Margaret Houston is the Fermanagh co-ordinator for NI Scrubs, a group which was set up by Clara Maybin to organise the community drive to create scrubs for health workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the last number of weeks, Margaret, who is a dressmaker, has been co-ordinating around 60 sewers from the Fermanagh area to make scrubs and other essential items. Between the Fermanagh and Omagh sub-groups of NI Scrubs, sewers have made over 3,000 sets of scrubs.

When asked how she got involved, Margaret explained that she initially responded to a post on Facebook by NI Scrubs founder Clara, who was looking for sewers to help the cause.

“I was probably the first one who went to her and we arranged to get fabric and stuff. Within days it went from five people to 500,” said Margaret.

“We had a few sewers in Omagh but we didn’t have much outside of that and then I said to her I would try the Fermanagh end so within a very short time I had around 60 sewers in Fermanagh,” she added.

Explaining that sewers of varying abilities joined the group, Margaret said: “There were only a few people who were sewers, the rest picked it up as they went along. There were people wanting to sew who couldn’t even sew, there was a sewing machine in the house and they wanted to give it a go. If somebody had a problem they could but the question up in the Messenger group and everyone was helping everyone else. I had people ranging from 20 years of age to the oldest that I know in Fermanagh who was 85.”

Margaret met up with Fermanagh sewers on a Wednesday and a Saturday in the car park of Dunnes Stores in Enniskillen to provide fabric.

“At the start we didn’t have a lot of funding so we had to source fabric between a Wednesday and a Saturday, we were talking almost 700 metres,” shared Margaret, adding: “Then other people seen what we were doing and everybody wanted to help.”

Margaret noted that Fermanagh local Daphne McCrabbe had put up a Facebook post to source fabric for the NI Scrubs group. “She was asking people to donate sheets and bedding. Then they got loads and loads, and a whole load of helpers. They went and picked up stuff from all around the country and then they brought that to me.

“In between times we had started a bit fundraising so we were able to buy new fabrics as well. Then The Church Mouse in Enniskillen, they donated 1,000 shirts that were donated to them at one stage. I converted them into scrub tops. We were able to use them to save fabric,” explained Margaret.

With the help of fundraising, the group were able to buy 5,000 metres of uncut fabric.

“We got it cut in Cooneen, the factory in Fivemiletown, cut into sets so we were able to give the sewers out pre-cut sets because at that stage there were people at home cutting, sewing, making masks, making scrub bags and knitting ear savers. We just went crazy,” laughed Margaret.

A number of the homemade scrubs were donated to the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).

“When we were happy enough that SWAH had got all their orders, we did the care homes all around Fermanagh and then nurses out in the community, then doctors surgeries and there were individuals who had asked us as well,” said Margaret, noting that they also made scrubs for the Northern Ireland Hospice.

“We were just getting orders all the time from day one. Between Omagh and Fermanagh we made over 3,000 sets of scrubs, probably 3,500 scrub bags and something like 5,000 masks, I think we counted last,” Margaret told this newspaper.