Our London correspondent Emma Holmqvist Deacon had the privilege of experiencing the city’s hospital gown-making workshops as a two-shifts-a-week volunteer during lockdown and is compelled to share the experience. Read her inside report:
The furious buzzing of sewing machines will stay with me long after London’s scrub hubs have closed their doors. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the city’s hospital gown-making workshops as a two-shifts-a-week volunteer during lockdown and am compelled to share the experience. The brainchild of The Fashion School’s director Caroline Gration, this particular volunteer-based scheme came into being in mid-March as the Covid-19 pandemic gathered force. Due to the desperate lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at hospitals across the UK, Royal Brompton Hospital knocked on Gration’s door, located just a stone’s throw away, with a plea for help.
Over the span of a few weeks, Gration – a Royal College of Art alumna – had teamed up with three additional London hospitals and care homes to set up workshops of similar calibre. The hub in Belsize Park – which is connected to the Royal Free Hospital where Gration’s daughter Dr Betty Gration heads up a Covid-19 Ward – has at the time of writing sewn over 80,000 gowns and they’ll keep going until October 2020. The PPE made at The Fashion School’s workshops are of the disposable kind, fashioned from surgical drapes.
Having volunteered at the hubs connected to the Royal Brompton and Royal Free hospitals I can testify to the efficiency and industriousness of both. The working day is divided into two shifts, though quite a few volunteers stay all day, five days a week. People of all ages, genders and professions come together in these carefully sanitized and socially-distanced workspaces, from retired NHS admin staff and fashion students to actors and furloughed PR executives. Skilled sewers are sought-after, but there are plenty of jobs that don’t require sewing skills – cutters, trimmers, folders and packers are all part of the ecosystem. There’s even a role for bobbin re-fillers.
In April, a government order of 400,000 pieces of PPE arriving from Turkey was rejected on the grounds that it didn’t conform to UK standards. This highlights the importance of local, quality-assured production, particularly in times of desperate need.