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From one Upminster family to 3,000 volunteers: 11,000 sets of scrubs sewn

PUBLISHED: 17:16 19 June 2020 | UPDATED: 19:20 19 June 2020

Five cages full of 2,000 scrubs tops, 2,000 scrubs bottoms and 500 Laundry Bags delivered to King George’s. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs

Five cages full of 2,000 scrubs tops, 2,000 scrubs bottoms and 500 Laundry Bags delivered to King George’s. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs

For the Love of Scrubs

What started with one Upminster family receiving an unexpected tax rebate has become a major scrubs-making operation with 3,000 volunteers delivering to east London hospitals.

A doctor shows off his made-to-fit scrubs. Picture: For the Love of ScrubsA doctor shows off his made-to-fit scrubs. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs

The ‘For the Love of Scrubs’ initiative was set up by Keith Bates, 68, a retired construction worker. When his wife received a unexpected tax rebate, the family purchased 600 meters of scrub material with unexpected funds and reached out on social media to ask for support from volunteers – within 2 days they had 1,000 volunteers.

Keith said: “The NHS were facing a dual crisis due to Covid-19 on one hand and a national shortage of scrubs on the other.

“Having just retired from many years in the construction industry I was not sure that I was able to help with either problem. Then on the same day my wife got an unexpected tax rebate and my daughters heard about a project to mobilise volunteers to make scrub suits for their local hospital.

Julia, 82, has sewn 30 sets of scrubs in 4 days. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs.Julia, 82, has sewn 30 sets of scrubs in 4 days. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs.

The family contacted Queen’s Hospital to see if they’d be happy to use the accept the donations of scrubs before getting to work.

As well as individuals, the new project had a number of people or organisations offering to donate money. Romford youth football team, Elite Colts, contacted Keith within the first day and offered £1,000.

Keith added: “We did not want to put money into a personal bank account so we set up a JustGiving page as part of the charity page on the Trust website and set a target of £50,000. We felt there was no point in thinking small, as we wanted to attract many people to get involved. Using this method meant that the donations had charity status therefore gift-aid could be added to many of the donations.

810 sets of scrubs ready for delivery. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs810 sets of scrubs ready for delivery. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs

“On the first day that the official page was up the football team deposited not £1,000 but £2,600. Everyone pitched in, we received donations such an anonymous £10 - ‘It’s not much but it is all that I can afford’”, read the accompanying comment.

Donations are now at 91 per cent of the £50,000 target but are still coming in. A month in and the volunteers have just become 3,000, with a complete multi-skilled team from project planners to packers from all over east London and Essex.

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“There were lots of sewers but also lots of people who couldn’t sew but still wanted to help in some other way. We needed drivers, sorters and packers which created a whole raft of social distancing and safety issues,” said Keith.

“We also had a number of people who were project planners and administration managers. With the volume of volunteers that we had they needed to be organised and this is where these people came in.

Former textile workers and hospital staff produced sample scrub sets to agree the quality of fabric and fit, making it fit to accommodate the many layers of PPE staff would be wearing.

Over 500 masks delivered back to Over 500 masks delivered back to "Scrubs HQ" from remote sewers. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs

While agreeing the design, the “rag trade” team went out searching for cloth supplies and managed to get two suppliers, one in Manchester and one in North London that in total would make about 6,000 scrub sets.

Keith explains: “We chose to get the fabric professionally cut so that we could minimise fabric waste and ensure that the pattern pieces were cut accurately to ensure a good fit when they were sewn together. As the pieces were cut, they were assembled into bundles of 5 tops or trouser sets as these were easier and quicker to sew. Written instructions were created along with YouTube tutorials of the steps for the garments going together.”

The bundles were sent out to individual sewers using the volunteer drivers whilst complying with social distancing rules and when completed they were bought back to the “Scrubs HQ”, the distribution hub, and each set then quality checked by an expert textiles volunteer.

Jasmine was the team's technical sewing expert and quality controller for a week in May. Picture: For the Love of ScrubsJasmine was the team's technical sewing expert and quality controller for a week in May. Picture: For the Love of Scrubs

The team have been supplying a number of different colours spread across the size range from small to XXXLarge.

To date the busy team have sent 8,000 sets to Queen’s and King George’s, 1,500 sets to Newham Hospital, 1,500 to Winchester hospital and 170 sets to Saint Francis Hospice and are now on the hunt for more fabric.

Keith says that being part of a such a group allows people to feel that they are “doing something”.

He added: “One volunteer emailed to say ‘thank you for allowing a 78-year-old woman to feel useful”. She is without a doubt useful but not even our oldest volunteer. At the other end we have had volunteers saying ‘I’m only 17 but I would really like to help’.

“Medical staff get their scrubs and the volunteers maintain their mental wellbeing. That is a win-win.”


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