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Communities Minister joins forces with the Big Community Sew to help the vulnerable

07 September 2020

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Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill pictured at Parliament Buildings to handover some of the 22,000 DfC funded face coverings for vulnerable groups thanks to an initiative supported by the Big Community Sew, government, community and businesses. They are pictured with Jim Dennison, Chief Executive Simon Community NI; Lisa McIlvenna, Deputy Managing Director, Business in the Community; Angeline Murphy, Founder, NI Community Big Sew and volunteer stitchers Yvonne Casley and Christine Henderson.

Up to 40,000 face coverings are to be made available to vulnerable groups by theDepartment for Communities.

The Department is providing £28,000 funding support to the second phase of the ‘Big Community Sew’ initiative, which has enabled a team of community led volunteers to produce 22,000 face coverings for those most in need in society.

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 Carál Ní Chuilín at Parliament Buildings today to hand over face coverings to Simon Community NI, a leading homeless charity which supports people who are experiencing, or at risk, of homelessness.

The Minister 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’m delighted to be supporting this brilliant scheme and I have been really impressed by the skills and community spirit of those involved.

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’.

The first phase of the initiative which saw 20,000 face coverings produced by volunteers was led by the community with support from Business in the Community (BITC). 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.

Lisa McIlvenna, Deputy Managing Director, Business in the Community explained: 

The coronavirus pandemic has made all of us think differently about the way we live and I am incredibly humbled and encouraged by projects that have been created to help and support communities across Northern Ireland.

The NI Big Community Sew is a great example of a project in the right place at the right time, and one where the product is made by the community for the community. “We are delighted that the Department for Communities is supporting phase two of this project and indebted to Spar/Eurospar post offices for their continued support. This is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when business, communities and government come together. 

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The programme was due to stop at the end of July, however there was a considerable number of stitchers who were keen to continue. The health benefits to the volunteers involved have 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, allowing the volunteering effort to continue while providing an additional 22,000 face coverings to vulnerable people within communities. 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.

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.

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 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 vulnerable groups within minority ethnic communities such as asylum seekers and refugees. The Department is also providing 4,000 face coverings to homeless services via the Housing Executive.