The COVID-19 virus was on the spread and The Royal Brompton Hospital ICU ward was full.
That’s because The Royal Brompton is a national and international leader in the treatment of heart and lung conditions.
In early April, the PPE situation was dire. They needed about 1000 pieces of Personal Protection Equipment every day but the PPEs were not coming in fast enough and the stress level was running high.
The NHS staff had to do something. And the nation was aware of the problem.
On late Good Friday, Tom Bennet. from the hospital’s NHS staff approached Caroline Gration at The Fashion School on King’s Road about helping to make surgical gowns.
“How many?” Caroline asked. Thinking maybe a couple of dozens.
“5000” Tom replied.
Caroline knew she had a task ahead of her. She dropped everything to organise mass production of surgical gowns from sewing machines straight to a health worker’s back in the COVID-19 wards at the Royal Brompton Hospital.
She spent Easter weekend making PPE patterns that met hospital specifications and needs. Once she had those done, she asked Julie Brøgger from Brøgger, a London based luxury clothing label, if she would copy the patterns and make big card ‘block’ patterns so they can be used efficiently to cut the fabric to be sewn.
Caroline emptied her studios of sewing machines and haberdashery, and phoned up Janome to lend more sewing machines for free.
The Kensington & Chelsea College building was familiar to Caroline and she knew the staff. When they were contacted, the college was fully on board and allowed Caroline and the NHS team to convert the building into a production line.
The next thing they needed were volunteers. Shout outs on Instagram by Caroline and Sarah Mover, a fashion journalist spread the word fast.
It was one of those moments when everything fell into place. Within six days of Tom meeting Caroline, the first volunteers entered the building.
Strict protocol about social distancing was followed – the working units were distanced. The hospital staff are there the whole time to ensure procedure is kept to NHS standards.
Phase 1: Pattern cutting on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
Phase 2: On the 1st floor in one room, the sleeves are attached to the body, each piece is folded before going to the next room …
Phase 3: In the next room where the sides and sleeves are sewn together
and folded into neat piles
before going downstairs to the Folding Room to be distributed …
Phase 4: Here they sew neckties and waist ties.
First, the neckties are sewn on …
And returned to the Folding Room
Phase 5: Each piece needs to be reversed, folded and marked for where the waist ties to be attached.
Phase 6: Goes back out for the waist ties to be attached.
Comes back completed –
Phase 8: And now for the final folding …
… folding and more folding!
This is Jessie – she then starts the boxing process …
Phase 8: They are packed into cartons, and ready to be collected at 4pm – to be taken straight to Royal Brompton Hospital.
As the boxes leave, great excitement as everyone wants to know how many were being delivered.
May’s comment: Well, the target of 5000 pieces of surgical gowns were delivered last week. We cheered!
The hospital asked for us to keep going till 10,000 pieces before they can take stock and assess if the situation eases and/or new stock have been sourced and delivered. We’re not sure how long this will go on for but the commitment is to keep going until all health workers have adequate PPE on their backs.
MAKE A GOWN AND SAVE LIVES!
The Fashion School (@thefashionschooluk) working in conjunction with Royal Brompton Hospital (@RBHHSpecialist Care) had set up this temporary production line for PPE surgical gowns at the Kensington and Chelsea College (KCC). This is where the people come together to help solve some of the nationwide PPE shortages.
Every day for the last three weeks, approximately 45-50 volunteers and NHS staff checked in every morning and every afternoon to make surgical gowns from scratch – using surgical barriers material. Heads down, at speed they laboured tirelessly with love.
Two of the hospital staff came to visit the production site last week and gave an emotional speech.
As the Royal Brompton Hospital specialises in heart and lung conditions, it was a destination for the seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
It has managed to maintain the 1% death rate amongst those infected, and importantly, though some of their staff have taken ill from the virus, none of them have been serious.
Many lives have been lost but many more have survived – thanks to the NHS and all the frontline workers.
Caroline’s daughter, Dr. Betty Gration is heading up a COVID-19 ward at The Royal Free Hospital.
None of us involved will forget this pandemic that stopped all of us in our tracks. The volunteers who come everyday are mostly from the fashion industry who each have their own stories.
It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience – to see so many coming forth to help, with focus, with determination and a smile. This is what we do best – Keep Calm and Carry On.
To donate to The Fashion School’s PPE Drive, please visit their Go Fund Me page.