Madeleine has been working for Oxfam for 14 years. She met her husband when he came to volunteer in her shop. Coincidentally he was also her postman.

“I’m the shop manager of the [Oxfam] Wallingford shop in south Oxfordshire,” says Madeline.

Volunteering to help the UK coronavirus response

“The shop’s now closed and I’ve been furloughed – and finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, I wanted to do something useful to help.”

Along with about 900 others, Madeline was furloughed from her job when the coronavirus forced the closure of all Oxfam shops.

“Initially I was worried about my daughter and sister being at risk from coronavirus – they both work in care homes and they were both very short of PPE, particularly masks. They were worried about catching the disease but also about protecting their vulnerable residents.”

Starting out

Two women wearing masks

Image: Madeline Steele

Madeleine made her daughter and sister some masks.

“I thought I could have a look for some patterns and see what fabric [was] needed to make these masks – so I made them a selection of masks and they shared them with their work colleagues. And they were very grateful for them.”

She is very good with a sewing machine and ran a sewing/haberdashery shop for a while. She thought she could help more. While working out how to do that, she chanced across a Facebook post from a friend from her Primary school about ScrubHub.

“On Easter Monday I saw a post on Facebook about the ScrubHub, which was a group of people who had been making scrubs for our NHS staff, carers and key workers and there was a shortage and obviously a need for people to make them. And I had a look on their website to see if there was anyone in the South Oxfordshire area that was doing this and I couldn’t find anyone and I thought, ‘well I can do that.’”

Setting up a ScrubHub

As there was no local group, Madeleine has set one up – and the group have already been delivering sets of scrubs.

“I had actually made up and delivered two sets of scrubs to a doctor who was starting on a COVID-19 ward on the Monday [following Easter Monday], so from Easter Monday to the following Monday, we’d produced all that. We were amazed! We couldn’t believe how quickly this had all come about.”

Scrub hub poster

They’ve started a GoFundMe page for the raw materials – about £20 per set. They have 302 members in their Facebook group with 148 volunteers signed up – 46 have suitable equipment (an overlocker for the sewing machine) to make the scrubs at a professional standard. The scrubs have to be reusable and withstand repeated washing at 60 C.

Making scrubs and masks

“So, 10 days in, we currently have 148 volunteers who we’ve recruited through Facebook mainly and word of mouth. [And] we have 46 volunteers working on making scrubs. 51 of the volunteers have offered to do deliveries for us… and we have 67 volunteers making masks.”

Madeleine has taken orders to supply 92 sets of scrubs, with new orders coming in daily. She has also taken an order from a care home who need another 210 sets of scrubs and are offering to donate to the go fund me the material costs of £20 per set of scrubs.

“Within the first week, we had orders for 92 sets of scrubs. We’d ordered fabric, we’d ordered all the other materials that we needed. I had got patterns printed by a local printer and we had cut out.”

Scrubs folded up

Image: Madeline Steele

Madeleine has also set up a Wallingford Scrub Hub that have a confirmed order for 28 sets for the Wallingford maternity hospital plus an order of 42 sets of scrubs for 2 Oxford based Doctors surgeries.

Two Oxfam shop managers who were furloughed when all the shops had to closed are now making scrubs for doctors, nurses and care home workers.

Doing her bit

“I’m so pleased to be able to do my bit while I’m on furlough and do something really useful. I was heartened to hear that other Oxfam colleagues were doing the same thing, both here and in other countries, making masks etc.” says Madeline.

“Our NHS heroes really need our support but I can’t help worrying about all the people who don’t have access to water or soap to wash their hands to protect themselves. People living in crowded locations – they can’t social distance like we can and I know all our Oxfam supporters are helping Oxfam to send them vital soap to help them and run [public health] education programmes on how clean hands can save lives.”

Oxfam's coronavirus emergency response appeal

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