Olivia Knight
Olivia Knight came up with the idea when planning her honeymoon

A Brockley-based tech company has been helping schools raise much-needed funds with virtual fairs featuring everything from online bake-off competitions to pet shows. In the latest of our series about how the pandemic has affected people and businesses in SE London, NIKKI SPENCER met the woman behind Patchwork.

At this time of year it’s usually all about weddings and honeymoons for Olivia Knight, founder of Patchwork, an online platform which helps people organise and fund gifts and events. But since lockdown cancelled group gatherings, more and more people are now using the site to put on virtual events, particularly schools.

“A few months ago, we noticed that a school in Camden was using our platform to organise a virtual summer fair, so we got in touch with them to find out more. They had all sorts of elements, such as virtual dog show and a cake competition, and it had worked really well so we decided to create a special template which other schools can now to use for free,” explains Olivia.

Since then dozens of schools across London, including Holbeach Primary in Catford, have put on virtual fairs using Patchwork. And, with large events still on hold for the foreseeable future, many are already planning for the autumn term and even Christmas.

“We hope real life events come back soon, but in the meantime, this is a great way to bring everyone together and to raise money quickly and securely, plus there’s the added bonus that there is no setting up and tidying up afterwards.” says Olivia.

“Lots of schools organise Halloween parties, so we are creating a template for that, and some have already been in touch about Christmas fairs,” she adds. “What’s great about virtual events is that you can organise things at the last minute, but often people do like to plan ahead.”

Holbeach’s Virtual Summer Fair, which raised hundreds of pounds, included virtual stalls such as a cutest pet competition and “guess how many sweets in the jar” game. They also asked parents to set up garden games or paint their children’s faces and donate the money they would’ve spent at a school summer fair to the Patchwork page.

Patchwork screengrab
Schools have been holding virtual summer fairs with the software

“At the moment our main fundraising is for an IT suite as the pandemic has highlighted the lack of computer access for some families,” explains Lara Moss, the chair of the Friends of Holbeach.

“Patchwork has been a great help. I would say we are about 25 per cent down on our fundraising but obviously this will increase the longer restrictions are in place,” she adds.

At the beginning of lockdown, Patchwork also used its platform to team up with other local businesses, including gift shop Jumping Bean, and local deli, Provender in Honor Oak to fundraise for food hampers for NHS workers.

Within 24 hours they had their first 100 boxes funded and within a week they raised over £5,000 resulting in 20 hampers a week being delivered to staff at Lewisham Hospital. In total over 200 hampers were delivered.

“The hampers, which were made up by Provender, cost £25 each,” explains Olivia, “but people could just contribute £2 towards some bread or eggs, whatever they wanted to give.”

Olivia launched Patchwork six years ago and came up with the idea after organising her own wedding and honeymoon.

“I was already living with my husband and our two kids and so we had all the toasters and kitchen stuff, but we did want to go on a honeymoon to Cuba – or in our case a ‘familymoon’. I created an online patchwork of different things that people could contribute to, such as a beer on the beach. Everyone loved the idea and it took off from there. It’s is a great way to ask family and friends for something that you really want, rather than them buying you more stuff that you don’t really need.”

Since she launched the company over 72,000 people have used the platform, which has expanded over the years to include all sorts of celebrations and events.

“Obviously business has been affected by people cancelling weddings, but what has been lovely is seeing how people are using Patchwork in so many creative ways,” says Olivia, who has noticed a big rise in virtual birthday parties.

And with the unpredictable British summer, one advantage of everything happening virtually is that organisers no longer have to keep checking the weather forecast.

“It’s great not to have to worry about rain ruining everything,” says Olivia.

This is one of a series of stories we are running on how people in SE London have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. Let us know if you have a story to tell.

NIKKI SPENCER is a freelance journalist who has also written for The Guardian, The Independent, Lewisham Ledger and Peckham Peculiar.

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