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A new charity emerges from the pandemic



At the beginning of lockdown I started making face masks with my friend Melissa Santiago-Val and a dedicated team of volunteers. What a rollercoaster ride it was. From sewing a few masks for friends and family it mushroomed into a massive community project and we raised an incredible £40,000 for NHS Charities Together.


Jane Horwood and Melissa Santiago-Val


At the end of July, I decided that I needed to step back and concentrate more on the business of web design which was starting to pick up again after a lull during lockdown.


For my ‘partner in crime’ Melissa it was a different story. She had been furloughed during the lockdown period, which was initially intensely worrying but she soon realised that the mask making presented an additional opportunity which could help her change her course of direction career-wise.


Covid-19 has thrown up many issues for people struggling to cope and find focus during these unprecedented times, both on a personal level and at work.


With an interest in mental wellbeing and the knowledge of how our community project has really helped people over the last few months, Melissa decided to launch the Sew Positive charity.


A report from the Office of National Statistics estimates that cases of depression have statistically doubled during the pandemic, and the emerging mental health crisis is only just beginning. 


The Big Community Sew, on the back of the Great British Sewing Bee, estimates there are around six million sewing machines in homes across the UK. Now so many of us have dusted off our machines, the Sew Positive team want to encourage sewing to support positive mental health through workshops. There are also plans for free workshops for charities and voluntary groups whose beneficiaries are affected by increased mental health issues due to the pandemic.


Melissa has not allowed me to disappear off the scene completely. I am one of the three Sew Positive trustees and I was also delighted to be able to help at the first ‘Make your own facemask’ workshop held in Grand Arcade last week.


Face mask making workshop


The event was a collaboration with another local mental health charity, Illuminate, a professional, not-for-profit organisation specialising in mental health coaching and training to help people make positive changes. Illuminate is also a client of mine and we’d donated masks for their team back in May.


Support from the local business community has been fantastic. The Cambridge Fabric Company and Make Cambridge lent sewing machines, John Lewis donated fabrics, and Grand Arcade allowed us to use the unoccupied Radley Store for the workshop.


Future workshops will be offered to vulnerable people with mental health issues alongside traditional treatments, alongside workshops for local businesses as part of their mental health and wellbeing strategies.


I am in awe of Melissa who has taken a little idea and turned it into something quite incredible. She has a huge amount of drive and energy and is extraordinarily creative. But what I admire most are her marketing and communication skills and the way that she builds long lasting relationships with supporters, volunteers, businesses, media and the local community in general.


If you would like to find out more about Sew Positive, please contact Melissa Santiago-Val on or follow @SewPositiveCharity on social media for updates.