“I was fascinated by the flow and dance within and between people, rooms and processes – the replenishing of bobbins, the just-cut fabric piling up next to the sewing machines, the steady stream of gowns to the finishing room, and then in the other direction came the completed gowns for their final folding and packing – back and forth, upstairs and down…”

Hampstead Gown Factory by photographer Sarah Nicholl and designer Adam Brown documents the extraordinary story of a volunteer movement in north London during the first wave of the pandemic.

From May to August 2020, more than 600 volunteers from all walks of life came together in shifts of 50 people at a time, two shifts a day, seven days a week. Between them, they cut, sewed, packed and delivered 50,000 NHS grade surgical gowns to support the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

Sarah sensitively and humorously documents the activity during this extraordinary time. Through full colour portraits and reportage-style photographs, alongside personal testimonies from volunteers, Nicholl explores themes of resilience, solidarity and shared purpose.

“As a volunteer in the sewing room I’ve gradually amassed a collection of photographs which document the people, their hands and the many swift and transitory processes that have taken part in this ephemeral project,” said Sarah. “This book is a collaboration between Adam Brown and myself and a celebration of some of the people I had the joy of meeting and photographing during this extraordinary time.”

The book was conceived and designed by volunteer Adam Brown shaping a narrative which described the daily production process.

The volunteer effort was coordinated by the Royal Free Charity to address a shortage in the global supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). Healthcare workers rely on PPE to protect themselves and their patients from being infected and infecting others.

Hampstead Gown Factory was published by the Royal Free Charity. The charity hopes to cover the publishing costs through sales of the book.

Lead image: Photo of Dishsti, reproduced with the permission of photographer Sarah Nicholl.

You can purchase a copy below and either collect it from the Royal Free Charity’s offices in Hampstead or have it posted to you. We will send copies using Royal Mail second class post. If you live outside the UK, please email [email protected] to make arrangements.