Pioneers Post, the social enterprise magazine, makes an annual resilience award to an outstanding social ventures that continually delivers positive social change and repeatedly achieves impact goals, successfully tackling challenges and overcoming difficulties.
In 2020, resilience has never been more important with trading interrupted, office doors shut and putting some of our most vulnerable people at greatest risk and The Sewing Rooms has taken this as an opportunity to change the way they work.
Based in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, The Sewing Rooms opened in 2015 giving vulnerable people training and jobs in producing textiles and soft furnishings at the same time as making good use of fabric destined for landfill. Its founder Paula Gamester and co-director Maureen Fazal are experienced business leaders who bring entrepreneurial flair, knowledge and commitment to their enterprise. During 2019, the organisation expanded into new premises, did new deals including one with an international hotel chain and claimed a social return on investment of £13 for every £1.
But Covid-19 changed everything, Paula tells Pioneers Post. “At the end of February, we had great ambition and opportunities – everything seemed to be really great. But then all of a sudden, Covid hit and everything went on hold.” Everything had to stop. “I felt as if the rug had been pulled from under us,” she says.
But Gamester’s fighting spirit took over. She contacted her local MP, explaining that The Sewing Rooms could make personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health service. The MP directed her to the procurement website to pitch for a contract with the NHS. Although she filled everything in, as yet she has heard nothing back.
So, knowing there was a desperate need for protection for frontline workers, Gamester got 50 of her volunteer sewers to start making fabric masks at home which were then donated to local key workers – and even the local priest.
“Being a businesswoman, as I am, I started to think about what we could do to trade out of this in an ethical and social way,” she says. And today, The Sewing Rooms is taking orders for masks from national charities and local businesses, as well as running a crowdfunding campaign through which individuals can order their own masks. This has got the business up and running again. “These are really difficult times, but it’s a fantastic honour to receive this award, thank you,” she says. I am looking for positive stories about from VCSE organisations in Suffolk who have utilised a form of social investment as I’m sure that there are plently. Please contact Sarah Lomasney on 07391 419887, [email protected] as I’d be more than happy to share with people who really should know more about you!