Tailor in Hull swaps dresses to make thousands of scrubs for NHS staff

As a Savile-Row trained tailor she is more used to creating special outfits for weddings and other occasions.

Gill and her team are aiming to make 250 surgical gowns a day

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Gill Long knew that her team's talents were still needed - but found herself facing NHS red tape.

The tailor, of Hull-based Cock of the Walk, and her team of six, are now aiming to turn out 250 surgical gowns a day with staff working from home and their shop on Grimston Street, after an MP lent a helping hand.

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Gill, who made the official attire for the new High Sheriff of the East Riding, is also working on a prototype for a washable surgical gown made in cotton.

Gill Long, owner of the Cock of the Walk

The tailor, who worked in London and Manchester before opening shop in Hull a decade ago, spent five fruitless weeks trying to find PPE work at the start of the crisis for her tailors.

Through contacts in the Hull business community, she was introduced to Hull North MP Diana Johnson, who made the vital introduction to senior staff at Hull Royal Infirmary.

She said: “It was clear to me early in March that work was slowing down so I punted the idea on social media that this country still has a pretty good textiles industry and we could have a go at making what was needed.”

But nothing came of efforts by the British Fashion Council, who contacted the Cabinet Office and invited tailors to send in details of their skills and equipment.

Gill says there's a massive mountain of work ahead of her

When she contacted Hull Royal Infirmary initially she was told procurement rules would not allow her to supply equipment.

Another hospital told her she could make the gowns - but would have to buy the materials herself.

Gill said for a small business that was impossible and she needed a full specification to avoid what has happened to well-wishers' efforts - which have ended up "going straight into the incinerator".

She was told by the team at HullBID that local MPs were eager to hear about the experiences of local businesses.

After writing to MPs to express her frustration, Ms Johnson "replied within about half an hour and asked if it would be OK to pass my message to her contact at Hull Royal Infirmary."

The hospital got in touch on Saturday, materials were dropped off on Sunday and she cut three patterns on Monday for three sizes to test their fit, functionality and quality.

Gill said: “It’s been a huge effort trying to get people to understand what we can do and tell us what they need.

"Now we face a massive mountain of work with 250 disposable gowns a day and a prototype for the anti-bacterial finished cotton that will be tough, durable and washable.

“We’ve got two people in self-isolation but three on machines, me and an apprentice on trims, the sales guy on quality control and my dad and a customer as couriers. We’ve found someone from East Riding College to come in and do the cutting for us.”

Kathryn Shillito, city centre manager for HullBID, said: “We’re absolutely delighted that Diana found a way to help a terrific local business provide a much-needed service.”

The MP added: “I was just very glad to help in a very small way. Just before Gill emailed me I had been talking to the local NHS about shortages in PPE and so as soon as I received Gill’s email it felt like serendipity! I was really frustrated that Gill had not been able to make any progress after her generous offer to help produce PPE so I am delighted that it looks like Hull NHS staff will now benefit.”