Community gown workshop all sewn up thanks to team of volunteers

2 June 2020

A team of volunteers are setting to work producing thousands of surgical gowns for the Royal Free London.

Over the past few weeks, fashion and sewing experts, community volunteers and staff from the Royal Free London have come together to create a pop-up workshop capable of producing hundreds of surgical gowns every day. While the trust is confident in its existing supplies, these gowns will make use of surplus material to help boost stocks at the Royal Free Hospital and Barnet Hospital.

The volunteers have now produced over 15,000 gowns. This has been possible thanks to the support of the Royal Free Charity, who are coordinating the team of eager volunteers. They have also helped to fund the project, paying for 35 new sewing machines.

"We are delighted to be able to support the hospital's clinical staff in such a direct way," said Richard Scarth, interim chief executive for the charity. "We can see how well the project is running - it's a truly impressive operation, particularly given the social distancing constraints. This is why we've been delighted to donate the cost of extra sewing machines.

"We are also so grateful to our volunteers for their hard work on the project and we know that their commitment will be making a huge contribution to its success."

The project has been set up by Caroline Gration, director of The Fashion School UK, who set about using her experience of running fashion and design training sessions for young people to do something positive for the NHS.

“My own daughter is a doctor working with COVID-19 positive patients at the Royal Free Hospital, so I felt a real connection with the trust,” said Caroline. “I knew that I needed to find a way to work in synergy with the hospital, to ensure that we were providing what was actually needed. Being able to work directly with the trust has allowed us to do this, and this is what enables us to produce gowns in such large quantities.”

There has also been generous support from Wac Arts in Belsize Park. Housed in a stunning Grade II listed building, Wac Arts is a charity that provides performing arts training for young people. With their programmes currently closed, they have kindly made the building available to house the sewing team.

Royal Free London chief executive Caroline Clarke said “Projects like this show just how much is possible when we all work together – this has been a real community effort, and I am very grateful for the commitment and generosity of all involved. 

“We are very lucky that so many skilled volunteers are giving up their time to make this a success. Their hard work is already starting to pay off in the creation of gowns that will soon be used by workers on the frontline.”

New volunteers are welcome to apply - the ability to use a sewing machine is desirable but not essential, as there are roles available cutting and folding, packing and working as machinists. Those interested can put their name forward by emailing