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Mid and East Antrim businesses lending a helping hand in Coronavirus fight

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Businesses across Mid and East Antrim are putting their best foot forward or diversifying their operations in a bid to help in the fight against Coronavirus.

Portglenone company Signtime has shipped 1,000 face shields in four days and has the capacity to develop up to 800 units a day. The business usually produces signs and other printed materials, but is instead turning its hand to manufacturing the perspex face shields.

Ruairi O’Boyle, director, explained:

“There has been a rise in demand for PPE that we’ve never seen before. PPE is essential for frontline workers such as our healthcare staff, care workers, shop assistants and delivery drivers.

“We have the capability to produce signage and other promotional materials in-house. It quickly became evident that we could re-purpose our machines and operational procedures in order to create face shields.”

Signtime is now supplying face shields to care homes and manufacturing companies, including firms involved in food production processes.

Similarly, Ballymena signmakers Tower Signs has been installing perspex shields in local hospitals and healthcare centres. It also plans to offer the service to manufacturing organisations, supermarkets and grocery stores.

A number of garment alteration businesses, meanwhile, are now making face masks and garments for use in care homes and health service providers.

Angela Kirkpatrick is the owner of Sew So Personal Gifts and Alterations. As well as tailoring, the Carrickfergus based seamstress also makes aprons, blankets and cushions.

Despite closing her doors until further notice, Angela is turning her skillset around to help local healthcare workers on the frontline of the pandemic by making face masks. So far, she has created over 100 masks, providing them to carers across Carrickfergus, Whitehead, Greenisland and Larne.

“For me, it was important that I help out in whatever way possible. Whilst the number of masks may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I’m trying to reach as many frontline workers as possible and am hopeful that it will go some way in helping.

“It’s just my way of saying thank you,” she said.

Lauren McIlroy, lead designer at Ballymena based design studio Laurie Mac Interiors, is answering the call made by tailors across Northern Ireland for materials by donating fabric from her workshop.

“Our talented design and production teams are well used to working to help clients realise their dream interior design. We’re now also helping create face masks but can only do so much ourselves.

“We have fabric that would be great for making masks for our amazing NHS and other frontline workers. We’re gladly sharing it free of charge with others who feel they can help create more protective equipment,” she said.

Other businesses from the borough undertaking similar work include Misha’s Country Workshop, Craftswoman Fabrics – both based in Carrickfergus – and Ballymena’s Village Blinds and Silk Road.

Brian McRandal, owner of the Curran Court Hotel in Larne, has switched normal day-to-day operations to providing a ‘meals on wheels’ service within the town for the “foreseeable future”.

Such was the demand, that within a day of announcing the initiative, over 160 meals had been prepared. Mr McRandal anticipates over 1,000 meals will be made within a week of starting the initiative.

“It would have been a shame for the hotel to be left unused. That’s why we decided to keep the ovens burning and support the local community in one of the best ways we possibly could.

“This service is aimed towards the elderly, vulnerable and isolated. It’s our intention that when someone has placed an order with us, that we hold them on file and give them a call back on a daily basis – not just to see if they would like a meal for the following day, but so that they hear a friendly voice at the end of the phone,” he said.

Delivering across the Larne area, including Millbrook, Ballygally and Glynn, the oldest person the Curran Court team has supported with its freshly-made microwavable meals is 105 years old.

“Manned by volunteers, we will continue to do our bit to look after the elderly and most vulnerable for the foreseeable future as long as it is safe to do so,” Mr McRandal added.

Other businesses keeping their kitchens operating include Granny Shaw’s Fudge.

Based in Ballymena, the company is delivering fudge to local charities, hospital staff and those in isolation.

ETC, a gift shop and cafe in Carrickfergus, is continuing to bake scones and traybakes for those workers in local chemists and healthcare centres.

Cllr Gregg McKeen said:

“It is heartwarming to hear such kind stories from people and businesses right across the borough. We all have a role to play in supporting the most vulnerable in society. Companies repurposing and manufacturing PPE for frontline workers is a fantastic sight to behold.

“At the same time, it is touching to learn of the acts of kindness being displayed by those donating foodstuffs to those on the frontline of our healthcare services.

“By supporting one another, we can come through this pandemic stronger.”

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