Our Covid-19 Heroes – Lyn Brown and the Liverpool Ladies Sewing Collective

4th June 2020

Reading time 11 minutes

Together, we've got this sewn up

We have the pleasure of working with so many amazing people with so many skills and talents. What gives us most cause to smile is the sheer levels of passion and caring for fellow human beings which can be in short supply these days. We therefore wanted to highlight the amazing work done by Lyn Brown and her collective to support the NHS and appeal for help for her to continue her incredible journey.

Lyn recently wrote to our Commercial Director, Martin Woollam, with the following introduction:

My name is Lyn Brown, I’ve been a Mobile Patrol and Response Officer for Carlisle Security Services for the past 13 years. 

Since the Coronavirus pandemic spread across the world and has devastated thousands of families, I knew I needed to try and keep not only my family and friends safe, but I’ve ended up helping complete strangers too, and that’s why I’m extremely proud to be a part of a team of nearly 70 girls from all over Liverpool and many other Merseyside areas. We have come together in this unprecedented time to sew cotton face masks, scrub suits, scrub bags, headbands and mask extension straps etc for our NHS, the Community Care Workers, Social Outreach Teams, Front-facing Shop Staff, Key Workers and anyone else that needs our services to stay safe, which in turn is keeping our NHS safe. Everything we produce is handmade to a high standard and is totally free of charge. 

I see myself as a cog in a vast collection of other amazing women, my sewing skills were not one of them at first but now the masks I make are first class. Some of the ladies are professional dressmakers, designers, seamstresses and others just sew as a hobby, and then there is me, the complete novice who purchased a sewing machine over 2 years ago to make just 8 cushion covers, who had never used a sewing machine before to make anything in her life, which then ended up gathering dust and banished to dark crevice within my home, but how valuable has this outcasted sewing machine become in this unprecedented time.

I’ve have made a vast amount of masks and when you look back we’ve potentially saved lives too, which to me is the greatest feeling that anyone could have.

The team was brought together by a lady called Carol Powell.

Carol Powell, is a fully experienced Operations and HR Manager with extensive experience of Managed Support Services within Print, Manufacturing, Facilities, Distribution and Logistics who strives to also support people and work practices required to achieve world class results. Her last employment was at a large newspaper company, her management and coordinating skills second to none and her organisation skills during this unprecedented time, amazing, Carol not only brought her amazing management skills to the forefront, she also brought her love of dressmaking. 

Carol was initially approached by her niece, who is a Marie Curie Nurse at the hospice in Woolton Village, Liverpool, who explained that because of the pandemic they were running out of vital PPE and asked her aunt if she could run up some non-surgical masks on her sewing machine, not only to keep the nurses safe, but the patients safe too. 

When Carol heard of this shortage of vital PPE all over the country, Carol posted her concerns on social media on the 26 March 2020, and tagged just 10 of her friends into it asking for dressmakers to make non-surgical masks. That single post was shared some 221 times in 24 hours and 5 days later on the 31 March, that’s where I came in and joined the already expanding team of some 15 ladies.

It very quickly became apparent to Carol that the urgency for face masks was huge and as the number of ladies joining the team multiplied within several days, we were now a force to be reckoned with. Since that first week we now have over 70 very talented ladies beavering away on their sewing machines producing not only top quality non surgical masks, but full scrub suits, scrub headwear, scrub laundry bags, splash proof gowns, buttoned headbands for masks that prevent the elastic from the masks rubbing the ears, just to name a few.

I’m still making masks. I tried my hand at scrub bags but once constructed they mostly resembled potato sacks, so I have carried on everyday making the masks, sometimes until the early hours. My interest is also focused on getting the team noticed for their outstanding contribution at this unprecedented time, and also donations to fund our cause.

As our team of ladies was expanding, so did the orders for PPE at an incredible rate from surgeons, doctors, nurses, care workers etc, requesting vast amounts of our PPE. I mentioned to Carol at this point that we needed a Facebook group, so in the early hours of the 6 April, I created the Facebook Group ‘Liverpool Ladies Sewing for the NHS and Key Workers’, which is now getting requests from people to join throughout each day. In the last 2 weeks since setting up the group my mobile phone has constantly dinged from people requesting to join and we now have over 700 members who are either asking for PPE, offering their help or telling us that we are all doing an amazing job.

On the morning of 6 April, I was listening to ‘Radio Merseyside’ when I happened to hear that they were asking members of the public to email the show with what they’d done to ‘Make a Difference’ , so I thought, “I’ll have a go at getting us a mention on the radio”, so I quickly put an email together outlining what we were doing to make a difference and sent it off. A day or so later I received an email from a lady called Grace from Radio Merseyside saying that the email I’d sent in had flagged up and we the ‘Liverpool Ladies Sewing for the NHS & Key Workers’ were going to get a mention on the show. I was over the moon and quickly let all the ladies know when and at what time we were getting mentioned – all extremely excited. We waited with baited breath that day, but we heard nothing. The very next day I received another message from Grace saying they wanted us to go live via the telephone on the show so we could tell everyone what we were doing to help the NHS. A little while later that same day Carol rang me in a tizz, Grace had contacted her and Carol told me she was going to be on the show live over the phone. Carol was bricking it, but she handled it like a pro and I even recorded the show when it was live on air.

We all probably have friends that know friends who have a talent that can be brought to the forefront.

I’ve contacted friends and people who I know personally to donate their talents for free. Nicola Burns, who is an old friend, produces her own line of skincare called ‘ Ageless Glow’. I contacted Nicola after seeing the faces of the nurses after using the respiratory masks that are tight fitting which have left their faces bruised, dry and sore, also their hands after using sanitisers and constantly wash their hands. Nicola didn’t hesitate in offering her services for free by donating small pots of her creams to soothe their skin. 

I advertised on the Liverpool Ladies Facebook group for someone who had a print shop who could print out ‘Scrub Pocket Notes’ which could be placed in every pocket of scrubs to inform the recipient, who had donated the funds for their scrubs to be made and everyone who had a part in making them. I wanted to get more people in our group involved in some way or another. A lady from Kirkby, Linda Reilly-Helms, came to our aid and not only designed the logo (as you can see in the header) Linda also added a heart wrenching verse that would probably reduce anyone to tears on reading it. 

My neighbour, Ann Brown , contacted her nephew, Luke Fitzpatrick , who has printed out 1200 A5 ‘Scrub Pocket Notes’ on a glossy card and will not accept any payment, even though he said he’d print more too, what a guy! 

John McFadden, is a Technical Engineer at WSP UK who has been printing out full face protective masks that we have distributed to hospitals to use in their virus wards. 

Jason Bell , who is a retailer for Merseyrail , and also a friend, has used his 3D printer to print out the headbands that go around the back of the head to hold the elastic of the masks that usually goes around the nurses ears. These headbands are a godsend as they stop the nurses ears becoming sore and blistered. 

Jack Gynane , who is a 2nd year apprentice at Jaguar Landrover is using his 2x 3D printers to print out the clear full face plastic shield masks and holders that protect the NHS in the areas of the hospitals where the virus is at its worst. All these plastic items can be sterilised and used time and time again to keep our NHS safe. 

Carol has also been contacted via telephone by surgeons, doctors and nurses, from various hospitals e.g. The Royal Liverpool Hospital, Doctors, Nurses and Care Workers etc, which enables Carol to supply and deliver the correct PPE needed to these hospitals and care homes. Carol was also contacted by a surgeon to design and make a prototype splash proof gown to be worn in the midst of infection controlled areas of hospitals. As the material for these gowns were of a great thickness, the trauma forced upon her sewing machine actually destroyed her machine, and she can’t get it fixed as non-essential businesses are now closed, but she didn’t give up and finished the gown using her overlocker.

There are 2 funding pages, the first was set up by one of our ladies, Barbara Keatinge, who works for ‘ Barclays Bank ’. This is where people can donate money that will enable us to purchase fabric and elastic if we are running short on donated fabric. These donations are also to help other people who are also making masks and scrub suits in their own smaller groups and also for postage, or anything that anyone needs to pay. The total donated so far currently stands at £2,189.00 as of 20/04/20 and any money left over from this donation fund will be donated to the NHS when hopefully everything returns to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second funding page was set up by Carol Powell where people can donate a fixed donation of £12.00 to sponsor a Nurse, Care Worker, Doctor etc, with a set of scrubs, scrubs bag and a card which contains a verse of who donated the money for the scrubs and the people who made them, which hopefully will give the recipient that personal touch that they were made for them. The total donated so far currently stands at £1,141.00 as of 20/04/20 and again any money left over from this donation fund will be donated to the NHS. This is a grand total of £3,330.00 donated so far.

In just over 3 weeks we have produced over 5000 masks, 200 sets of scrubs, 750 scrub bags, 40 3D printed visors, 300 knitted ear protectors, 10 splash proof coveralls, 150 various headbands, headscarves & bandanas and extension straps for the elastic on the masks, have been supplied up and down the country.

Again, in just under 3 weeks, Carol has distributed our wares between The Marie Curie Hospice, The Royal Liverpool Hospital, Aintree Hospital, The Women’s Hospital, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, The Walton Centre, and Walk-in Centres across Liverpool.

Every single one of us is giving our time, which means we are all giving something back to these fabulous people who are saving lives during this unprecedented time in our lives, and this is why I’m so proud to be a part of the team and a fantastic bunch of caring people, because, ‘we are all in this together’.

I so wish I could name every single person on the team for the absolutely amazing way these ladies are giving their time to save lives.

Even though we had some amazing fabrics, elastic and other supplies donated to us by some of the well known fabric shops in Stafford Street, Liverpool, we still need more, yes we have funds to purchase what we need, but by using the funds all the time means less being donated to the important people we are trying to keep safe, The NHS. 

So please support our cause if you can, and by either helping us acquire more supplies or joining our Facebook group page:- ‘Liverpool Ladies, Sewing for the NHS & Key Workers’ where you can map our progress until this is all over.

Lyn Brown, Mobile Patrol Officer for Carlisle Support Services
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