Brook Dennis helps dress the NHS

We catch up with Hackney neighbour Brook Dennis, founder of Make Town, and their efforts for the NHS in a time of crisis.

Brook Dennis in Make Town workspace

You’ve made some headlines around the world recently, and rightly so, with your small and very beautiful operation to help make scrubs for the NHS. After weeks of hard graft, is the need for scrubs easing off at all?

"Initially what started as a real issue to provide one person a set of scrubs quickly developed into a mammoth operation. We had literally bitten off more than we could chew, so we developed an action plan for other communities to set up scrub hubs in order to facilitate their own operations in their communities. Now the manufacturers are able to produce scrubs, following govt guidelines and to spec. It took them a very long time considering the urgency. So it goes. I joke that because of Lockdown it's a slow news day everyday, so that has helped in getting this project recognition across the world, but really the focus, now that we have fixed the PPE problem, is to hold accountable those that failed us. Those in power who chose to ignore warnings and further risked the lives of citizens. It was avoidable and is disgraceful."

We’d like to imagine a small production line at the Make Town studio but social distancing probably meant this wasn't how it worked out. How did you all stay in touch and was it people you’ve worked with before or a mix of local characters?

"I have been lucky that I get to have a very strained but present interaction with every member of our team, which I truly think is just enough human interaction to keep us all sane. In Aotearoa we have a proverb "He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata".

What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people! 

So basically, if you are finding yourself in a situation of despair and uncertainty, especially during Covid. Actually reaching out and getting involved as best you can in another human’s life, you can gain a little control in this otherwise standstill time. It will make a difference to your own experience and to someone else who needs it. As above, so below. 

We have tried our best to have everyone involved local to Make Town, however the plethora of social media channels have allowed us all to communicate very quickly and effectively. There were a few little production bumps in the first few weeks, but we were sailing bloody smoothly soon enough!"

scrubs made for nhs with personal notes attached

How long does it take to whip up a pair of scrubs by the way?

"Well, it does vary depending on many factors. But let us say one set a day for leisurely sewers and two and a half sets for the super pros. We have one lady, Alison, who has sewn 20 sets! That's just nuts! That's ultimately 160 or so hours of free labour, that's how we roll."

Hats off to you making such a massive contribution whilst the kids are off school. It can’t have been easy.

"My kids are teenagers now, they look after themselves. But I remember very clearly, after the massive earthquakes in Ōtautahi, Christchurch 9 years ago, that the most important thing you can do in a situation like this is to honour love, and practice calmness and togetherness and focus on creating memories surrounded in family and feelings. Because while the whole earth is physically kicking you down, and you have little control over the environment, you do have control over your reactions. So we just hang out and bake and play cards and skate around the block.  Also My husband works from home, so we all G."

Brook Dennis using a sewing machine

Your Make Town studio is a hub of creativity in Hackney. You seem to sell, make and host so many great things but we have 2 questions: what’s your favourite thing you’re selling on the shop at the minute and what do you enjoy most about running the studio?

"Mate, the best thing about running this space is meeting the wee creatives in my neighbourhood, it is so inspiring to feed off the energy of these super talented people. It is equally awesome telling an adult, fueled by doubt and reservation and a neglect of creative practice, to pick up a craft, to travel down the beginners path with them and watch their eyes light up after a day of making with relief and joy and pride that they did it! It's the magic that feeds the beats. I really enjoy teaching children, they have zero doubt and are up for anything, they don't screen any ideas or judgements. It is just so freaking cool to watch them be creative. My favourite thing is making clothing. I love the process of finding or developing a pattern, sourcing fabric, and trims and buttons and notions and laundering the fabric, cutting it, sewing it, ironing it and wearing it. That entire process can take years sometimes. It's worth the wait! I don't like to sell stuff. But I do sometimes need to do that. People love a handmade product! The lack of understanding surrounding where our clothes come from and the process involved means that people undervalue the work involved in producing handmade items. It is heartbreaking to see a hand knitted jumper being sold for £5 at the church fair, and  is offensive to see a garment sold on the high street for £10. We need to continue the worldwide investigation into our textile industries, listen up and make some radical changes."

Are you still learning new skills and is there any area you wish you were better?

"I love learning new things, I love watching skilled craftsmanship in their creative process. I would love to focus on spinning yarn a bit more, and learn about the sheep of the UK. I am desperate to try my hand at shoe making, lingerie and natural dying. I am a solid believer in finding the right person to teach you something, so i will keep my eyes peeled."

scrubs with hearts and thank you's sewn on

It’s going to be a tough few months and years for small, creative businesses like yours. How can we help?

"Yeah, unfortunately I was unable to access any giveaway money, Lordy I tried everything! Thanks to the outpouring of support and donations from our brilliant community, Make Town covered the rent and the bills and we live to see another day! YAY! 

How about these 3 cheap and cheerful things to help a small business you love, in their true hour of need. 

  1. Leave some nice words with a review on google. 
  2. Send them an email asking how you can help, follow them on all the socials and tell ya mates to do that too! 
  3. Buy a gift card and donate to their cause or purchase something from their shop. See if your local store has what you are after before trying amazon. They will take the time to find you what you need! 

I have a lovely man that comes by Make Town, and for the past few weeks he hands me £10 and tells me to buy myself something nice whilst I squirrelled away with the scrubs. That kinda stuff not only fills my stomach but it reminds me that there are cool people out there. Just give people something positive to believe in, and they will pop out and follow you on your journey, supporting you and your team until the job is done."

Brook Dennis outside the Make Town shop

Make Town update (2nd June 2020)

"Thanks to the outpouring of support and donations of your hard earned money, Make Town covered the rent and the bills and we live to see another day! YAY! 

I cannot wait to thank you all personally for keeping Make Town alive, which you will be able to do real soon cause guess what dudes... we are back in business baby! It's gonna be OK! Have a read below at what we have done to ensure we can start having you guys back in our space and what workshops we have opened up for the next couple of months. Classes numbers are reduced massively so you had better be quick! Times are changing, we are adapting and shit is gonna be real messy for a while. But I got ya, you in?"

We are absolutely thrilled at this news, keep on fighting the good fight Brook!