This month's blog post was scheduled to be something I was going to be incredibly proud of. It was a moment in my career, a milestone reached, when my career as a milliner, being so young, was really going to be catapulted forward within the industry.

When we went into lockdown I struggled with a feeling I could recognise but not put my finger on. Then a few weeks in I realised the feeling. It is the same as the buildup before my Father’s funeral. It is this incredible amount of pressure where you can’t quite believe that a death has happened and only until the funeral did it really become apparent it has. An overwhelming amount of pressure was released on that day.

As many have said and it rings true, we are grieving a life we once knew, our own. Our own “normal”. All the hurdles we have faced and hoops we have jumped in our lives this virus has proven the value of life and most importantly time. I have always been aware of this and again a reminder is in our midst. The fine line between having it all and having nothing.

Difficult Times

Writing to you from the midst of COVID-19 (CoronaVirus Disease 2019) we have gone as far as we can see and, personally, I can see further. We as a nation are keeping our distance from one another, social distancing, and staying at home to save lives. We should be proud of ourselves.

We are all doing our bit to help towards the cause of flattening that curve and it is working, slowly but surely. Unfortunately, the loss of life is never welcomed and for those reading this who have lost a loved one, may I express my sincerest condolences. It is easier said than done, but I have always believed that living, loving and laughing in their honour is the best thing you can do for them and for yourself.

At a time where we feel helpless and want to help, I would highly encourage it. I once had a Chinese takeaway, it was delicious, and inside was a fortune cookie. Every time I crack one open and read my fortune my partner mimics me and says what I always say, “It’s so true.” On this occasion it read: From now on your kindness will lead you to success. That fortune now sits, stuck to my computer screen where I see it pretty much every day. So far it has worked out.

Kindness can sometimes be frustrating. You push forward in the good fight and sometimes feel like you are getting nowhere. This is when you keep pushing. Although I am not religious the exercise of kindness can be rather spiritual.

We have all been given an incredible gift right now and that is time. We can focus on things we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Silver linings I hear you say. Finish that diamond painting, do another. Crystallise that photo frame of a happy moment. Take a leaf from our Dolly Parton and add some sparkle to that instrument you stopped learning. Do that garden. Read those books. Put pen to paper and set up that business you have always wanted to do.

Whatever it is, enjoy it whilst it lasts. It could lead to great things. One day, time rolled in my favour and I was able to focus on my dream, Julian Garner Headwear. The paths it has taken me on, albeit, not how I planned, but, for the many reasons out there leading me to where I am supposed to be. Right here, right now.

Those in Need

Through the powers of social media, I found the workings of an amazing group in London called the Visor Army. They are currently making much needed PPE (personal protective equipment) face shields for our front line workers in the NHS and Care Homes. Milliners were called forward to help.

I got in touch to see if I could help and from that was inspired to help set up P.P.E. for Kent Carers. I set it up because all materials used to make PPE from the Visor Army, understandably, had to go back to the London hospitals. I thought ‘what about my own?’ Having just paid for £600.00 worth of A4 acetate sheet of a 240-micron thickness I needed to raise funds to be able to buy more materials to make this much needed PPE for our front line workers. With 5000 sheets, potentially 5000 visors, on their way, I got to work.

I set up a Facebook group called P.P.E. for Kent Carers and a Go Fund Me page. Within a day of explaining to people what I was doing I had raised enough money to reimburse myself the £600.00 through donations and it kept coming.

I set up an Amazon wish list so people could buy materials we needed to create these much needed visors. Then a friend of mine put me in contact with a gentleman who has been a god send in the process, he was making 3D printed frames and ear savers. In came Andy Janes. A man with great contacts and a talent for 3D printing. We joined forces and have raised over £5000.00 between us.

Andy has roped in Mike, Chris and Steve who have an army of 3D printers churning out visors and ear savers. The type that cuts down on waste as the frames can be sterilised after the carer has left the infected zone by simply reattaching a new sheet shield, those 5000 sheets of acetate, to the frame. Andy works in IT and a friend of his came forward, Mark, who in his spare time has set up a website - PPE for Kent Carers - which explains everything we do enabled by donations from the public, the product we offer, our Go Fund Me Pages as well as, the most important one, a request form which means hospitals, care homes and carers can now request to have two types of PPE sent to them or delivered through the many volunteers we have.

We achieved this within a week and a half. An amazing team effort amongst a whole bunch of strangers who have only met either by social media or a handful of times. It has most certainly restored my faith in humanity.

Our Facebook group has 375 members and it is growing day by day. It has enabled us to get visors to where they are needed. One thing I have learnt, a sad truth, is that the government has said on many occasions that there is no lack of PPE for our front line workers. We beg to differ. We have been called by a variety of carers and some of their stories have chilled us to the bone. One story was from a care home which had 10 deaths from COVID-19 and four more confirmed cases and the carer had nothing. Their stocks had dried up and they were desperate.

On one occasion a nurse told me that each time they leave the red zone they have to change their PPE and some are not having their breaks, on a 12-hour shift, just to try and save what PPE they have. Another nurse told me that on a daily basis in the ward, a red zone, they work on, they will go through 240 gowns a day.

I got in touch with the fire services to see if we could set up a site within a central point of the county so all 3D printed or sewn PPE could be delivered, cleaned, packed and stored ready to be collected by the PPE cell or carers within the county. This past week I heard back, their seniors had been advised to focus their energies elsewhere. I am now waiting to hear back from the county Councillors and a MP who have received and passed on my suggestion. Perfect examples of how kindness can be frustrating. Politics, P.R. and Procurement go hand in hand whilst the boots on the ground cry out for help.

Everyone Together

We continue to fight and distribute our visors and ear savers to where they are needed, even if it is just one carer who works for a council funded care agency looking after a patient with MS who has been supplied with nothing. They don’t live with the patient and leave their house to return the next day. Each day not knowing if you or the patient are at risk.

Everyone deserves to feel safe within their job and to not have the weight of possibly passing something onto the person they are looking after, on their shoulders. We urge you to share our website with your friends and family so anyone feeling unsafe can get in touch and we could at least help them with two types of PPE as listed on our website.

We have made over 2300 visors and sent out hundreds of ear savers. If you sew, go onto Facebook and find a sewing group supplying scrubs, caps, gowns, arm protectors to your hospitals. Fabric face masks are not allowed as the fabric we use harbours the virus, the material used for the face masks needs to be medically approved for use.

If you can donate, then please do as one visor frame and a sheet shield costs only £0.70 to make. The funds raised also support local groups within Kent supplying much needed PPE or donate to a group within your county.

You can have a hand in the cause, you just have to turn your hands to it. Take care and stay safe.

Write Soon…xoxo