A group of women in East Sussex have banded together to support the NHS and local charities by doing their favourite activity: sewing.
The group of 11 ladies in the town of Crowborough, known as the 'Sewing Crow-Bees', are united in their love of sewing and their desire to help their local community.
The Crow-Bees make a difference by sewing masks and scrubs for carers and NHS workers in the Crowborough area, as well as sewing and selling other products to raise money for charity.
So far they have seen a fantastic return on their efforts and to date they have already raised almost £15,000 for Crowborough War Memorial Hospital.
Alison Cousins was one of the founding members of the Crow-Bees, and she remembers how it all started back in March last year, at the beginning of the pandemic.
"The initiative started in March last year with a woman called Maisie Jones, she started by making some fabric masks to give away to carers in the community, and selling some to raise money for NHS Charities Together," Alison said.
"I answered her first post on Facebook and offered help, and from then on we started making masks and giving them out to carers, while raising a few pennies here and there for charity."
Their initiative quickly went from strength to strength, and soon Alison and Maisie found themselves with a big job on their hands.
"Within a few weeks the demand started to outstretch our capabilities; we were both furloughed, but even so we needed some help. We reached out to the community and a few other ladies joined us and we gradually grew in that way with more people coming forward," Alison said.
Their efforts have made a massive impact already in the Crowborough community.
Alison said: "Over the time we raised quite a lot of money; more than £15,000 for Crowborough Hospital to replace the money they lost by not holding their annual fete; just over £2000 for the Poppy Appeal because the Legion obviously couldn't send out the volunteers who are normally out collecting; and we raised more than £1500 for NHS Charities Together at the beginning.
"We've had a couple of pop-up stalls in the town and one at the Christmas Fair.
The Crow-Bees are are volunteers and don't take a penny of the money they raised.
"We're self-funded, we take no money, we're all volunteers. Some of us are back working and have been since August so there's a lot of juggling that goes on. Some of the ladies are retired so they can do it in their spare time," Alison said.
"We've funded it all ourselves and it's only just now we're asking for a little bit of funding to help us with the scrubs and so on.
"Any surplus funds after our costs will go to our Crowborough charity of the month. This month any money will go straight to the local branch of To Baby and Beyond.
Alison says that the ladies are a close bunch, and that they all love doing what they do.
"None of the ladies knew each-other before any of this, it's all been via Facebook. It's brought us all together," she said.
"We've loved it. It's been exhausting, but we've tried to keep it fun.
However, their endeavour has not been without its challenges. Alison also has a job alongside her work with the Crow-Bees, and it often leaves her with a very busy schedule.
"It's been a wonderful experience, if a bit busy! It's been very rewarding. You know, it's been stressful at times I can't lie, but it's been a great experience for us all. We can't wait to be able to get together, have a proper chat and actually get to know each other."
"The ladies doing it have been absolutely amazing, they've worked their socks off. They've got sore backs, sore fingers, we've had broken machines along the way to deal with," she said.
"We asked for help from the community and they've come forward with donations of fabric and materials for everything we've been doing. At the very beginning there was a huge shortage of elastic which gave us a lot of issues.
For all their hard work, Alison says that it's the feeling of making a difference that keeps them going ten months on.
"The reward of it all keeps us going, the payback. We know that with the funding for the local hospital they were able to purchase some very special mattresses for the ward which now enables them to provide more critical care for patients.
"It means that poorly patients can stay more local, and helps the families out. We helped make that happen, and we're chuffed to bits about that.
"It's the thanks and the gratitude; it just makes you feel good. It's really desperate times for a lot of people and anything we can do to help we will.
The Crow-Bees were recognised for their good work back in July, when local MP Nus Ghani gave the group a special constituency award, for those who have gone above and beyond to help others.
Ms Ghani congratulated the group and called them very worthy winners, while Chantal Wilson, chairman of the Friends of Crowborough Hospital, said the Crow-Bees had done a "marvellous job."
Ms Wilson said: “The Sewing Crow-Bees have done a marvellous job keeping Crowborough supplied with face masks and at the same time raising a huge amount of money for the Friends of Crowborough Hospital.
Alison hinted at a future for the Crow-Bees stretching beyond a time when the world needs face masks.
"There's no end goal. We are looking to the future and the possibility of staying as a group and growing.
"There's ladies that know how to crochet, and some yet to learn. There's ladies who are very experienced on the sewing machine, and many of us who are not. We want a group to share skills and have fun, but in the meantime we'll keep making products and supporting charities for as long as we are needed.
You can donate to the Crow-Bees by clicking here, to help fund their purchase of fabrics and their running costs.
You can access the original article here.