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Making Gowns for Angels

With nurses at Tameside hospital

Faced with a serious illness and forced to give up work, Alison Riley from Glossop was looking for something useful to do. 

“I looked on all the fund-raising websites for cancer charities,” she said, “but they were all so depressing and made me focus on my problems further.  Then my friend Joanne, who lives in Australia, told me that she was making beautiful gowns for ‘born asleep babies’ from donated wedding dresses and I thought that perhaps I could do that over here.”  

Talking to the hospitals I discovered that premature stillborn babies were often buried in towels or shawls or even ties, as there were no clothes available to fit their tiny bodies.  Imagine a two-pound baby, just the size of your hand.  You can’t buy anything to fit and that just adds to the heartache.  I knew I wanted to help. 

“Two friends, Linda Lathwood and Wendy Whiteley Taylor, also from Glossop, joined me to do this, despite still working full-time themselves, and from Australia Joanne held our hands all the way through the set-up.  We put out a request for wedding dresses on Facebook and were totally swamped by people’s generosity.  Then the requests for the Angel Gowns started pouring in from midwives and nurses at local hospital and it turned out that St Mary’s Hospital had already e mailed a company doing a similar thing in America with a request for some gowns.  We decided to fulfil that plea ourselves and to make our first donations there.  

“The wedding dresses began arriving and we stored them wherever we could at home.” Alison said.  “Some were from weddings last week and others from weddings decades ago but they had one thing in common; the brides wanted their dress to go to help someone who was grieving to honour the life of a baby that had passed away too soon.”

“We funded it ourselves,” she continues, “making the gowns in the spare room at night, but once word got out I was answering calls day and night.  We’ve had 25,500 messages on Facebook and I’ve answered every single one of them too.  Thankfully we also had offers of help from local seamstresses, and many kind donations for the new thread and ribbons needed.  We wanted to get everything just right and to place the dresses in boxes so that they didn’t need to be handled until the parents received them.  The dresses are tiny, down to a size for a two-pound baby.  Below that, from 18 weeks, we make a little fleecy wrap.  The hospitals told us that they have never had anything like that before.”

“We wanted the brides to have a memento of their wedding dress and what they’d done so we made them a little heart-shaped pillow from part of the dress with a tiny little angel on it and the parents get a detachable angel on their dress to keep too.”   

“Nine months on we have managed to provide gowns for Tameside and Stepping Hill Neonatal units in addition to St Mary’s and we have now begun work for Hope, Bolton, Oldham and Eccles hospitals thanks to offers of help from seamstresses in those areas.  There have also been enquiries from Wigan and Liverpool hospitals so they have gone on our planned list.  We are now desperately fund-raising to become a registered charity (for which you have to pay to register) and to keep the project going.  We have been humbled by messages from mothers who have gone through such a traumatic event thanking us and telling us that it helped them grieve to think of their baby as an angel and to know they had been buried with dignity.”  

“We are still looking for volunteers from any area even if they can’t sew and we’d love some office or workshop space somewhere.  We have had an offer from Safestore in Stockport to store the wedding dresses for free for six months so we will be able to take even more.”

“As for my own aches and pains,” continued Alison, “well I do have another awful operation looming but doing this is a massive distraction for me.  I am so busy I don’t have time to think about it too much, although sometimes I have to remind myself I am not well and need to take a break.”

Anyone wanting to know more can visit the Facebook Page ‘Glossopdale Angel Gowns’ or call Alison on 01457 513626.  Donations can be made to their ‘Just Giving’ page. 

Drop off Points for wedding dresses in Glossop are:

The Craft Shop

Lisa’s Emporium

R&J News (High St East)

Narnia Furniture Stall (on Glossop Market).