Lockdown at One The Square

Like many others, when the pandemonium of lockdown first hit I felt the need to do something, anything. Initially, I was beset by business worries, as my

thriving artisan workshop, at One The Square, in the heart of Forest Row, was shut down, literally

overnight. But momentary paralysis, and feelings, of helplessness, soon gave way to a desire to act.

A newsflash about lack of PPE was the catalyst. A Hackney based organisation called Scrub Hub, had somehow managed to persuade Barbour and Burberry to make scrubs for desperate NHS workers. The initiative was going nationwide and seeking volunteers. I was inspired. Was there a possibility I could pull together my long-term sewing buddies to become the Forest Row Scrub Hub?

Within days the sewing grapevine whirred into action and soon around 60 crafters stepped up, and the momentous task of making and delivering scrubs began. Some volunteers were professional couturiers and seamstresses, others expert sewing hobbyists, and yet others had never picked up a needle in their life but still wanted to get involved. This was a living example of amazing community spirit and enterprise, joining forces to fight an invisible enemy.

At first we aimed to provide scrubs for local carers in the community, but soon our efforts became focused on something more urgent still, as reports of a glaring hole in PPE supplies for frontline NHS workers, hit the headlines. We started to get panicky calls from medics asking for extra scrubs, always desperate and always late at night. They told us they were in dire need of kit, but demand was massively outstripping supply. We had to work fast.

The logistics in lockdown of sourcing NHS compliant materials, making patterns, and getting the newly machined scrubs transported out to the various hospitals was quite honestly overwhelming, but so satisfying too. At first I was determined that only cotton would do, and we were thrilled the day our first order arrived, only to discover the colour leaked! Desperately, I set to repeatedly washing 100 meters of fabric, dying my fingers ‘NHS blue’, night after night! Eventually I was forced to admit defeat, ditch my organic principles, and switch from pure to poly cotton. Who would have imagined that a man-made fabric would be so welcome at One The Square!

We waited anxiously for feedback on the first few batches of scrubs. Messages started to trickle in. Our doctors approved, they liked the material, the fit, the cut and they loved the shade of blue “it’s really been a big lift to me to be comfortable and colourful at work”, said one. Word was getting around and the orders snowballed.

All in all we are so proud to have made and donated several hundred sets of scrubs to a  range of care settings, including hospitals as close to home as Crowborough, and as far afield as St Thomas’ in London.

Massive thanks must go to all our wonderful volunteers, and to our customers who supported the effort on the Go Fund Me page, allowing us to buy the necessary materials.

NHS orders have for now abated, allowing us to refocus again on care homes and other items like masks for food bank workers, and NHS staff. 

However, should a second wave threaten, we are ready. This whole experience has been a huge and healing learning curve. Most of all, it has highlighted a silver lining to the pandemic cloud; enabling recognition of the fortitude and courage of our NHS and care workers, while underlining the resilience, creativity and energy of communities in adversity.

By Magda Devaris