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Service has help for disabled all sewn up
Sharon Tombs, 50, is the manager of Dressability, a Dorcan-based charity which adapts clothing for the needs of people with disabilities. She lives in Grange Park with husband Julian, and has three grown-up sons.
DRESSABILITY is unique in Britain, but few people in its home town even know it exists, let alone what it does.
“It’s about promoting independence for people,” said Sharon Tombs, “and giving them the ability to choose what they want to wear rather than only being able to buy specific clothing.
“It’s about allowing people to purchase high street garments of their choice and having them tailored to fit.”
Dressability has about 500 clients. The majority live in Swindon or within 30 miles of the town, but mail order clients live as far afield as Portsmouth. Clients include people with impaired mobility through age or ill-health, and both adults and children.
Sharon said: “For children fitting in is important, especially if you’re at school and your friends have a certain look.
“If our service was not available, lots of people would be limited to loose-fitting tracksuit-type clothing.”
At first glance, the garments supplied by the five staff and handful of volunteers at Dressability are indistinguishable from up-to- date items bought at any clothes shop. It’s only on closer examination that the often ingenious modifications become apparent.
A dress or sweater, for example, might be split at the back and rigged with Velcro to make it easier for the wheelchair-using owner to dress, undress and change. The buttons on a shirt might be dummies, impossible to tell from the real thing, while the shirt itself is opened with Velcro or a hidden zip. An entire pair of jeans might be altered to come completely apart at the top and be easily fastened again, meaning an owner with hand or arm problems can visit the bathroom in dignified privacy instead of needing assistance.
Everything possible is done to put clients at ease, and to ensure the cost of alterations is kept to a few pounds.
“We offer free consultations,” said Sharon, “and we do a free home visiting service.”
The organisation was founded in 1988 by Sian Barrie, Lizzie Jenkins and the late Tim Kilminster, and Sharon was appointed following Sian’s retirement.
Sharon is originally from Watford, the second child in a family of four born to a bank manager father and a mother who worked in accounts. The family came to Swindon when Sharon was 14. “My grandparents were caretakers at Culverhay School in Bath, and it was there, with my nan, that I learned to sew. I had my first sewing machine when I was nine – it was a Singer hand machine.”
The first clothes Sharon made were for her dolls, but she went on to make countless garments for family, friends and her own children, as well as everything from toys to curtains.
Sharon’s career path took her into various administration roles, then office management and latterly a stint with Swindon Council’s Children’s Services department, where she offered people advice on parenting skills, finances, budgeting, housing and related issues. She was laid off last year and saw the Dressability job as a unique opportunity to combine her practical skills with her professional ones. Also, her best friend has a disability, and Sharon feels this gives her an added sense of the importance of Dressability’s work.
“We want to try to grow the charity to be able to offer the service to more people. In order to do that we need more funding, more supporters and more volunteers.”
Anybody with dressmaking skills who is able to spare some time is welcome to get in touch, as are potential sources of funding.
Dressability can be contacted on 01793 512878 and via www.dressability.org.uk
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