Volunteers' Week 2021: “Sewing is a way we can help the hospice and make a difference”

A team of volunteer super stitchers have put their skills to good use to support Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice, creating thousands of handmade items for residents, their families and Sue Ryder staff, even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Sewing Group with their handmade banner
Super sewers Lynne, Carol, Mo, Carol, Christine, Louise and Diane (Photo: John Clayton)

Today is the last day of Volunteers' Week 2021, when we celebrate people across the UK who donate their time through volunteering and shine a light on the crucial support our own Sue Ryder volunteers give across the charity.

Beautiful keepsakes from meaningful items

Bound together by a love of sewing, the Leckhampton Court Sewing Group has lovingly created thousands of items for patients and their families since starting in 2016. Some of their special items include beautiful keepsakes for bereaved relatives, using meaningful items of clothing or fabric from loved ones.

When the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, the sewing group quickly changed tack to help with the local effort. First, they produced laundry bags for nurses’ scrubs. They, then made and sold face masks, raising an incredible £15,000 for the Gloucestershire hospice.

“Sewing is a way we can help the hospice,” said long-serving group member Lynne Fennell from Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. “We don’t have medical experience, but we can use our sewing skills to make a difference.”

Armed with sewing machines and fuelled by cups of tea

Lynne joined the Leckhampton Court Sewing Group when it first started. There are currently six other members, namely volunteers Carol Frewin, Mo Hanagarth, Carol Hughes, Christine Mitchell, Louise West and Diane Davis.

Prior to the pandemic, the creative crafters met every two weeks, gathering around a large table in the hospice’s dining room.

Armed with sewing machines and fuelled by homemade cake and cups of tea, they started “sharing ideas, expertise and knowledge” and working together to make bespoke items.

A handmade memory quilt on a bench
A handmade memory quilt created by the sewing group (Photo credit: John Clayton)
The memory quilt on a bench outside Leckhampton Court Hospice
A handmade memory quilt outside the hospice (Photo credit: John Clayton)

“We work together to create the best items that we can”

The volunteers made things they felt would be helpful, including beautiful bags for storing patients’ property and jewellery, as well as single-use syringe driver bags to hold medical equipment.

They also sewed items that could be sold at local events to raise funds for the hospice, which cares for people with life-limiting conditions and their families across Gloucestershire.

“We love what we do,” said Lynne. “We learn from each other and we all have different strengths – from embroidery to embellishments. We work together to create the very best items that we can. We enjoy putting the world to rights when we sew. We take it in turns to provide the cake!”

Providing comfort when it's needed most

The volunteers then turned their attention to stitching special keepsake mementos for bereaved relatives, to provide comfort at a time when it would be needed most. To date, this has included teddy bears, cushions and patchwork throws, meticulously made from items such as shirts and scarves.

“The material a relative gives us is very precious and we work really carefully to cut and sew these items,” said Lynne. “You are taking scissors to something that is very treasured and you have to get it right.

“Over the past four years, we have made more than 100 memory teddy bears. It is really fulfilling to be able to help someone to preserve memories of their loved one. It can be very emotional when relatives see their keepsake for the first time.

“We do not charge for the keepsakes, but relatives are always very generous with their donations, which go to Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.”

Helping the local effort in lockdown

In March 2020, when the UK went into lockdown, the super stitchers saw how they could help the local effort. They set up a “distanced production line”, working from home and keeping in touch via social media.

They first made 1,500 laundry bags for nurses’ scrubs from donated quilt covers. They gave them to nurses working at the hospice, the local hospital and care assistants in nursing homes.

Three fabric teddy bears made by the Leckhampton Court sewing group
Some of the fabric teddy bears made by the super sewers (Photo credit: John Clayton)
One of the teddy bears creating by the sewing group
Photo credit: John Clayton

Turning face masks into funds

The group then turned to making colourful fabric face masks and selling them to the public to raise vital funds for Leckhampton Court Hospice. As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, all of Sue Ryder’s shops closed overnight and the charity’s fundraising activities had to stop with immediate effect – which resulted in a deeply concerning drop in income.

The group sourced suitable fabric, thread and elastic and methodically cut out and sewed each mask. They sold the face masks locally, including at Woody’s Farm Shop in Tewkesbury. In total, they raised an astonishing £15,000 for the hospice.

“The face masks were very popular; we were making 80 of them a day,” remembered Lynne. “Our sewing machines were continually whirring and there were trails of cotton everywhere! We made so many of them that sometimes we were still sewing in our sleep!

“We are very grateful to everyone who helped us in our lockdown sewing efforts, including those who donated material and gave up their time.”

“We are carrying on”

At the time of writing, the group hadn’t been able to meet properly in person since March 2020, but this hasn’t stopped them from doing what they do best, albeit remotely. They are still making masks, and have recently returned to their “normal work” stitching keepsake items for bereaved families. They also have an exciting bunting project in the pipeline.

“We are carrying on with what we are able to do in the circumstances,” added Lynne. “At Christmas we made stockings for the patients and soothing lavender bags to help people sleep. If we can help, we will.”

Thank you to our volunteers

Volunteers' Week is an opportunity to celebrate the millions of people across the UK who donate their time through volunteering.

At Sue Ryder, our volunteers play a vital part in enabling us to be there when it matters for the people we support. Wherever they are, whatever their role - we are hugely grateful for everything they do.

Find out more information about Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice, the expert palliative care they provide and ways you can help to support them.

Volunteer with Sue Ryder

If you would like to volunteer with us, you can find out more about joining our team, frequently asked questions and search for volunteering opportunities near you.