A CRAFT group based in Stretford Mall is crocheting blankets and hats to provide premature babies with the vital warmth they need in the first few days of life.

And the project, being undertaken on behalf a neonatal unit in Yorkshire, is also helping members of the group overcome their own health problems.

The craft group is one of a range of activities based in Stretford Hive, a community project on the Gallery, opposite Tesco, in Stretford Mall, which has literally become a ‘hive of activity’ for communities and individuals to learn, relax, socialise and go to for information and advice.

The craft group is run by Julie Howarth and her friend Jo Hogan who both live in Sale and are volunteers with Trafford-based blueSCI, which helps people cope with mental health issues by providing a wide range of therapies and activities.

Julie said: “Jo and I are volunteers with SCIlight Arts, an organisation under the umbrella of blueSCI which uses creativity as a tool to promote confidence and wellbeing.

“SCIlight runs two regular activities at Stretford Hive – a craft group which meets there every Wednesday morning from 10am until noon and a sewing bee meeting every other Saturday from 11am until 3pm.

“Both groups include people who have suffered mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or low mood, are recovering from cancer or have a relative who has undergone cancer treatment.

“Those who have experienced cancer are referred to us by the Stepping Out Service at the Macmillan Centre at Trafford General Hospital as cancer treatment can often leave people – both patients and carers - not knowing quite what to do with themselves or suffering from depression or emotional problems.

“We have about 20 people in both groups who are mainly ladies and are aged from 20 to 75, so they are pretty diverse.”

Julie added: “In the craft group we do things such as flower arranging, knitting and crocheting and it was the crochet work which attracted the interest of Anne-Marie Crowley who is a volunteer in the music studio run by blueSCI.

“Anne-Marie is also a nurse in the neonatal unit at Bradford hospital and she told us they are always on the lookout for cosy blankets and hats for the tiny premature babies born there.

“That’s because it’s imperative to keep them as warm possible in the first few days after they are born.

“So far members of our craft group have crocheted about 20 multi-coloured blankets and around 30 little hats.

“The unit has been glad to have them and members of the group have really enjoyed making them.

“Even though they are perhaps struggling with things themselves they really want to help others and making the blankets and hats is something which is helping their own sense of well-being.

“We were recently fortunate enough to get a grant from the Community Development Foundation which allowed us to buy four sewing machines for our Saturday Sewing Bee which meets at Stretford Hive and now we’re looking for similar funding for the craft group.”

One of the craft group members who have been hard at work crocheting the blankets and hats is 73-year-old Ann Greening of Davyhulme.

Ann said: “I’ve been a member of the group since it started and found out about it through the Macmillan Centre at Trafford Hospital.

“I was the carer for my husband, John, who died from cancer about 12 months ago and was looking for something to keep me occupied after he passed away.

“Being a member of the craft group at the Stretford Hive has been really good for me and is also helping a lot of other people.

“Making the blankets and hats for the babies is very therapeutic and it’s such a worthwhile cause.

“I’ve made quite a lot of both blankets and hats for the babies. They’re not too difficult to do and I really enjoy crocheting, which is something passed down to me from my mother. It’s just one of those lovely tasks.”

Colin McCrory, Stretford Mall manager, said: “It is terrific to hear of the good work which is going on at Stretford Hive including this lovely project to help premature babies stay warm.

“Stretford Mall has worked with community partners, such as Trafford Council, to provide the Hive and we have given them the unit rent free so they have a space from which people in the community can go to make the most of the fantastic projects which are going on there.”

Stretford councillor, Dolores O’Sullivan, who was heavily involved in setting up the Hive, said: “Jo and Julie are some of the many volunteers who contribute to making Stretford Hive a success and I am very thankful for their support.

“Their craft and sewing groups are a perfect example of the wonderful and often therapeutic work that goes on there and I would urge people to take a look at the website and find out the full range of activities going on there.”

For more details about blueSCI, email information@bluesci.org.uk, or call 0161 912 4828.

For more information about Stretford Hive go to stretfordhive.co.uk.