An Earley resident is on a mission to supply the community with face masks. 8,000 masks later and she shows no sign of stopping.
Lene Schoeman began making the masks as a hobby after being furloughed from her job as a nursery nurse.
She said: “When I was furloughed I decided I wanted to do something to give back to the community.
“I’ve always been creative and love sewing so thought this would be a good activity to fill my time with.”
Lene has so far donated 300 masks to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, as well as posting them to a children’s home in Wales and various charities across Earley.
She has also advertised them on her online Etsy shop Hartlam where she has sold 3,757 to date.
Ms Schoeman said: “As well as donating them to good causes, I decided to sell them on my shop as a way of getting some extra income to make up for that lost due to being furloughed.
“Before the pandemic my shop mainly featured home decorations, but as I’ve been struggling to get hold of the supplies for my normal items, the masks have become a temporary, and hugely popular, alternative.”
“The name of my shop is Hartlam, a word which originates from my South African culture. It directly translates to things you keep close to your heart which is a saying applicable to this time of crisis.”
Since beginning the sewing project with husband Nico, Lene has sought help on social media for keeping up with the demand.
She said: “As interest in the masks grew I decided to put a post on the Earley Residents Discussion Board Facebook page to see if anyone was keen to help me.”
“The response was incredible and within days I had a team of 10 ladies creating the masks. A special thanks goes to Sandra, Pam, Siew, Sylvie, Lindie, Nolene, Ravain, Julia and of course my extremely patient husband.”
“We’ve been able to work together while abiding by social distancing guidelines.
“I’ve set up a postman-styled process which involves me dropping off the elastic and fabrics in a box on their front doorsteps and collecting the box later on with the masks they’ve made in.”
Reflecting on the team’s efforts- which has churned out approximately 8,000 masks so far- Ms Schoeman said: “These women are people I didn’t know previously and may never have met if it wasn’t for the pandemic. So if anything positive comes from this period, it’ll be these lovely women I’ve met.
“They are all amazing.”
And Lene’s community spirit hasn’t stopped there. On Wednesday, June 3 the generous creative announced that she would be hanging face masks from her front gate for locals to collect, free of charge.
She said: “With the lockdown measures changing and more people going back to work and needing to use public transport, it was the right time to give some of the masks away.
“I understand that not everyone can afford to buy face masks so wanted to play my part in giving something back.
“The masks were gone within three hours so it’s clear the word got out fast.”
“I had a great response and many lovely people stopped to chat.
“The social distancing measures have been hard for everyone so this is a nice chance to see people and get that much needed face to face contact.”
And although the popularity of Lene’s mask giveaway meant it was short-lived, she plans to host another free collection service next week.
In the meantime she is selling the masks for a small cost from her driveway.