Volunteers' Week: University of Cumbria Scrubs Club helps NHS staff and carers during coronavirus crisis

Volunteers' Week: University of Cumbria Scrubs Club helps NHS staff and carers during coronavirus crisis

University of Cumbria staff have formed a new club that is busy making handmade scrubs and other items for frontline NHS and care sector workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the country marks Volunteers’ Week, the University of Cumbria Scrubs Club currently has 16 colleagues from across operational areas and its campuses actively volunteering their time, talent and effort for the cause.

Their creative flair for sewing, knitting and crocheting are being co-ordinated by Caroline Briggs with volunteers making scrubs, laundry bags, headbands and DIY face mask adaptors.

Caroline, an assistive technology officer at the university who supports neuro-diverse students, liaises with local hubs which are in a network responding to meet the demands of requests received.

University of Cumbria has supported its new ‘Scrubs Club’ through the donation of funds to purchase specific material for scrubs and an appeal to its 1,000-strong workforce has resulted in donations of pillowcases, duvet covers and other suitable material.

Carlisle’s Morrisons supermarket has also given a donation of cotton sheets through it Community Champion scheme.

To date, University of Cumbria Scrubs Club members have created 45 scrub hats, 28 wash bags, 25 headbands, 10 full scrubs sets, 30 crocheted face mask adaptors and over 150 crochet/knitted hearts and are in the process of producing face masks for colleagues when they return to work.

They include a set of distinctive ‘musical scrubs’, which is proving popular with enthusiasts on social media. Staff at Hillcroft Nursing Homes have been among those to receive items.

Caroline Briggs Scrubs Club , Assistive technologies officer Caroline Briggs with her musical scrubs, made as part of the university's Scrubs Club set up during the Covid19 coronavirus pandemic, May 2020

Caroline (pictured) said: “I’m really proud of how we’ve come together from all areas of the university to contribute to such a positive cause at a difficult time. Some of us making the items are experienced, others would call themselves crafters who make things as their hobby, and we have complete beginners who wanted to contribute and learn at the same time. Many others have come forward wanting to support us who don’t sew and have donated material, thread and buttons to enable us to keep going. We’re amazed by the university support and how our small movement has grown in just a few weeks.

“There’s a large community of sewers across the country doing this in a co-ordinated way. I initially came across the ‘For the love of scrubs’ Facebook group and my involvement developed from there.”

Sarah Ruston, a Senior Learning Technologist within CAPE, usually based at University of Cumbria’s campus in Lancaster, said: “I’d already been crocheting pairs of hearts for a charity called Silk Elephant (SILK = Simple acts of Loving Kindness) when Caroline and I got chatting. The idea behind the hearts is that one is given to a poorly COVID-19 patient in ICU or in a care home, and the other is sent to family members. If the patient recovers, the hearts become a pair again, if not, the family have a little token to remember their loved ones by. It just appealed to my sentimental side. We were both excited about the projects we’d been doing individually and from there, the University of Cumbria Scrubs Club was born.

“My main focus now is sewing scrubs, it’s very much a new skill I’m learning, and it’s great that the university are funding the materials for us to contribute in however small a way, to help our heroes in the NHS.”

Elsewhere, Carlisle team members at the university’s Institute of the Arts have been donating their own handmade items to good causes.

Development manager Karen Jones, a trustee of Eden Valley Hospice, produced pairs of knitted hearts for patients and families.

Karen, a trustee of the hospice, said: “Separation at this critical time in people's lives is an additional emotional challenge.  One of the hearts goes to the patient with the other going to the family - such a lovely idea.  I was only too happy to get involved and use some of my daily exercise to cycle the 25-mile round trip to deliver them.”

Sharon Reynolds, senior technician (costume and textiles) at the Institute of the Arts for 18 years, is shielding at home on health grounds.

Usually supporting performing arts and musical theatre students to create costumes and props, Sharon (pictured below) has turned her hand to creating more than 250 masks and laundry bags to date for hospital and community staff in Carlisle and others elsewhere including the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

Sharon Reynolds , Institute of the Arts technician Sharon Reynolds pictured during Covid19 coronavirus lockdown making items for nurses and frontline health care professionals, May 2020

She has also developed a craft group on social media – Sewsocially Isolating – where she shares details of her creations whilst encouraging others to get creative and post their own makes and ideas.

Pro Vice Chancellor Michelle Leek said: “We are incredibly proud of all our staff and students who are making their own significant contributions to the crisis in their own ways and our Scrubs Club is a fantastic example of this. As we all highlight the importance and impact of those who help others during Volunteers’ Week, their generosity in giving up their spare time, sharing their talent and showing such community spirit to support frontline workers is to be commended.”