Costume designer to facemask designer

Costume designer to face mask designer

‘As a costume designer, I was especially gripped by the shortage of PPE.’ 

As the Coronavirus pandemic unfolded, I found myself watching the news in helpless disbelief. As a costume designer, I was especially gripped by the shortage of PPE. Medical friends were saying that things where really bad, even though the government claimed it was okay.

Other concerned volunteers were forming and mobilising to help. With my partner Jake Farr, we created

Initially there were seven London groups but with the Visor Army project on Facebook, this has grown to around 130 groups all over the UK.

It was immensely comforting during this time to be able to concentrate on making scrubs and visors, small simple tasks I could do at home, that were being replicated in so many homes all over the country, collectively making a really big difference.

Setting up Acemasks seemed like the logical progression from this. As we ease out of lockdown, facemasks will be part of our ‘new normal’. Initially the idea of wearing a mask filled me with horror. After a few trial runs wearing a mask out and about, I felt really uncomfortable. Despite other people wearing them, I felt that most of them were looking at me in horror!

A friend sent me a picture of her in a medical mask she had decorated with multi-coloured dots. I really liked how she had made it her own. This spurred me on and I decided if I was going to do this, I needed patterns, colours and floral prints to make me feel more comfortable in a mask. I wanted to own the experience and communicate to others when they looked at me in my mask, “It’s going to be okay, we can do this!”

Queens Court Care Home under lockdown

Queens Court Care Home under lockdown

Interview with Shaaron, 18  May 2020

Shaaron Caratella is our care home specialist advisor to REAL Communication Works.

Originally an RGN nurse in the NHS, she went on to gain a BSc in Nursing Studies, a Diploma in Orthopaedics and an MSc in Health Sciences. Her passion for the good care of older people shines out of her and she has been the Manager of Barchester Queens Court Care Home for 23 years, what she doesn’t know about nursing home care, is hardly worth knowing.

Queens Court locked down early in March and this means that my fortnightly conversation group with residents, which has been going for about a decade, also had to be temporarily suspended. I really miss the lovely residents in my Sarah’s Chats group, but have stayed in touch with them with intermittent postcards from the coast. Reassuringly, one of our group has even taken up occasional correspondence with me!

Last week, Shaaron and I had a phone conversation, as I was keen to hear how she and everyone else is coping. She sounded comparatively cheerful, given the circumstances, which pose so many challenges….

“The staff have been really shell-shocked. We have lost some staff through natural wastage – one of our full-time staff left to work at a different care home early on in the Lockdown. Only the really brave care workers were coming in for about the first month and I was very concerned about the psychological state of the staff – we were all very sad.

‘We had to implement special protocols for infection control from day one’.

And then there are the reports… the endless reports. Everyone wants reports, Public Health England, Merton Council, the CQC, the London Capacity Tracker. Everybody wants it written down, which means a lot of extra work.

The laundry has been really challenging, because nothing can be worn or used more than once without fastidious cleaning, so the washing machines have been very busy and our maintenance man has been living from moment to moment to ensure that everything keeps running. He has never had to work so hard.

Barchester Healthcare has been really good and has really invested in the care staff. They had a strategic plan by mid-March. We do a daily Covid update with all manner of detail, including infection control and deep cleaning, right down to meeting and greeting.

Every Monday, we do a thank you for the care staff that comes straight down from the (Dr) Pete Calveley, ourChief Executive and the reviews have been very useful. There is been a lot of good feelings towards care homes and we have been celebrating the kindness. We are trying to be mutually supportive. There is a huge amount of respect for the staff and a huge amount of responsibility for them, too. But they understand it. They get it. Right from the early days, the staff and residents have been very supportive to each other, even though the first two months were a baptism of fire – it was relentless.

The situation with families has been very challenging. Although they have been able to Skype or phone, the lack of visitors is really a problem in the care area. Of course, their new isolation means that a few of the residents have become quite depressed, but we’re doing our best to keep them connected to their families and to one another. Our good relationship with families has paid off. We are on first name terms with them now in a way that we never were before. There is a huge amount of trust and our team knows that, so we try even harder to be there all the time for our residents.

As far as health matters in the home are concerned, we are proud that the results of Whole Home Testing showed that we are Covid negative. Residents have had some hearing aid issues and some have needed to be seen by the optician – it’s good that our GP visits all dressed in PPE. It’s been very good for the team to use all their skills including hairdressing. Since it’s been warmer, the residents have been socially distancing in the garden and having ice cream and doing a quiz or just taking in the sun.


‘There’s been a lot of kindness and we all laugh and giggle together. Of course, you feel absolutely exhausted at the end of the day, but there’s nothing like a glass of wine to cheer you up’!

Hospitals aren’t discharging residents to some care homes – they are only using contract beds, even in this time of Covid. Of course, hospital staff don’t have time to develop the deeper relationships with the residents the way that we do. Sadly, they can forget – and lack respect for, the great age and needs of these special older people in our small community.

Should we all be wearing masks?

wearing masks

Well, should we all be wearing masks or not?

The question of should we all be wearing masks has been argued since the beginning of the coronavirus in January 2020.

“So you get people who say, well, it’s not going to work. But you try having three big, huge football players who are rushing for lunch through a door at lunchtime—they’re not going to get through. In the latest data I saw, the mask provided 5x protection. That’s really good. But we have to keep the hospitals going and we have to keep the health professionals able to come to work and be safe. So masks should go where they’re needed the most: in taking care of patients.”

Source: Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, Wired magazine 19 March 2020

Masks really are an important tool for fighting the coronavirus 

The N95 mask is a particulate-filtering facepiece respirator that filters at least 95% of airborne particles.

Source: Wikipedia

“The N95 mask itself is extremely wonderful. The pores in the mask are three microns wide. The virus is one micron wide. The mask pores are 0.3 microns wide; the virus is 0.12 microns.

“So you get people who say, well, it’s not going to work. But you try having three big, huge football players who are rushing for lunch through a door at lunchtime—they’re not going to get through. In the latest data I saw, the mask provided 5x protection. That’s really good. But we have to keep the hospitals going and we have to keep the health professionals able to come to work and be safe. So masks should go where they’re needed the most: in taking care of patients.”

Source: Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, Wired magazine 19 March 2020

So where are we in the uk?

Well as of May 12 2020, the UK Government recommends homemade face coverings in shops, on public transport and in enclosed public spaces.This is what Boris has to say in story from the Guardian titled ‘What is Boris Johnson’s advice on coronavirus and masks?’.

And here’s a Nurse in the USA that didn’t just create her own replacement N95 mask—hers works better >>

So if you now feel really inspired to have a go yourself, here are some useful links on how you too can make a face mask:

From the BBC > Coronavirus: How to make your own face mask

Form the Sun > How to make a coronavirus face mask – all you need is an old T-shirt

From Good Housekeeping > How to Make Face Masks for Yourself and Hospitals During the Coronavirus Shortage

The Scotsman > How to make a face mask: ideas for creating your own face coverings at home – and where you can buy them online

From the Guardian > How to make a non-medical coronavirus face mask – no sewing required

Should we all being wearing masks

Face masks could be a better defence against Covid-19 than hand washing The Telegraph – 12 June 2020 >

From costume designer to face mask designer. A story of how one person decided they needed to help during the pandemic. By Petra Storrs >

Knitting through a Pandemic

B, 93 and truly an unsung hero! 

 Here is my beautiful and dear friend B, 93. Her porch is the perfect place to sit and knit with the front door open, protecting her in the warmth of the bungalow, but also allowing the sunshine in.

For many years, she has kept herself gainfully employed (for free) knitting and generously donating countless little hats and shawls, forearm sleeves and tiny comforters for premature babies at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Since Lockdown, she has been doing the same thing for the babies in Addenbrookes Hospital Neonatal Unit. Doing it gives meaning to her life and stops her from getting too bored. She has also knitted a number of wonderful jumpers for my grandson with great love – and which we love. With no Mum of my own to knit for him there is something super special about a surrogate Great Grandmum’s handiwork.

Whenever I visit B on sunny days, this is where I will always find her. She leaves a foldaway deckchair for me outside on the path and I sit (at a safe social distance of course) and we chat and laugh together for an hour or more.

She had a very sad and challenging upbringing and many more difficult experiences as an adult, many of which I have had the privilege of listening to, but I have never heard her complain once. She is full of wisdom, kindness and spirit and is a SuperAdult in every respect.

Sarah Reed, April 2020. 


Relieving anxiety during the pandemic

We can’t control outcomes

We all know that often, we cannot always control outcomes. Worrying about them is almost pointless, even though nearly all of us find it hard not to at times like these. Worrying causes us to speculate about future (probably pessimistic or even dystopic) scenarios and possible outcomes that more than likely unlikely will not come to fruition.

This wasted energy creates a personal environment full of anxiety and creates the hormone Cortisol, which can be damaging to our health. As Brandon Mentore, health coach, says, “Although cortisol can actually help maintain the immune system when released in small doses (or help us keep our wits about us when we really are in danger), it can also hinder the body’s ability to fight off disease, when elevated for long periods of time.

“That’s why those who suffer from chronic stress are more prone to age-related diseases, like heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, depression and high blood pressure.”

We all know that none of us can control toilet paper or pasta hoarding, or what’s being said on the news, or even how long Covid-19 pandemic might last. However, we can control our own actions.

How to cope with alarmists

Living in a chaotic time, we cannot control how others will react to this new landscape we find ourselves in. But we can take control of our own attitudes. Tuning out the alarmists, the negative, anxiety-inducing news, the conspiracy theorists, helps us continue to live peacefully, even when amongst the chaos.

To relieve anxiety, we need to focus on what we can control

Instead of fretting over the newest fear-packed headlines, could you try one of the following? In doing any of them, you will have taken control of your decisions.

  • turn off the TV
  • disconnect from social media
  • make yourself a hot drink
  • phone a lonely friend
  • listen to some favourite upbeat music
  • making something or gardening
  • do a breathing exercise
  • create a list all the reasons you have to be thankful
  • take a long soak in a bath
  • go for your daily exercise

Please share your own ideas for staying in control when things around you are out of control.

Care homes neglected

care homes neglected

Care homes neglected – A Daily Telegraph article (15.04.2020) by Annie Stevenson

Director of Integrated Care, Annie Stevenson, expresses eloquently in her article ‘Care homes neglected’ exactly what most of the care industry feels right now.


For the latest Care Home news stories and sector announcements from a wide-range of UK and international sources Click Here >

The Unsung Heroes

Caring well for our most vulnerable has never been harder, nor more necessary.

Care home managers, nurses and care staff, domiciliary care workers, freelance activity providers, unpaid family carers, including spouses, siblings, parents, children, grandchildren, and volunteers. ¬All of them are the unsung heroes of the care system in this country.

The news is all so negative. We need to hear the voices of these exhausted people, many close to breaking point, and make them visible.

For these people, whose care work is largely invisible to the wider world, yet so relationship-centred, the government has offered little protection, comfort, coping strategies or counselling, and until the devastating figures could be ignored no longer – virtually no recognition. These carers may have to face the death of those they work with, those they care for, as well as their own families, poorly supported except by one another. The government and its agencies have offered little or no re-assurance, encouragement, psychological comfort, bereavement support. Carers are expected to just get on with the job, regardless. Let’s remember, many are vulnerable themselves.

Unpaid family carers are no better supported, often struggling to cope in highly challenging circumstances. A person living with advanced dementia requires round-the-clock care and assistance. Most are elderly and for many, their spouse who might be older still, may be their main carer. Assuming they have help, if any of the care team are unable come because of self-isolation symptoms or being unwell themselves, there may be no one to come at all. However, if the person lives alone, as many do these days, there may be no one to support them at all. Families are locked down, may live miles away, may not be able to cope themselves, may have little or no relationship with the person.

Are older people’s lives or those of social care staff worth less? And if so, why? And why are they regarded as second-class carers? The reality is that many carers and those they care for have been abandoned to this virus simply because of years of inadequate and diminishing social care funding, and because they are old are deemed unable to contribute to society.

Making personal choices

This helpful infographic has been doing the rounds on social media recently. We’re not sure who to thank or credit for its origination, but we found it on the Canadian Mantech site.