A COMMUNITY has been at the sharp end of efforts to sew vital equipment to help control the spread of Covid-19.

Soon after the pandemic broke out Barnard Castle School teamed up with volunteers in the town to serve the growing demands from frontline staff and vulnerable groups for PPE.

Community co-ordinator and former midwife Emma Rowell initially teamed up with the school’s head of DT Alan Beaty to distribute the 1,000 protective visors he had made for key health staff with the help of DT teacher Rebecca Cruxton and business teacher Nick Connor.

The project also highlighted a need for fabric face masks, particularly in the care community, so teacher Lucie Nicholson, former lecturer in fabric and design Sally McCollin and bespoke tailor Fiona Brookes volunteered to make them.

Ms Rowell said: “I had some in my cafe and after I distributed them I couldn’t get any more.

“We looked at all the latest research from the World Health Organisation and the stitchers were incredibly skilled at designing and engineering masks which fitted effectively so that the wearer didn’t need to touch and adjust them.”

The first batch of around 600 masks helped frontline workers, including those at doctors surgeries, care homes and care providers.

The group then identified other potential beneficiaries including taxi and bus drivers and essential shop workers.

Further developments have seen the masks made available to schools, vulnerable people, the general public and foodbanks. So far, 1,200 have been distributed to people in Teesdale, Bishop Auckland, West Auckland and Shildon.

The latest designs, for schools in particular, feature a see-through, removable, washable panel around the mouth to prevent young children from being intimidated by the kit and so people with hearing impairment can still lip-read.

Ms Nicholson, who runs the school’s sewing club, said: “During the lockdown, many people have taken to crafting and sewing again. I would like to build on this at school with further support from the sewing club, which relies on donations of fabric and even sewing machines, so that more students can learn the basics of sewing.

“Barnard Castle School is an integral part of the community, especially in difficult times, and staff have been delighted to help.”

Ms Rowell, who runs Number 15 café and the Curlew book store in Barnard Castle, said: “It’s been incredible and we are keeping going. The stitchers have been hugely generous, using their own stock, astonishingly skilled and have certainly risen to the occasion. They have worked really hard on this and deserve a huge amount of credit.

“We need every single one of our community to have these resources in order to stay safe. This has been a big community initiative which has helped a lot of people.”

Donate fabric and thread at Brookes Bespoke Tailoring in Barnard Castle Market Place.