From sofas to scrubs: how a furloughed factory is helping the NHS

A Bolton furniture manufacturer has become the latest SME to join the fight against Covid-19 by producing protective equipment for NHS workers and encouraging other businesses to do the same.

The outbreak has left the company unable to make or deliver any furniture for weeks. So, they decided to close their workshop and furlough their production staff.

But when Sofas by Saxon Managing Director Matt Deighton realised the PPE shortage among healthcare professionals, he followed the likes of Burberry and Barbour in finding ways to support the NHS workers in Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

Furnishing the NHS: The factory is now supporting hospital staff

Over the Easter bank holiday weekend, he used Facebook to appeal to local ‘scrubs hubs’  – groups of people already trying to fill the gap caused by the PPE shortage, They were able to give him all the information he needed, from what kinds of fabric were required to where scrub sewing patterns can be found.

There were still other challenges to overcome. For example, the fabric used to make scrubs is in very high demand at the moment, so they had to reach out to a lot of different contacts before they were able to source the fabric they needed.

They also had to make sure their sewing machines could handle such a thin fabric, as they were used to dealing with more robust materials like leather and velvet. Fortunately, all of their tests were successful.

Staff, who  would have been sitting at home with nothing to do, have told us they love that they’re able to come in and volunteer

The company asked their furloughed employees if they would be willing to help on a voluntary basis, in line with the social-distancing guidelines. They received what they describe as “a fantastic response” and were able to reopen their workshop. All the scrubs will be donated, free of charge.

The company has also been cutting fabric for local sewers and even turned their premises into a pick-up and drop-off point. Independent makers were able to drop off the equipment such as scrubs, gowns, and visors, healthcare teams could then collect.

Matt Deighton, Managing Director, said: “Our staff, who otherwise would have been sitting at home with nothing to do, have told us they love that they’re able to come in and volunteer for a great cause. It really helps to have a sense of purpose, and I’m so glad we’re able to support our local health workers at this difficult time.

“Like us, there’ll be a lot of companies out there who have had to shut down their operations, leaving their factories empty. So, I really want to encourage other businesses to use their time and resources to help, if they’re able to.”

They’re now urging others to follow suit in supporting their local ‘scrub hubs’, made up of volunteers making PPE from materials they buy themselves and donate –  and have set up a Go Fund Me page

More on Sofas by Saxon here