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MEA ‘Band of Stitchers’ produces 4,000 scrubs

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A group of more than 60 stitchers from across Mid and East Antrim have made over 4,000 pairs of scrubs in around two weeks, to be distributed to local hospitals and care homes across the borough and further afield.

Their tremendous efforts were co-ordinated by Harold and Alison McCloy, founders and owners of Village Blinds in Pennybridge Industrial Estate in Ballymena, together with members of their family and friends. The project came about when Village Blinds was forced to close temporarily due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although we had taken the decision to close temporarily, we wanted to do something to help in providing a product or service for our incredible NHS staff and care workers,” explained Harold. “With the urgent need for scrubs so highly documented, we knew this was something practical that we could help with.”

With many fabric manufacturers also closed temporarily, Harold struggled to source a bulk fabric initially, until he spoke to Kevin Devlin, managing director of fabric manufacturer William Clark and Sons in Upperlands, Maghera.

“Kevin kindly agreed to bring back some of his staff to produce the fabric we needed if we placed a minimum order of 10,000 metres,” continued Harold. “A friend immediately launched a fundraising campaign to raise the five-figure sum required to buy the fabric and, within days, we exceeded our target thanks to the kindness and generosity of hundreds of people.”

“We had then started to cut and distribute the fabrics within our own factory to enable our stitcher volunteers to get to work. With the demand being so pressing, however, we had to switch to auto machine cutting of the scrubs, working with Bradfor’s from Rostrevor, who kindly offered their services free of charge. This allowed the 10,000 metres of fabric to be cut into pieces ready for stitching.”

Harold and Alison distributed the fabric to what they described as “an exceptional band of stitchers”, made up of over 60 volunteers spread right across Mid and East Antrim – including Ballymena, Broughshane, Cullybackey, Cloughmills, Ahoghill and Larne. Groups involved included ‘Bannside Stitchers’, ‘Cloughmills Crochet Club’ and ‘Tullygarley Sewing Group’.

“We are deeply indebted to each and every person involved either with the groups or as individuals for their help and expertise,” said Harold. “Many of these amazing women are well over the age of 70 themselves and have been in isolation for weeks. With many of them professional stitchers from days gone by, the speed at which they have been able to work is outstanding and the workmanship and quality coming back from them is absolutely impeccable.

“This project has had a hugely positive impact on them in one way or another. As well as being physically unwell, many of them were feeling very down and isolated by the ongoing lockdown. The opportunity to use their talent and skill in this way has really brought new life to them.”

Harold and Alison have been operating a drop off and pick up service, distributing fabric to stitchers across the borough and picking up dozens of pairs of completed scrubs just days later.

Over 4,000 pairs of scrubs are now in the process of being distributed, with some having gone already to Antrim and Causeway Hospitals and a number of nursing homes in Mid and East Antrim, as well as in Lisburn and Belfast.

A collective statement from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Group Party Leaders – Councillors Gregg McKeen, Timothy Gaston, Keith Turner, Gerardine Mulvenna, Eugene Reid and James McKeown – praised Harold and Alison and their group of volunteers for their efforts.

“In recent weeks we have seen many fantastic examples of businesses in Mid and East Antrim being proactive and really going out to their way to do anything they can to help in the fight against COVID-19.

“Harold and Alison McCloy, their ‘band of stitchers’ and all those who helped with this project in any way, are to be commended for this remarkable display of thoughtfulness, selflessness and generosity. Exemplifying the outward-looking values that characterise the people of Mid and East Antrim, their kindness will be felt by hundreds of frontline NHS and care workers at a time of great need.”

Harold and Alison are continuing to raise funds throughout the campaign, with new project being planned to help the NHS and local charities. Donations can be made by Paypal ([email protected]). For further information on other methods through which donations can be accepted, please email Harold McCloy on [email protected]

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