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Mask-making for NHS team showcases community with a heart

Lucy Hawking wearing a Community Masks 4 NHS mask
Lucy Hawking wearing a Community Masks 4 NHS mask

Starting with their sewing machines in their kitchens, Haslingfield-based friends Melissa Santiago-Val and Jane Horwood started making community-use masks after lockdown began – and have now made more than 2,300, recruited a team of 40 volunteers, raised £13,000 for the NHS and received orders from all over the world.

Community Masks 4 NHS has also got corporate sponsors on board: Johnson Matthey, through its community engagement team, has supported the initiative by donating materials for 300 masks for voluntary groups, including community transport teams taking patients to hospital appointments from villages.

Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing has also supported the initiative with fabric for another 300 masks, plus offered advice on the venture from their support team, as Melissa is a tenant of theirs.

A collaboration with BeeBee Wraps developed, making masks with their vibrant branded fabrics used for their eco-friendly reusable food wraps.

“We are also working with fabric designer Deborah at IslandFifty8 to produce unique fabric for masks for Provenance restaurant in Whittlesford when they reopen for deliveries next week,” says Melissa, “and are keen to develop this, as companies want branded masks too, which is a another great way to support the NHS.”

The pace of it all has left Melissa, who is currently furloughed, delighted.

“This has been a huge community effort, and enormous thanks go to our volunteers, they’re amazing,” she says. “It’s fantastic that people want to be part of this.”

Melissa Santiago-Val, left, with Jane Horwood
Melissa Santiago-Val, left, with Jane Horwood

The masks take at least 30 minutes to make but as demand soared, so did costs.

“Initially fabrics and materials were our own, or sourced by us,” Melissa says. “Then we were posting masks all over the country and world, including Australia, Spain, Japan and we couldn’t sustain it – we have used 1,500 metres of elastic and about 150 metres of muslin, plus postage.”

So now there’s another, separate, JustGiving page where you can make a donation towards materials.

The masks made by Community Masks 4 NHS are not PPE grade – government advice is that public should be wearing a face-covering or mask in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport, and not detract from PPE supplies that are needed by frontline staff.

“We are not scientists,” Melissa adds, “but the evidence does seem to show that if everyone wore these masks we would all be protecting each other far more. They should be washed and changed after every use, and we want them to be fun, vibrant and cheerful.”

The masks are cotton, washable, double-lined with muslin and have a pocket for a filter, with a choice of fabric from vibrant, floral, gender-neutral and a child size.

“We don’t specify designs as so much of our fabric is donated, but that’s part of the fun when people receive them,” said Jane.

The suggested donation for a mask is £4, though more is welcome. All money raised goes to NHS Charities Together, and any crowd-funding not used on materials will be donated back to the NHS.

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