Behind the Mask - Avenues Group
30 - 1993-2023

Behind the Mask

Friday 22nd of May 2020

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on kindness, which is fundamental to how we do things at Avenues. For one employee what began as a kind gesture towards a family member has snowballed into an extraordinary personal project to help her colleagues and even local businesses

Avenues Project Manager Maxine Gibson readily admits she likes getting crafty. So when the COVID-19 lockdown began, beyond looking after her young daughter, she began to think how she could keep herself occupied and get creative.

“Craft is my ‘me time’, it’s my hobby, it’s how I switch off from the stresses. The craft box came out as soon as lockdown hit because it’s my therapy and my coping mechanism. Once my daughter is in bed, I’m at my machine ‘till bedtime.”

As the pandemic progressed it wasn’t long before Maxine saw how her sewing skills could benefit someone close to home

“I thought I’d make my husband who’s still working every day as a police officer in London, some masks…I also wanted something that wouldn’t scare my little one so I decided to use fabrics and patterns that are fun and friendly!”


Having made some masks for her husband, Maxine’s next thought was her colleagues. Her years working as a Service Manager meant she knew exactly what support staff would be facing and the increased demands on personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Most frontline staff will shrug their shoulders and say “Hey, it’s my job” but nobody ever imagines having to deal with this. Understanding their pressures, I thought my friends and colleagues out on the frontline might like them for things like collecting prescriptions or taking the people we support to doctor’s appointments. I was constantly hearing the worrying news about lack of PPE and was imagining how hard it must be deciding on when to use it, in order not to waste any.”

“To be honest, mostly, I wanted to make things a little less scary, and if walking around with flamingos on your mask does that, then I’ve achieved what I set out to! A smile can change your whole day, and it’s tricky to see those through face masks.”

Maxine stresses her masks are not equal to PPE “The masks I make are not PPE, they are not for the use of barrier nursing etc. They are face shields to wear for things like popping to the shop or even for getting on public transport to get to and from work. They are 100% cotton so can be washed at 60 degrees in the washing machine so it means they can be reused again and again. But that way we don’t waste PPE.”

Once word spread about Maxine’s masks, it didn’t take family and friends long to approach her – “Family and close friends started asking if I could make them one and it just got bigger and bigger.”

“I thought if I charged my friends and family a little then it would cover the costs of supplying them for the Avenues teams, so for every four masks brought, the cost of making another mask is covered.”

One recipient Day Wells, a Practice Development Lead who regularly visits Avenues services said “We were really excited to receive ours and the kids love the patterns.”

A post on her Facebook page has drawn even more attention particularly from local businesses. “A couple of friends shared my post on Facebook and I’ve now got orders for over 400 masks, as well as a waiting list for when I clear the backlog! I’ve got orders from businesses who know some of our services in the area who have donated cash, one in particular donated £100 just to make masks for the Avenues teams!! A local business lady delivered me a surprise thank you present this week and had made me some stickers with a logo to put on my parcels which is really cool too!”



Maxine admits it’s taken her very much by surprise but is delighted she has been able to help in some way “It’s just got bigger than I ever expected or intended, I’ve even had orders asking for masks with matching chemo hats for local cancer patients which is pretty special too! So far I’ve used 14 metres of fabric and 60 metres of elastic!! With the donations I’ve received I’ve got 45 more metres ordered and waiting for delivery, as well as 300 metres of elastic on its way!”

Maxine is looking forward to surprising more colleagues with the masks “My colleague and I will be flicking through the Avenues telephone directly, closing our eyes and picking out services and sending out a little parcel of masks and hopefully they will bring a smile to people’s faces!”

You can find out more about Maxine’s masks on her Facebook/MaxineDaisyGibson