposing our business.
"This is a not-for-profit venture. We recognise both the level of demand and critical need for PPE face shields and would love to be able to help everyone. Our aim is to support as many frontline workers as we possibly can in the fight against Covid-19."
Landlords have also been doing their bit by letting out rooms for free, or at reduced rates, to NHS staff who don't want to risk taking the infection home to their families.
Stephen Love runs Love Rooms and has several properties in south and east Belfast. He has just let two newly refurbished rooms to nurses from the Mater Hospital free of charge.
"Honestly, it's the least I can do, Frontline NHS staff deserve a medal. This is just my small way of trying to support them and saying thank you," he explains.
"It's an awful position to be in, doing such a high-risk job and not wanting to risk going home to your loved ones.
"They must be missing their families and their homes so much, so I've tried to make the rooms as cosy and welcoming as possible.
"If any other NHS workers want help finding a place to stay, they can email me at email@example.com and I'll do what I can to help them find something."