Knit One Warm One Project
In July 2020, during a period of Stage 3 COVID-19 lockdowns in Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, 74-year-old resident of Cherry Tree Grove Retirement Village (Croydon), Diana Pullin, was reading a community newsletter at home when she came across an advertisement for a Maroondah City Council project called ‘Knit One Warm One’. It read:
‘Do you have some spare time and would you like to help people in need? Knit One Warm One builds on the remarkable goodwill shown by our community during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering a chance for knitters to assist those sleeping rough or struggling financially ... You can knit beanies, scarves or mittens/gloves! You choose the colours and style. All we ask is that you drop off your items by 31 July.’
For Diana, an avid and lifelong knitter, this advertisement caught her immediate attention. ‘I seem to have knitted most of my life in some way or another, and I was already knitting as a way of getting through the lockdowns and filling in the hours’, she reflected in an oral history interview conducted with Museums Victoria in March 2021, ‘as a knitter this project appealed to me, and as a welfare person it appealed to me, so I contacted the lady whose name was on the flyer, and she said “yes, we’d love to have you get involved in your village.”’
Motivated by the opportunity to help those in her local community who were experiencing homelessness, Diana immediately set about recruiting fellow knitters within her retirement village to join her in knitting woollen scarves and beanies. ‘If you’re living off the streets, you need everything that you can get that will keep you warm’, she reflected, ‘and a scarf is something – once you’ve got the back of your neck and around your neck warm and a beanie on your head – it seems to make you feel a bit better, and a bit warmer… a big thick woolly scarf and a beanie goes a long way.’
'Once you’ve got the back of your neck and around your neck warm and a beanie on your head – it seems to make you feel a bit better, and a bit warmer… a big thick woolly scarf and a beanie goes a long way.’
Knit One Warm One was launched by Maroondah City Council in July 2020 as part of its’ broader ‘Be Kind Maroondah’ campaign, which aimed to keep community connected and resilient during a period of lockdown and social isolation. The program was modelled on the successful ‘Be Kind Ballarat’ campaign that was replicated across a number of councils in Victoria during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the core of all of these Be Kind campaigns was a focus on encouraging acts of kindness and goodwill within local communities. ‘Acts of kindness speak louder than words and by working together we can help change someone’s story, even in some small way’, reflected Maroondah councillor Nora Lamont in relation to the Knit One Warm One project in July 2020, ‘knitting needles, wool, a little bit of love and a pattern to follow are all you need to stitch and purl your way to helping the most vulnerable in our community.’
Fiona Burridge, Facilitator of the Be Kind Maroondah Campaign, was responsible for co-ordinating the Knit One Warm One campaign. In March 2021 she reflected on the extensive community needs that arose during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic:
‘The pandemic was a challenge for everyone, especially with the sudden and lengthy lockdown. As people started working from home, Council was keen to ensure that our community felt supported and connected to one another during a time when physical connections had to be kept to a minimum. At first Council’s focus was on the emergency needs of our community, for example providing food, shelter and support to those struggling financially, and ensuring our older and more vulnerable residents were supported. As lockdowns continued, we began to look at the mental wellbeing of our community, as mental health issues and loneliness increased and the need for support resources and social connections became a focal point in Maroondah.’
With mental health and emergency needs a high priority, significant needs were arising for community members that were sleeping rough during Victoria’s State of Emergency lockdowns and restrictions, with many regular support services cancelled, curtailed or limited to phone services only. Additional collaboration, networking and funding was required to provide emergency relief, and staff rallied together to come up with programs and solutions that would address this heightened need.
The Knit One Warm One Project was conceived as a project that would bring community members together to support those who were struggling financially or experiencing homelessness. Initially knitters were invited to drop off their knitted items via local Community Houses, but as Stage 3 ‘Stay at Home’ COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in July 2020, Council collected the items and distributed them via local agencies and charity organisations such as the Uniting Crisis and Homelessness Service, the Safer Futures Foundation and Wellways. ‘The response to the program was quite overwhelming as we received hundreds of knitted items for distribution and had over 50 community members and groups participate’, reflected Fiona in March 2021, ‘it was humbling to see the enthusiasm and generosity of our community where people were so willing to come together and do what they could to help others in need.’
For Diana Pullin at Cherry Tree Grove Retirement Village, the opportunity to support members of her community who were experiencing homelessness was something that resonated strongly with her sense of social justice. Knitting for charity had been a longstanding pastime of Diana’s that was heavily influenced by her spiritual beliefs and her interest in volunteerism and supporting social justice causes. ‘There is that spirituality emphasis and the background that comes with it, you know, like “I was naked and you clothed me” came out of the gospels’, she reflected in March 2021; ‘if you’re living off the streets, you need everything you can get that will keep you warm … so if my hands can knit a scarf for somebody who’s lying on a street corner or in a doorway and is cold, I’ve done something haven’t I?’
‘If you’re living off the streets, you need everything you can get that will keep you warm … so if my hands can knit a scarf for somebody who’s lying on a street corner or in a doorway and is cold, I’ve done something haven’t I?’
Along with other members of her retirement village, Diana knitted and donated many scarves and beanies to the Knit One Warm One project and in doing so, she simultaneously kept herself active during a long period of lockdown and isolation. ‘Knitting was very, very good therapy’, she reflected, and these therapeutic benefits of knitting were particularly important in light of the difficult times that Diana was living through.
As Stage 3 and then Stage 4 lockdowns ensued from July through till October 2020, daily life in the retirement village became incredibly challenging for many residents, particularly given the fears around the risks of COVID-19 for the elderly, the COVID-19 outbreaks that were occurring in residential aged care settings in Victoria and the extreme isolation of life in the retirement village as residents were separated from their children, grandchildren, families and friends.
‘The biggest emotion was fear’, Diana stated when reflecting on the changes brought about by lockdowns at Cherry Tree Grove Retirement Village, ‘as people had to change their entire way of living.’ This fear was compounded by the arrival of security guards patrolling the village gates, temperature checks required upon entry to the village and the closure of regular village services, such as the community centre and library. ‘Half of our residents had never looked at a computer, didn’t even know what online shopping was, and it was just this total panic and fear’, Diana recalls.
Yet, through these challenges and fears, Diana was buoyed by the generosity and creativity of her local community as people came together to support one another at Cherry Tree Grove Retirement Village; from the creation of ‘Court Captains’ (individuals appointed to monitor and check on village residents in their court), to the urgent rollout of computer literacy classes and transitioning of in-person social activities such as Bingo and Trivia to online platforms, to local businesses such as butchers and bakers initiating delivery services directly to the village, Diana reflected that ‘there was actually more silver linings … there was good things and bad things, and it’s all whether you look at the glass half full or half empty.’ Getting fellow residents involved in knitting for charity, Diana reflects, was one of these silver linings.
Diana was appointed a Court Captain at Cherry Tree Grove and regularly went door-to-door checking in on her neighbours. ‘The biggest silver lining was the Court Captains’, she reflects, ‘It was brilliant because every court [in the retirement village] got a captain, and every captain got all the notices, and we went around door-to-door … I’ve got a lot of elderly people on my court and for a lot of them through the lockdown I was the only person a lot of people saw. So I would be delivering them their newsletters, asking them how they are, how they’re coping, do they need help, is anyone doing their shopping?’ Diana hopes that many of these new traditions – such as computer literacy classes, food deliveries and Court Captains– will continue into the future.
Diana also expresses a hope that future generations will continue the tradition of knitting for charity and in particular, knitting warm items for people experiencing homelessness:
‘The poor are with us always and the homeless are with us always, so there’s always going to be a need for knitted garments. I think future generations need to learn to knit. There’s so much that you can do, so many people that you can help, and you can do it in your own time too … Knitting is something we can do for pleasure and enjoyment but if we can channel that into social justice and welfare, that’s a great thing because when my generation dies out, who’s going to knit for the poor fellow who’s still going to be homeless? You don’t know who they are, but you do know this scarf is going to give them maybe one night, one day, they’ll be warm, so that’s my whole thing – it's just to keep people warm.’
While Diana never met the recipients of her knitted scarves, a number of charity organisations worked closely with the Maroondah community to deliver woollen items to those experiencing rough sleeping or homelessness. Wellways is a not-for-profit community mental health and disability organisation that partnered with the Knit One Warm One project to deliver items to people aged 18-64 who were experiencing rough sleeping in the Maroondah region via their ‘Pathways to Home’ program. Wellways employee Jacinta Fox reflected in March 2021:
‘COVID-19 presented opportunities for Wellways to consider how to creatively respond to the pandemic in supporting those most vulnerable in our community. When the State of Emergency restrictions came into effect, Wellways Australia developed operational strategies to continue providing assertive outreach in a Covid-safe way. We stocked work-fleet vehicles with material aid, including goods provided by Knit One Warm One, and for those needing assistance, and provided ready-to-use mobile phones for immediate use to ensure participants could access assistance when needed.’
According to Jacinta, the Knit One Warm One Project provided important relief and support to the community, and went some way in lifting the spirits of recipients: ‘Those who received some of the material goods provided by the Knit One Warm One campaign were grateful to receive the items’, she reflected, ‘and being able to inform them that a volunteer from the Maroondah community had personally knitted the item gave them a sense of belonging in the community. Many individuals commented on how grateful they were to receive the items and were seen wearing their scarves and beanies on subsequent visits.’
Throughout the Stage 3 lockdowns, Wellways employee Angelo Talidis worked to pack, drive and deliver woollen items from Knit One Warm One to participants throughout the Maroondah region. In March 2021 he reflected on a photograph that was taking of him packing woollen items into a car boot on 15 July 2020:
‘I was having a difficult day when this photograph was taken. Two or three of the Wellways participants experiencing homelessness were having crises of their own, in addition to sleeping rough that is! I remember trying to share my time around and show what support I could to our participants. It was a hard time for all Melburnians. I also recall thinking of the thoughtful and generous residents of the City of Maroondah that took the time to create vibrant, knitted wares for the local homeless community during this period. The hand-made scarves and beanies that were provided to recipients during out community outreach really did raise the mood of some of Maroondah’s most disadvantaged people, brightening up their day.’
Penny Moore, who worked to package and pack woollen items in part of her role with Maroondah Council, believes that the Knit One Warm One Project not only benefited the recipients, but also ‘provided a creative outlet for those in lockdown and enabled them to engage with the wider community.’ Penny reflects that ‘for those working in the sector, during the challenges of COVID-19, it reaffirmed our belief in the kindness of strangers and the strength of community.’
Unfortunately it was not possible to interview any recipients of the Knit One Warm One project for this story due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and privacy laws, however as the pandemic continues into 2021, it is important to acknowledge that the challenges for community members that are in vulnerable situations or sleeping rough continue to remain high, and as Jacinta Fox of Wellways reflects, ‘COVID-19 has highlighted these needs more.’
Keenly aware that many people are still in need and still struggling through cold nights, Diana Pullin at Cherry Tree Grove Retirement Village has not put down her knitting needles. As she stiches her wool into yet another scarf, Diana reflects on her involvement with Knit One Warm One as a ‘silver lining’ of the pandemic. ‘All in all it gave me something to think about – something to do with the fact that I was helping someone outside, someone that needed help’, she reflects, ‘I’m hoping they do the Knit One Warm One project again this year. I’ve already got about seven scarves ready.’
With the Support of the Office for Suburban Development, a series of photographs, an oral history interview with Diana Pullin and two of Diana’s hand-knitted scarves have been acquired into Museums Victoria’s State Collection. They will provide a lasting reminder of the various ways that community members showed small acts of kindness during the pandemic, as well as the importance of social welfare, volunteerism and support for communities experiencing homelessness or sleeping rough.
This story was collected and written by Catherine Forge in collaboration with Diana Pullin, Fiona Burridge and Jacinta Fox.