Wigan group makes blankets that wrap children in love when they need it

Hundreds of scared, poorly, bereaved or traumatised children have been given a feeling of security thanks to a team of kind-hearted volunteers.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 26th March 2021, 10:41 am
Barbara Kennedy and her mum Veronica Johnson work on the blankets

Members of Project Linus Wigan and Leigh make blankets to be distributed to youngsters who desperately need a hug.

Nearly 750 blankets have been shared since the group began in 2019 to children in hospitals, foster care and other situations.

Among those to benefit from the project’s efforts was athlete Jenny Meadows’ baby daughter Arabella, who received one on Wigan Infirmary’s Rainbow ward.

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Jenny tweeted: “Arabella & I had an unexpected sleepover this week @WWLNHS (nothing serious) but we were looked after so well by staff on Rainbow Ward. Thank you Barbara from @ProjectLinusUK for Arabella’s homemade quilt that provided her with a sense of comfort & security during her stay.”

Project Linus began in the USA in 1995, initially to provide blankets for patients on a children’s cancer unit, before the idea took off and spread around the world.

It was named after the character Linus in Charles M Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, who was known for carrying a security blanket which Snoopy often tried to steal.

The project arrived in the UK in 2000 and there are now branches all over the country, with the Wigan and Leigh group set up by Barbara Kennedy in 2019.

Barbara Kennedy with some of the blankets

She heard about Project Linus in May that year during a visit to a quilting exhibition in Northumberland, where she spoke to an area co-ordinator and told her she was thinking of learning how to quilt.

After returning home to Shevington, she joined the nearest Project Linus group, which was in west Lancashire, and began learning this new skill through workshops, YouTube videos and one-to-one tuition by Lesley Mercer, from the organisation’s Lancashire group.

Barbara, who works as a podiatrist for Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, decided to set up a separate group for Wigan and Leigh in September 2019.

She initially attracted half a dozen members and they gave quilts to Wigan Infirmary’s Rainbow children’s ward that December.

The group continued to grow at the beginning of 2020 and members started talking about organising a fund-raising event and looking for places to meet in the borough, but then the coronavirus pandemic began and the first national lockdown was imposed.

While the 33 members have not yet met in person, they have been in touch via WhatsApp, Facebook and Zoom as they make their quilts, which are backed with fleece.

The quilts are given to the Rainbow ward, Wigan Council’s foster care team, an outreach team for homeless youngsters in Wigan and Leigh, Royal Bolton Hospital, a women’s refuge in Bolton and Wigan charity Daffodils Dreams, which supports vulnerable youngsters and their families.

Barbara said: “The blankets are designed to give children comfort, warmth and security at a time of difficulty and stress, for example if they have been traumatised or bereaved. It’s for people who are genuinely in need of a hug.

“They are not designed to be a quilt like a duvet, it’s more like a comfort or hug.

“A quilt is a hug you can keep is the phrase associated with Project Linus.”

Already more than 740 have been produced, with some made by groups linked to Project Linus Wigan and Leigh, including Salford U3A Quilters and Standish Quilters.

Barbara has been delighted with the blankets and there were even requests from people wanting to buy them when they were displayed in a window by Made In Wigan.

She said: “The group, from its inception, is beyond belief in what it can create. They are absolutely amazing. The skills are incredible.

“We have quilters who have been doing it for more than 20 years. There are also people like myself - I didn’t start until May 2019 - who are complete beginners and have never sewn before. We have a total range of abilities and range of experiences and we all support each other.”

Barbara is always looking for people interested in joining the group to help make quilts for vulnerable youngsters.

She said: “The group is open to whoever wants to join us. The people who are experienced quilters have reached the stage where they have quilted for everyone in their family and have no-one left to quilt for, but they find it lovely to make these smaller quilts and give them to places like Rainbow ward. They like that the quilts are going to local children.”

As well as helping other people, the team at Project Linus benefited themselves from having a focus during the pandemic.

Barbara said: “Last year, especially during lockdown, I did get good comments from the people making quilts who said how much it helped them.

“The creativity and knowing they were doing something productive at home, rather than being stressed about being indoors, has helped them to cope with lockdown.”

Any new recruits to the group are given their first quilt pack, which contains fabric, fleece and everything they need. This a job Barbara shares with her 93-year-old mother Veronica, who helps to cut out the squares with an Accuquilt machine.

The volunteers currently provide much of the material themselves, but a crowd-funding appeal has been launched to help raise money and it is hoped events can be held once coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Barbara said: “Since the inception we haven’t really had a chance to fund-raise.

“We would have had events or raffles or afternoon teas or get-togethers of some kind.

“At the moment every volunteers buys their own fleece and fabrics and provides their own time.

“They are doing it with their own time and love and I think it’s about time we gave a little bit back. If we raised money, we could buy fabrics for them and maybe hold workshops in future.”

To donate, go to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/quilty-hugs

More information about Project Linus and how to get involved can be found at projectlinusuk.org.uk

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