IN May 2016 singer and hospice daycare volunteer Sharon Holdstock began knitting special mittens and dolls to help people with dementia.
A regular performer in local care homes, she knew first-hand the comfort that fiddling with the tassels and buttons brought for those living with the condition.
What she didn't know, however, was that she had just embarked on a journey that today sees her heading up a group of 14 dedicated knitters with an online membership of more than 1,000.
To put it simply, Sharon's group has snowballed to the point where they struggle to keep up with soaring demand.
We're not just talking about the local scene either – she now has requests for 'cannula sleeves' from NHS trusts up and down the country and has already sent out 225 to 18 hospitals.
She even had to add the words “and UK” to the name of the group, Handmade for Dementia North West, to reflect its new national scope.
The Standard caught up with her and her team at their weekly knitting meeting at The Piper pub in Hoole where they were beavering away on a variety of items, including twiddle mitts, dolls, lap mats and aprons.
Sharon Holdstock with a dementia fidget board and comfort doll.
We spoke to Eileen Copeland, a retired district nurse, who first came up with the idea of making knitted cannula sleeves.
The idea is that dementia patients in hospital play with the tassels and embroidery on the sleeve, rather than the cannula in their arm. This keeps them occupied and helps doctors and nurses to do their jobs.
“It was just an 'off the cuff' idea I had!” said Eileen. “The Countess of Chester Hospital was the first to trial them and they're proving to be a great success.”
We later contacted the Countess to find out what sort of impact the cannula sleeves were having and received a glowing response.
Dementia Specialist Nurse Jennifer Polvani-Jones said: “We can’t thank Sharon and her fellow knitters enough for the hours and hours of comfort they have provided for our patients.
“Being in hospital can be distressing for anyone, but that is particularly true for someone who is living with dementia. All knitted twiddle items can provide a comforting distraction and the sleeves also make it less likely for patients to remove their cannulas if they become distressed, which affects their treatment.
“It’s fantastic that Handmade for Dementia volunteer so much of their free time to make hospital stays that bit more comfortable for patients living with dementia.”
Eileen Copeland knitting a hand cannula mitt at The Piper pub in Hoole.
All items made by the group are rigorously risk-assessed and labeled before being donated and the Countess is now trialing cannula mitts, used for hand rather than arm cannulas.
It is the hope that other satellite groups will spring up around the country to serve their local care homes and hospitals.
Another member, Angie Harding, said she had spotted an advert for volunteers in October 2016 and has never looked back.
“I'm not really a knitter but I love sewing so I make the aprons and lap mats,” she said. “I love being part of this group; it's such a worthwhile thing to do.”
In fact she felt so strongly about the good work the group does that she nominated Sharon for a BBC North West Christmas Star Award – which she promptly won.
“She thoroughly deserves it,” said Angie. “She's just so passionate and never stops.”
Rallying the troops as the knitted items start to pile up on the pub tables, Sharon is humble when asked about her award.
“I was a bit emotional and overwhelmed when I received it, as anyone who saw the programme will know!” she said. “I'm not sure I deserved it but the award is for the group. They're all great.”
Looking to the future, she said the group is exploring the possibility of becoming a registered charity and patenting its designs.
It won a £500 from Skipton Building Society last year but Sharon is always on the lookout for more volunteers and for people to donate materials.
Her husband Dave also makes 'twiddle boards' featuring screws, locks and bolts for men with dementia to stay occupied, and always gladly accepts donations of wood and other items.
A selection of the colourful items made by Handmade for Dementia.
To help, or for more information, visit the group's Facebook page or email SharonHoldstock@aol.com Alternatively drop into The Piper on Mondays between 1pm and 3pm where manager Nikki Jones and her staff will offer a warm welcome.
Nikki said: “It's amazing how quickly this group has grown; they're a great bunch of ladies and we love having them here. What they do is incredible and totally selfless.”