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As the country went into lockdown in late March, it was not long before the press began to circulate stories of PPE shortages within hospitals. On a sunny Friday evening in March, news alerts pinged on mobile phones across the country warning that certain hospitals had now run out of PPE.
First-hand accounts began to emerge at the same time as we learned our schools, universities and places of work had begun to donate PPE to hospitals and local healthcare providers. Like many of us, Freeman Victoria Townsend was horrified.
One day, while making masks and with the radio on in the background, Victoria listened to several medical professionals share their experiences of working in hospitals while still not having any PPE clothing.
It was the story shared by Nurse Olivia Walker, who explained cutting short travels in Australia to return immediately to the UK to begin work on the frontline that stood out in particular. The PPE shortage and in particular, the difficulty in finding PPE for those who are smaller or bigger than the average size and the constant struggle to find PPE when only XL scrubs were available. With demand far outstripping supply, Olivia's story struck a chord and Victoria decided to act.
Victoria is the founder and owner of the London Academy of Bespoke (LAB). The bespoke tailoring school opened its doors in 2018 and trains the next generation of bespoke tailors, cutters, and master tailors. Through small classes, students learn from a range of highly-skilled Saville Row-trained artisans and are nurtured to the highest standards of British tailoring.
That evening, Victoria began work on making scrubs for Olivia. Victoria has said, "We were so inspired by her story and dedication that we sent her a set of scrubs in the right size so she could work in the clothes that she should be entitled to as a frontline worker in our NHS.’
What began as Victoria planning just 'to do [her] best' quickly evolved into a plan to utilise the LAB space to make more scrubs and gowns. Victoria organised an operation involving contacts from across the trade, including Liverymen Philip Parker and Simon Cundey of Henry Poole & Co; Liveryman William Skinner as well as Court Assistant and Past Master, Michael Skinner of Dege and Skinner, and whose wider teams also played vital parts in the project. The teams have to date made over 1000 pieces, as well as scrub bags and helping with delivering the products.
Scrubs have been produced as part of the recovery plan in place for London Borough of Lewisham Kaleidoscope centre, and patient gowns for the Evelina Children's Hospital in London. These specialist health centres for children, suffered from the lack of range in scrubs and gowns sizes, in addition to the overall lack of PPE; when scrubs and gowns were sourced, much of it would be inappropriately sized.
As part of the project, every effort has consistently been made to remain within government guidelines, keeping production and delivery entirely safe, most of which was carried out at the height of lockdown in tailors’ own homes.
While sourcing the right fabric was difficult due to the international shortage, Victoria’s contacts at cloth houses also supported the project and, once it was available again, provided cloth.
The true impact of this work cannot be stressed enough, both for the staff who continue to work throughout the coronavirus pandemic, as well as for the children and young people whose complex health needs meant that this PPE allowed health care workers to access their homes and perform their healthcare duties safely.
I manage a children’s community nursing team, part of a large children’s directorate, which incorporates children’s nurses, complex needs nurses, acute rapid response nurses, children’s asthma nurses and health care professionals working in patient’s homes, clinics and other community settings such as special schools. They deliver all kinds of treatment and support to enable children who are unwell (some with Covid-19, some without) to stay at home with their families. A large proportion of our caseloads are vulnerable children and young people who have long term conditions, complex needs or have cancer and are receiving treatment at home.