University College Dublin’s (UCD’s) craft and creative group, UCD Purl Jam, have been making heartfelt gifts and face masks for patients in hospitals and other vulnerable groups in kind gesture. UCD Purl Jam have recently set up two separate campaigns in aid of the Covid-19 crisis.

The UCD group have previously advocated for humanitarian causes, such as their recent project surrounding Climate Change. Their newest projects however, focus on some of the most exposed groups throughout the crisis, those in nursing homes, direct provision  and patients hospitalised due to Covid-19.

No Rest for the Wickers 

While the restrictions around Covid-19 have impacted UCD students from their studies to society life,  UCD Purl Jam has endured all, and focused their energy on humanitarian causes. The group, a mixture of staff and students, has continued to meet online and lend its focus towards those most in need.

Those staying in nursing homes have proven to be one of the most, if not the most, vulnerable groups throughout this crisis. While many may consider the physical ramifications of the crisis on the health of patients, UCD Purl Jam also considers the toll of the crisis on their mental wellbeing.

Catriona Keane and Niamh Nestor, two of the organisers of ‘Purl Jam’ recounted the fear that some patients experienced when confronted with medical style PPE. “The idea came from somebody who was working in a nursing home and they were starting to have to wear the surgical masks and PPE, and the residents were getting very frightened, so she thought it might be nice if they could wear colourful masks over the surgical masks, so you still have the same protection . . . that helped ease the anxiety of the residents”.

While the bright and colourful masks were intended for those in nursing homes, Keane and Nestor explained that the group has made a variety of different masks, as they have sent out shipments to different groups around the country. They showed me a mask, highlighting the triple layer of protection and empty space intended for a filter.

“We’ve delivered about 500-600 to nursing homes, smaller staff groupings like HSE groups, direct provision centres, anywhere that asked us, we’ve made hand made masks and delivered them,” they said.

When asked about Direct Provision, they draw attention to the recent reports of clusters specifically found in the centres across the country. “I’m about to do the last posting, actually, of a hundred masks to a Direct Provision centre, down in Galway, that requested some, because obviously looking at the media reports . . . there are clusters happening in them”.

Some of the colourful masks knitted by UCD Purl Jam for distribution to various groups in need. Photo: UCD Purl Jam

A Gift to Those Alone

UCD Purl Jam also ran a campaign for  knitted hearts to be provided to patients alone without their families. The hearts, small in size and colourful in appearance, were sent out to spots around Ireland with the hopes that they could offer a sense of solidarity with patients.

Carita Bramhill, who ran the Hearts for Hospitals campaign, has spoken about the four different places that hearts were sent to, two were hospitals, one was a nursing home and the last was a hospice. The idea was inspired by nurses in the NHS who started a similar campaign.

On UCD’s Purl Jam’s blog Bramhill explained, “I loved the idea and decided to put a call out to our very own PURL JAM to see if they could make these hearts and help make this project happen. They answered the call as did family members, UCD students, friends and alumni of UCD. They knitted so many hearts, the front room in my house was quite literally overflowing with love hearts.”

Each knitted heart came with a note saying “We Are With You”. There was a strong focus on inclusivity in the project, as UCD Purl Jam partnered with One Voice for Languages. Carita’s blog post reads “Members from One Voice for Languages very kindly offered to translate the words into several languages, and we are so grateful to them for that”.

UCD Purl Jam recognised that not everyone in Irish hospitals would speak English as their first language, and through this, wanted to ensure that they included messages from as many languages as possible.

hearts (landscape)
The knitted hearts that members of UCD Purl Jam have made in an attempt to spread love during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: UCD Purl Jam

Inclusive and All Encompassing 

While they may be knitting little hearts, UCD Purl Jam wants people to know that they are more than just a knitting group. Instead, they encompass a wide range of creative and artistic projects, and want members to actively engage with the group.

This engagement means that students can present their own ideas as future projects. Unlike most student societies on campus, UCD Purl Jam does not come with a sign up fee. Keane and Nestor explained that this is because the organisers want the group to be as open to students as possible. They don’t want any barriers to UCD Purl Jam.

If you would like to know more about UCD Purl Jam, or get involved, you can contact Catriona Keane or Niamh Nestor, Student Advisers: /

Savannah Murray – Features Writer