Following the announcement from the NI Executive that face coverings will become mandatory on public transport from 10 July, the Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, who made the proposal to government, has endorsed an exciting community initiative to provide face coverings to those who need them most in our local communities.

SPAR and EUROSPAR NI, NI Big Community Sew and Business in the Community developed a collaborative partnership through the Business Response Network to make and distribute 20,000 face coverings for the most vulnerable in our society.

The Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon said:

“I am delighted to support the Big Community Sew initiative that will provide 20,000 free face coverings to the most vulnerable in our society, through a network of family hubs, food banks, pharmacies and schools.

“Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport from Friday July 10 to assist in reducing the risk of transmission as we move through the recovery process from COVID-19. This initiative is another very clear example of how we as a society have come together to keep each other safe from the threat of this virus.

“Whilst not a substitute for social distancing and hand hygiene, the evidence suggests that we can reduce our risk of spreading the virus using face coverings. This is another example of communities and local businesses continuing to work together to help the most vulnerable in our society.”

Bronagh Luke, Head of Corporate Marketing, Henderson Group which owns the SPAR and EUROSPAR brands in Northern Ireland explains why they got involved, saying:

“Our SPAR/EUROSPAR stores are in the heart of every community in Northern Ireland, with each one a hub for their local area. Utilising some of our Post Offices as pick up and drop off points for stitchers makes this collaboration even easier to navigate for everyone involved. It’s an honour to help and be part of this very important initiative for our local communities.”

Chris Conway, Chair, Business in the Community, and Chief Executive, Translink adds:

“The timing of this fantastic initiative supports the recent announcement that face coverings will be compulsory on all public transport from July 10. This is another important measure to reassure everyone that it is safe to use public transport again.

“A quality poly cotton face covering costs on average £4 each, so the work of this project effectively sees an £80,000 investment directly into the hearts of local communities – a brilliant, socially-responsible initiative. Heartfelt thanks to Post Office staff, SPAR, EUROSPAR, Business in the Community, and every stitcher out there! Well done!”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Business Response Network in Northern Ireland in partnership with work taking place across the UK with its partner organisations in England, Scotland and Wales, have connected more than 1,700 requests for support from local community groups, schools and charities with business support to meet their urgent needs during the crisis.

The project has also received some famous support from Patrick Grant, fashion designer and judge of the Great British Sewing Bee, who has launched the Big Community Sew campaign UK-wide. He said:

“The Big Community Sew was always about mobilising sewers to help neighbours through a very practical act of kindness and nothing better epitomises this than the work of Angeline Murphy and NI Big Community Sew. Their army of home stitchers has really taken my breath away. I’m thrilled to see a major business such as SPAR getting on board and taking this to the next level. It’s a great example of business looking after their communities and showing real leadership.”

Packs for stitchers were released on Wednesday 1 July and have all now been picked up/ Face coverings will be going out into local communities within the next two weeks. For more information, please visit www.facebook.com/NIBigCommunitySew

Could your business do more to help? Community organisations in need of help and businesses wanting to offer their support can visit the Business Response Network online and see the current needs and offers: www.bitcni.org.uk/brn