Teachers’ PPE sewing team hits 10,000-piece milestone

Teachers’ PPE sewing team hits 10,000-piece milestone

The heroic lockdown sewing efforts of a group of Homewood teachers and volunteers has reached a major milestone in making a difference in the current crisis. The self-styled ‘PPE Team Tenterden’, set up by Homewood science teacher Mrs Chloe Falder, has produced its 10,000th piece of PPE for frontline healthcare workers and care home staff.

PTT founder Mrs Falder couldn’t be more amazed at and proud of what the team of around 45 local volunteers, including colleagues at Homewood, has achieved from their front rooms in a few short weeks.

When the lockdown started Mrs Falder, who also delivers specialist science lessons at several of the Trust’s primary schools, wanted to use her sewing skills to help the national PPE effort but realised she didn’t have the space at home to cut out and make scrubs.

Instead, she came up with the idea of turning pillowcases into kit bags. She realised that by adding a drawstring at the open end, frontline staff could use them to safely transport their uniforms and place them straight into the washing machine, thereby minimising the risk of contamination.

Mrs Falder put out an appeal on Facebook and the next day 120 donated pillowcases arrived on her doorstep and she had an inbox full of messages from eager volunteers. This included offers from members of the St Michael’s WI Stitch group, many of whom are aged over 70 and keen to do something worthwhile to keep them busy during isolation.

The ingenious idea quickly proved very popular with the first orders coming from the midwifery team at the Pembury Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. Mrs Falder then started getting requests for headbands that could be worn under medical grade PPE to make it more comfortable to wear during long shifts.

“I thought: let’s give it a go, and suddenly we were starting to produce hundreds of items as word got around to other hospital teams and also to local care homes who wanted us to produce masks as well.”

Word continued to spread and within days the team had received more enquiries including one from a senior nurse deployed to London’s Nightingale Hospital. The growing list of recipients now includes care homes and GP surgeries as well as hospitals, both locally and across the country, as far afield as Exeter, Chesterfield, Jersey and Scotland.

The group’s latest challenge has been devising and making facemasks suitable for children who may require regular hospital visits for various reasons. The development followed an enquiry from the paediatric oncology team at a large hospital. “We’ve used bright and bold patterned material that will hopefully put a smile on the faces of both the children and their families when they attend outpatient clinics,” says Mrs Falder.

Not all members of the team sew; some just cut out the pieces, others collate batches of finished items. For example, Helen Mckevitt-Batt, a former Homewood School student who normally runs wedding photography business Helen Batt Photography, helps with deliveries and collections. She has also been recording the team’s work in a series of socially distanced photo portraits. “I had started a photo project taking images of people through their windows during lockdown and Chloe agreed to take part. That got me thinking what a positive story there was to tell through these images and how it would be great to photograph more team members.”

All the PPE is made from donated material – bed sheets, pillow cases and craft off-cuts. The only things they need to buy are packaging, thread, buttons and elastic – up to 700 meters a week. They recently made VE Day bunting out of the off-cuts from the PPE, which they sold to purchase more of these items.

Mrs Falder makes sure that every batch is sent out with some sweets for hard-pressed staff. “We have built an amazing community with a common goal of helping those most in need as much as possible. They are doing an incredible job and they also deserve some treats.”

Reading the comments from both team members as well as grateful front line workers on the team’s Facebook page, it is clear that something remarkable has been created, not just in terms of the volume of PPE produced. Sewing volunteer and fellow Homewood teacher Heather Hayes says: “My first few bags were a struggle and I felt like giving up but Chloe’s posts were so inspirational that I persevered. Having a new challenge and someone like Chloe driving this forward is amazing, I can’t explain how fulfilled I feel right now.”

Homewood Principal Jeremy Single and Tenterden Schools Trust CEO Sally Lees, who have been supportive of the team from the start, said: “We are immensely proud of everything that they have achieved in such a short space of time, whilst managing the online school programme, not to mention looking after their own families.  It is yet another fantastic example of the exceptional community spirit within and around Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre.”

Anyone wishing to offer their help to the team should contact Mrs Falder via the PPE Team Tenterden Facebook page.

Photo gallery: below is a selection of the photo portraits taken through volunteers’ windows by Homewood alumna Helen Mckevitt-Batt of Helen Batt Photography.