SE100 2020 Resilience Champion: The Sewing Rooms

The resilience award goes to social ventures that continually deliver positive social or environmental change and repeatedly achieve impact goals, successfully tackling challenges and overcoming difficulties.

Resilience has never been more important for social enterprises than right now as the pandemic has frozen trading, shut office doors and put our most vulnerable people at greatest risk. And although this year’s Resilience award winner is being tested to the limit, they are proving that the SE100 judges’ choice was a wise one.

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 the pandemic changed everything, Paula Gamester 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. 

Being a businesswoman, I started to think about what we could do to trade out of this in an ethical and social way

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.

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