Covid A Year On: Volunteers who stepped up to make a difference during the pandemic

Scrub hats made by Ainara Espina of Indigo Blue & Co.

Scrub hats made by Ainara Espina of Indigo Blue & Co. - Credit: Ainara Espina

One of the stand-out characteristics of the past year has been the remarkable deeds of volunteers and fundraisers determined to do their bit to help out during the pandemic.

From pubs supplying free meals to schoolchildren during the holidays to the actions of groups like Harpenden Cares, the community has truly come together during these challenging times to help out their vulnerable neighbours. We are all grateful for the sacrifices made by all of you.

As it is impossible to feature all of the different initiatives which we have witnessed over the last 12 months, we wanted to focus on the stories of a selection of volunteers to find out how they responded to the crisis.

Physiotherapist Ann Owen, who was furloughed from her job as a disability needs assessor, realised she needed to fill her newfound time with something constructive, and set up the Salisbury Avenue Sewing Circle to make hats for care home staff and scrubs for NHS workers.

Volunteer Ann Owen.

Volunteer Ann Owen. - Credit: Ann Owen

"Being used to having all my hours filled with work, I felt the need to keep myself occupied and serving others is part of my faith and DNA.

"I had time to dust off my sewing skills and volunteer to be part of the national sewing effort to supply PPE to health care workers.  It was heartening to be able to form a group of like-minded neighbours and friends to combine sewing talents for the greater good.

"The three months of this project were energising and exhausting but it will be a time that I will also reflect on with fondness and to date it is still an active group when the need arises for sewers. 

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“It is a project that we all enjoyed doing, with an underlying sense of gratitude towards our NHS staff and other carers. We all felt that we could do a little bit to help at this time of national need!

"These are memories from this time – least of all the house looking like a sweat shop, some of the group making extraordinary fun scrubs, from donated duvet covers for a paediatric unit in Sheffield to making 100 masks for a school in Tanzania. 

Paediatric scrubs produced by Salisbury Avenue Sewing Circle.

Paediatric scrubs produced by Salisbury Avenue Sewing Circle. - Credit: Salisbury Avenue Sewing Circle

"This was a real example of pulling together for the greater good where so many people were involved through generously donating their linen, the selfless use of time by the sewing group and the grateful acceptance of the items by the recipients, all when PPE was in such short supply. 

"It has been wonderful to see how some of the initiatives put in place during the past year have continued to flourish and become established in the community."

Entrepreneur Ainara Espina, who runs ethical, sustainable and slow fashion company Indigo Blue & Co, was one of many people who not only joined Ann's team of volunteer sewers, but was also involved in her own initiatives to help people in need during the pandemic.

"With the start of the Covid crisis I felt the urge to take action and help where I could. I found out about the worldwide initiatives to make facemasks and scrubs for  health carers and got in touch with the UK Facebook groups that were starting to coordinate their efforts. 

"Initially I spent time making and gifting facemasks for friends and neighbours, but then found out about this lovely group which was making scrubs locally and needed some help."

She also helped make twiddle muffs for patients at the Royal Free Hospital suffering from dementia, and made so many she also donated some to local care homes.

Masks made by Ainara Espina of Indigo Blue & Co.

Masks made by Ainara Espina of Indigo Blue & Co. - Credit: Indigo Blue & Co

"This project was tremendously heartwarming, seeing how people immediately came together to offer their help. My daughter was delighted to get involved in all my little adventures, collecting and delivering locally, as she learned about the pandemic, the importance of helping each other and the joy that brings us."