Up to 40k face masks to made for NI's most vulnerable

  • Up to 40,000 face coverings are to be made available to vulnerable groups through £28,000 funding from the Department for Communities to the second phase of the ‘Big Community Sew’ initiative.

    The initiative has enabled a team of community led volunteers to produce 22,000 face coverings thus far for those most in need in Northern Ireland.

    NI Big Community Sew Founder Angeline Murphy, who appeared as a finalist on the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee television programme, joined Communities Minister Cará Ní Chuilín at Parliament Buildings today (7 September) to hand over face coverings to homeless charity, Simon Community NI.

    The first phase of the initiative was led by the community with support from Business in the Community (BITC).

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    The Henderson Group provided distribution points via 21 of its Spar/EuroSpar post offices, enabling stitchers to pick up their packs and drop off their completed face coverings.

    The finished products were then disseminated by community volunteers and BITC to organisations working with vulnerable groups across the country including Women’s Aid, foodbanks and refugees.

    The programme was due to stop at the end of July, however there was a considerable number of stitchers who were keen to continue.

    Volunteers involved said that their health benefits from being part of the scheme had been notable, especially for those who were shielding and have reflected that the project gave them a sense of purpose and connection to the outside world.

    The department is supporting a further four weeks of the programme, while BITC is responsible for project managing the initiative and is working closely with the Voluntary and Community sector to ensure that the face coverings reach those most in need.

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    In addition, USEL (Ulster Supported Employment), a social enterprise which provides supported paid employment for people with disabilities or health-related conditions, has been commissioned by the department to manufacture and supply 18,000 face coverings.

    Officials said they are working closely with the Public Health Agency to identify and provide face coverings to vulnerable groups with 9,000 so far being made available to such individuals within minority ethnic communities such as asylum seekers and refugees. The department announced it is also providing 4,000 face coverings to homeless services via the Housing Executive.

    Minister Ní Chuilín said: “Face coverings have become part of everyday life here, something we could not have predicted. The ‘Big Community Sew’ is another inspiring example of what can be achieved with collaboration between government, the community and business, and a commitment to help others.

    “Not only is this community led initiative helping support equality of access to face coverings for vulnerable people in society, but I’ve also been delighted to hear of the benefits it has brought to the volunteers.

    “I would remind everyone of the importance of following public health advice and the use of face coverings in our ongoing battle against COVID-19 – so please ‘Wear one for everyone’.”

    Jim Dennison, chief executive of Simon Community NI, commented: “As lockdown restrictions have eased, the importance of face coverings has taken centre-stage in the fight against COVID-19. For someone with limited funds and who is sharing amenities, the purchase and regular washing of face masks can be difficult. This can impact their ability to simply travel on public transport or enter shops.

    “Thanks to the generous donations we’ve received and with the help of volunteers, we’re now providing each resident of our temporary accommodation projects with individual face coverings and hand sanitisers. Such a simple act of kindness is helping those already excluded from society to reconnect with friends and family while limiting the spread of the virus.”

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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