Mask makers make thousands for NHS charities - and star in a film


01-06-2020
masks made by volunteers for community use

Colourful face masks made for the community by a group of volunteers in Cambridge have raised an astonishing total of more than £17,000 for NHS Charities Together.

Starting with just sewing machines in their kitchens, Haslingfield-based creative friends Melissa Santiago-Val and Jane Horwood began making community-use face masks in April. They have now made over 3,000 masks, recruited a team of over 40 volunteers (who collect fabric, wash, cut up, iron and sew masks) and received orders from all over the world.

Their masks are being seen on famous faces including Craig Revel Horwood and cosmic author Lucy Hawking, and they are now making a documentary with award-winning Cambridge Filmmakers DragonLight Films about the initiative. The documentary aims to show how communities and businesses can achieve amazing things together.

Melissa and Jane set up a JustGiving page: all money raised goes to support the Covid-19 appeal from NHS Charities Together.

CommunityMasks4NHS has also got corporate sponsors on board - Johnson Matthey, through its Community Engagement team, has supported the initiative by donating materials for 300 masks, for masks for Voluntary Groups including Community Transport teams, taking patients to hospital appointments from villages. Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), has also supported the initiative with fabric for another 300 masks, plus advice on the venture from their support team, as Melissa is a tenant of theirs.

A collaboration with Dragon's Den entrepreneur company BeeBee Wraps has developed through CEO Kath Austin, making masks with their vibrant branded fabrics, used for their eco-friendly reusable food wraps, which the company generously donated.

“Being able to collaborate with businesses interested in Community Engagement has been key to all of this, and we are now working with fabric designer Deborah at IslandFifty8 to produce unique fabric for masks for Provenance Restaurant in Whittlesford., We are keen to develop corporate relationships, as companies may want branded masks too - a great way to support our NHS”, commented Melissa.

The pace of it all has left Melissa, who is currently furloughed, delighted: “This has been a huge community effort, and enormous thanks go to our volunteers, they’re amazing. It’s fantastic that people want to be part of this.”

But as demand soared, the costs have too. “Initially fabrics and materials were our own, or sourced by us,” Melissa says. “Then we were posting masks all over the country and world, including Australia, Spain and Japan and we couldn’t sustain it – we have used 1500 metres of elastic and about 150 metres of muslin, plus postage.” So there’s now another page where you can make a donation towards materials, and people have been posting fabrics to use too.

The masks made by CommunityMasks4NHS are not PPE grade – government advice is that public should be wearing a face-covering or mask in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport, and not take away from PPE supplies that are needed by frontline staff. Melissa said “We are not scientists, but the evidence does seem to show that if everyone wore these masks, we would all be protecting each other far more.”

The masks are cotton, washable, double-lined with muslin and have a pocket for a filter, with a choice of fabric as vibrant, floral, or gender neutral, and a child size. “We don’t specify designs as so much of our fabric is donated, but that’s part of the fun when people receive them!” said Jane.

The suggested donation for a mask is £4, though any more is fantastic. All money raised goes to NHS Charities Together; any crowd-funding not used on materials will be donated back to the NHS too.

To get involved, visit:

  • CommunityMasks4NHS Order and donate page on JustGiving, with updates
  • A real-time sewing tutorial for volunteers.  (The team communicates via whatsapp and Zoom with over 40 volunteers every day, but also phones and checks in on  volunteers without that tech so they aren’t excluded.)
  • Facebook and Instagram pages @CommunityMasks4NHS
  • The crowdfunding site  where you can pay for postage or donate to materials costs  (this is separate to NHS donations)

Jane Horwood and Melissa Santiago-Val with DragonLight Films cameraman

Jane Horwood (left) and Melissa Santiago-Val with Colin Ramsay of DragonLight Films