John Lewis is reopening its textiles factory in Lancashire, which usually makes curtains, pillows and duvets, to make 8,000 clinical gowns for the NHS to help medical staff caring for coronavirus patients.
The department stores Herbert Parkinson factory is bringing back 15 expert sewers from furlough, who will use medical-grade fabric to make washable protective gowns for staff at the Northumbria NHS foundation trust which runs at least nine hospitals and other clinical centres in the north-east.
The move comes amid a shortage of protective equipment for NHS workers, and particularly protective gowns made with the non-woven, spun bond, laminate called SMMS, which John Lewis will use.
Hospitals have turned to local businesses to help out as supplies of protective wear have been depleted.
Sir James Mackey, the chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS foundation trust, said: “We will be forever grateful for this support from John Lewis which will directly, and positively, impact on our frontline workers and patients – helping to keep them safe.
“It is clear, we can only tackle the challenges faced through utilising local channels and relationships to do so. It is this spirit of pulling together that has helped us to achieve so many things over recent weeks at pace and without any outside influence. We need to embrace with open arms all offers of help and turn these into actions that support our staff and patients.”
Stuart McDonald, the head of Herbert Parkinson, said the factory expected to produce 2,000 gowns a week.
He said: “Were all looking forward to reopening our factory and threading our sewing machines again to play our part in helping the NHS.”
John Lewis, which has been forced to close all its department stores under the governments measures to control the spread of coronavirus, is also donating more than 20,000 metres of cotton fabric from its haberdashery departments and warehouses to voluntary groups making scrubs, which are worn under protective gear, for the NHS.
John Lewis said it had already donated more than 400 metres of fabric to similar groups making face masks and scrubs for their local hospitals, pharmacies, care homes and communities.
John Lewis is the latest textile maker to turn its hands to making protective equipment.
British brand Barbour, best known for its waxed jackets, has made disposable gowns and medical scrubs from its South Shields factory for the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne, while Mulberry has switched its handbag factory in Somerset to making 8,000 gowns for NHS workers in Bristol.
Burberry, best known for its coats, last week confirmed it has transformed its factory in Castleford to manufacture non-surgical gowns for the NHS.
Scottish fabric specialist Don & Low has developed a spunbond laminate fabric that would meet the same international standard as SMMS.