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Over 600 volunteers created 50,000 hospital gowns from May to August

19th November 2020

The Hampstead Gown Factory credit Sarah Nicholls

Submitted by Gill Hyatt, Royal Free Charity.

Photo credit: Sarah Nicholls

At its peak in May/June the volunteers were making 800 gowns a day. They brought in a cow bell and would ring it every time they reached 100 finished gowns! Some of the gowns are being used in the ED, ICU and Endoscopy. Most of the gowns are stored ready in stock for when The Trust needs them for an expected second Covid spike. They are an essential item and the Trust now has supplies. The week of lockdown there were no surgical gowns in the Trust, they had run out.

Some of the volunteers were exceptionally talented. There was a menswear designer who joined the team at the beginning and redesigned the pattern so that the gowns were easier to create in one piece. A couple of graphic designers took it upon themselves to create instruction posters for each of the rooms for other volunteers to follow. They created easy to understand accessible instructions.

The Hampstead Gown Factory at WAC1

Volunteers who were teachers, project managers or just born leaders helped to motivate and teach new volunteers so that they were skilled up quickly to help the cause. This programme made a difference to so many volunteers too - it provided a social, a structure and a massive sense of purpose and achievement. This was the biggest volunteer recruitment The Royal Free Charity had ever achieved. Many of the volunteers had not volunteered anywhere before and said that volunteering will now become a way of life for them.

This ambitious project attracted 615 volunteers from all walks of life, many new to volunteering; it provided help for the NHS in a massive time of need and came up with the goods which were produced to perfection and a very high quality; it gave support and structure to so many volunteers who were unable to work at that difficult time. The volunteers were dedicated to the closing day and many came in to help clear up.

Using specialist skills and learning new ones, the volunteers created an amazing production line. Team leader volunteers rose to the occasion to lead their rooms and also to mentor younger volunteers who had a different sort of work experience than they had planned. We were able to give out over 25 certificates to under 18s. Community bakers brought in baked treats weekly for the volunteers.

We also collaborated with 'helping hands' and through them received celebrity A-list volunteers who motivated the team. A regular volunteer musician visited weekly to play guitar and entertain the volunteers whilst they were busy at work. A few of the volunteers were artists and they have drawn pictures and sketches which will be used in public exhibitions in the future. The Science Museum has collected all the drawings, guidelines, volunteer T-Shirts for an exhibition they will be curating on Covid, volunteering and community.

This was an incredible example of a wide range community of creative volunteers together with local people of all ages, some on furlough, students, or previous RF volunteers all came together to help the NHS in a time of need. The CEO of the Trust said "We needed your help and you were there”

Our remarkable volunteers wanted to share their feelings about the project.

Tristram was a team leader In the cutting and folding room:

“I am an actor who cannot work at the moment. I live alone and convinced I would have gone mad without this amazing project. It has been a life saver, a fantastic social and for a worthy cause. I hadn’t ever done much volunteering but will definitely volunteer in the future and follow the charity.”

Judith in the sewing room is a retired nurse: “I’ve loved the HGF and will seriously miss it! I feel like I have done something so useful. It is relaxed, friendly and well organised and helpful. I was here from day one and saw it develop.”

We are delighted at what we have achieved. We were pleased to be able to sell the machines at a much reduced rate to the volunteers for the Charity.

Social distancing and infection control procedures applied throughout the programme to ensure that we were all safe.

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