Since the outbreak of Covid-19 coronavirus in the UK, tales of communities responding with gestures of solidarity have made headlines up and down the country.

From foodbank donations to housing the homeless, volunteer efforts in Kingston have been no exception.

Perhaps the most remarkable and productive of these are a group of dedicated sewers in the borough.

Sewing 4 Kingston are using what little free time they have to make essential gear for workers like NHS staff on the frontlines of the pandemic.

The Comet caught up with Sewing 4 Kingston on Friday (April 24) to discuss their remarkable efforts to help in the fight against Covid-19.

It looks like Sewing 4 Kingston has really taken off in recent days. Were you expecting it to be so popular?

No, we were not expecting S4K to be so popular! We thought that we would maybe have around 50 members. On day 10 of the group’s existence we welcomed our 600th member to the team and then the day after, we had 700 members, and now we are almost at 1,000 members in just two and a half weeks!

We are blown away at the enthusiasm, creativity and dedication of our Sewing Army! The generosity of members of the Public to donate materials and volunteer their time often reduces the Core Team to tears. We are truly thankful that our local community (and beyond!) have been so supportive and we would not be in the position to support our frontline key workers if it wasn't for them. The fact that we have been able to supply so many items in such a short space of time is truly staggering and a credit to everyone involved.

How did S4K start? Why did you want to do this?

The group is an offshoot of the parent group (Surbiton Coronavirus Community Response Group) whose remit is to encourage volunteers to sign up to help with the needs of the vulnerable and elderly residents during the Coronavirus Crisis 2020.

Sewing 4 Kingston was started up when the sewing thread was too big for the SCCRG. Dr Kate Kenyon, a local resident in Norbiton and Amanda Argall, not so local (living in South Africa) created the group. Amanda’s interest in the Sewing 4 Kingston group is because her mother lives in Surbiton and she wanted to be able to help even though she’s so far away.

Our aim is to make a wide range of washable items ranging from ear savers to laundry bags, headbands to gowns and to distribute them where they are needed the most for Frontline Key Workers during the Coronavirus Crisis 2020. While we focus our reach to within 10 miles of Kingston, as long as we have the items available we are happy to donate outside of the Borough of Kingston. We have posted items to Worthing, and delivered to Epsom and Walton on Thames, to name just a few.

How many items have you produced so far? How many people are involved roughly?

As of lunchtime on Friday 24th April, we have delivered 4800 items, which includes over 2400 bags, 500 headbands, 600 earsavers, and over 100 scrunchies. We currently have orders for over 2200 items.

There is a core team of 14 people organising and coordinating, with many more helping out in different groups. As the group grew rapidly, we found the need to develop our organisation and so we have teams dedicated to:

  • Collection Points (fabric, notions and completed items)
  • Transport (for those who are shielding and to the end user)
  • Moderators for FB page
  • Contacting organisations and getting orders
  • Scrubs/Gowns fabric sourcing
  • Social media (twitter and Instagram)
  • General admin, eg managing emails, updating FAQs

Thank goodness for WhatsApp!

What's the response from the community been like?

Overwhelming. People just want to help and do something kind and generous for the frontline staff. For many people, particularly those who are shielding, they cannot go out and volunteer, so this has been a way for them to help. We have some members in their 80s and 90s who were seamstresses who haven’t done anything for years...they have told us that they feel that they have got a purpose and are helping society again, despite isolating, and so they are feeling less lonely.

So many people dusted down their sewing machines and started creating beautiful bags. We’ve even had people lend their sewing machines out and donate needles and thread to one another. We can’t fix the PPE issue or make the virus go away but we can help the staff by making them realise that their community is very much behind them and wanting to help and support them.

We have had donations of fabric, duvet covers, pillowcases, elastic, buttons etc. Those who had no supplies at home have ordered and paid for their own supplies, and others have had orders of goods sent to us as a donation as they wanted to help in some way.

We have hundreds of eager sewers, drop off/pick up coordinators, people donating, a transport team and people contacting key workers to find out what they need. It makes us all feel better if we feel we are helping. And we are, even if it’s in a small way.

Where are the items going?

We have provided kit to many frontline key workers in various roles. We have contacted hospitals (Kingston, Royal Marsden - Sutton, Tolworth, Worthing, West Middlesex, Spring Field, St Peter’s - Chertsey, Queen Mary, Epsom), as well as Surrey and Kingston Borough fire stations, health clinics, Kingston Police, Outreach teams, Ambulance services, nursing homes, posties and refuse collectors...we have a large book of orders waiting to be completed.

We are also beginning to receive requests from schools for staff who are working in difficult circumstances.

How have hospitals responded to the campaign?

The feedback from all the frontline key workers that we've supplied has been really positive. We receive regular orders from different departments in one institution as word gets around both to help staff and patients alike. We have received many beautiful photographs with staff showing their items in use or being received and we always pass along Thank You messages to our Sewing Army, and post on our Twitter and Instagram accounts. We also work closely with the frontline staff to make sure we are using the best patterns where possible.

We feel that it is important for the frontline workers to know their items, made with love, are as appreciated as they are. Everyone wants to help, they just need an outlet and Sewing 4 Kingston has given a lot of people that.