Party celebrates group who became a community by sewing scrubs during pandemic

PEOPLE who rallied to make personal protective equipment for hard-pressed NHS staff and care workers during the pandemic celebrated their magnificent achievements at a garden party.

More than 150 volunteers signed up last year for an initiative run by a group that called itself the Horsell Scrubbers, answering a call from Claire Cummings who lives in the village.

Claire Cummings (centre) with Dr Salma Rahman, Suruchi Verma, Dr Vaibhav Verma and Sister Wendy Gunn from the Heathcot Medical Practice. Dr and Mrs Verma are wearing examples of scrubs made by the volunteers

Over nearly a year of making up for the shortfall in vital PPE for medical staff, they made and distributed 859 scrubs trousers and tops, 838 scrub hats, 1,274 scrub bags, 5,383 facemasks and 717 smile masks.

Around 60 members, along with medical staff who benefited from the initiative and the Mayor of Woking, Liam Lyons, were at the party, held in the garden of Sue and Adrian Beesley in Horsell.

A celebration cake was made by Angie Holloway – who was also the person who made the most scrubs, 90 – and a commemorative patchwork banner made by members was unveiled.

Robin Legge, head of fundraising for the Royal Surrey County Hospital charity, accepts the donation cheque from Nicky Pucci, in front of the group’s memory banner

To top off the occasion, a cheque for £650 remaining in the Scrubbers’ bank account was presented to the Royal Surrey County Hospital charity. The money will be used to help with the recovery and well-being of staff who have worked through the pandemic.

Claire made a speech at the garden party on Saturday 31 July, thanking the volunteers and saying she did not set out to run an organisation that had become as extensive as the Horsell Scrubbers’ operation.

She told the News & Mail: “It was a very steep learning curve and happened so fast. I never thought I’d be managing a manufacturing process, managing such a large group of cutters, sewers and drivers.

“There was also the communication with medical professionals about scrub requirements and specifications, plus the logistics of the operation. It’s been amazing as a community effort, and I’ve loved getting to know and make friends with local people.”

Claire Cummings raises a glass of wine to her fellow Scrubbers

She was inspired to set up the initiative by a BBC television news report at the beginning of April 2020 about people in Derbyshire sewing scrubs at home for staff working on the COVID-19 front line.

“I had been feeling helpless and wanting to do something to help during the pandemic,” she said. “Horsell Mutual Aid and Horsell Prepared had a high number of volunteers already and I was in awe at how our NHS staff stepped up.

“The next day, I found out about the For the Love of Scrubs group making scrubs for St Peter’s hospital and arranged to collect some fabric to sew for them. Through their Facebook page, I noticed there were several other sewers from Horsell offering to help.

“It made sense to collect several sets for them to sew. I posted about what I was intending on the Horsell Village Wire Facebook page and had no idea what was to come.”

Within 24 hours, she received responses from around 12 people who were keen to help. Donations of sheets and pillow cases to use for fabric started being delivered to her home.

Ele Pucci, who has studied fashion and works in the clothing industry, volunteered to source patterns and organise people to cut out different sizes. A WhatsApp group was set up to co-ordinate the growing number of members.

Sue and Adrian Beesley hosted the party in their garden

The volunteers, from Woking, Mayford, Sheerwater, St John’s and Knaphill as well as Horsell, included washers and ironers, cutters, sewers and drivers.

While waiting for patterns, the volunteers set about making bags and hats, and a local GP working in the critical care unit at St Peter’s was the first beneficiary, collecting some for herself and colleagues at the hospital.

A GoFundMe online account raised more than £5,000 to buy thread, interfacing, elastic and plastic for masks and other sewing supplies.

Paula Windsor has been part of the admin team since the beginning, joined in the summer by Yvon Payne and Amanda Hoyle. Nicky Pucci has looked after the fundraising account.

Since winding down scrub-making at the end of March, Horsell Scrubbers have continued as a community sewing group. Their work so far includes making four communion table covers for Horsell C of E Junior School. A project to commemorate the Queen’s platinum jubilee next year is also being planned.

And they have together made the memory banner, which will be shown at a full Woking Borough Council meeting in September and go on to be displayed at The Lightbox museum and gallery in Woking.

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