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‘I’m so proud of them’ - How one woman brought together an army of helpers to make life-saving PPE

Chippie Steward (pictured) and her support worker, Helen Whitehouse, have united dozens of sewers together during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: The Engaging People Company

Chippie Steward (pictured) and her support worker, Helen Whitehouse, have united dozens of sewers together during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: The Engaging People Company

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It began with a plea for unwanted material - but in just a few months it grew into a virtual project of friendship and support.

Chippie and Helen Helen Whitehouse with some the the laundry bags. Picture: Flagship HousingChippie and Helen Helen Whitehouse with some the the laundry bags. Picture: Flagship Housing

When a group of self-isolating women from the mid Norfolk area came together, they never imagined they would produce more than 1,000 laundry bags, hundreds of masks and dozens of other personal protective equipment.

And it was all thanks to an idea from Chippie Steward, who decided she wanted to show her support of NHS staff and care workers.

The initiative came about during the coronavirus crisis when Chippie - as she is known to all of her friends - and her support worker Helen Whitehouse, took to Facebook to make a plea for any unwanted fabric.

They were overwhelmed with the response and were soon able to enlist volunteers prepared to sew the items needed.

Chippie Steward (pictured) and her support worker, Helen Whitehouse, have united dozens of sewers together during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: The Engaging People CompanyChippie Steward (pictured) and her support worker, Helen Whitehouse, have united dozens of sewers together during the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: The Engaging People Company

The community-led project, supported by Flagship Homes, has provided a sense of purpose for around 20 individuals across the area.

The talented group of women, who are all yet to meet, came together virtually and worked to design, sew, wash and iron the items, before the sought-after packages were distributed to hospitals and care homes across the area by Ms Whitehouse herself.

The project has since led to new-found friendships and has provided a welcome focus during challenging times.

Mrs Steward said: “I am always looking for ways to give something back to the community and this project has allowed us to use our skills to help the NHS.

“I’m so proud of all the girls and what they are doing. We are all hoping to meet up when rules allow.”

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Following the Facebook request, a tremendous response resulted in more than 15 refuse bags full of duvets and pillowcases being given, as well as offers of sewing help.

The pair were also put in touch with another group in the area doing the same, so they were able to come together and be united by their desire to be useful to those working to keep everyone safe through the crisis.

Mrs Steward bought supplies to help the volunteers and was in charge of all of the washing. She also enrolled help from her friends and neighbours to cut, iron and sew buttons on to donated fabric. Ms Whitehouse then delivered these to the team.

Money was also donated by generous individuals for electricity and washing powder so everything could be washed at 60 degrees at each stage to reduce the risk of cross contamination between households.

And when social distancing closed the shared areas where they lived, Flagship Homes stepped in to provide a 6ft folding table for Mrs Steward to use in her home.

Ms Whitehouse said: “It has been fantastic to see this project unfold, and how it’s given so many people a sense of fulfilment, especially if they are self-isolating.

“I am so impressed by the efforts of everyone involved, and they have worked so hard to make a difference for the key workers. The recipients have all been really grateful.”

Vicki Tischler, operations manager at Flagship Homes, added: “We were really pleased to play our small part in this initiative, and support Chippie. It is terrific to see the community coming together and using their skills in such a positive way.”

Mrs Steward and Ms Whitehouse have since stepped up production with the group to include masks and headbands with buttons that allow people to easily attach their masks.

The other women, who have also been busy making uniform bags, headbands and face masks, are Claire Carkin, Emma Stevens, Jennifer Smith, Joan Daniells, Sarah Smith, Shirley Capes, Mary Doye, Julie Chase, Suzanne Thorpe, Sarah Clark, Karen Gallant, Sally Beckles, Cathy from Mattishall, Rene from Yaxham, Ruth from Garveston, Tes, Linda, Ester And Sandra from Dereham.

They have teamed up with Rainbow Stitchers, who work in the Dereham area making masks, and are also involved in putting masks on the tree outside Flour and Bean in the town, where people are encouraged to take a mask then make a donation to charity.


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