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  • Writer's pictureThe Hub

Masks! Masks! Masks!

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

The Creative Card Ladies are back in business!

Picture: The Beatles with smog masks on before playing at the Ardwick Theatre, Manchester, December 7, 1965 /

The Hub speaks to Colette Totman, a friend and fellow parishioner at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Epsom and also connected to as the daughter and wife of Catenians, an association of Catholic men, about the Creative Card Ladies' mask making and charitable giving during the pandemic.

From Flowers to Masks

A 2005 flower festival at St Joseph's Catholic Church in Epsom, UK has led to a pandemic mask-making enterprise, funding charitable projects in Africa, South America and the UK. Parishioners Colette Totman and Marion Maher (now living in Oxfordshire) had the bright idea of making cards for sale from some of the beautiful pictures of the flowers.

The cards were sold three or four times a year after services at St Josephs raising £600 to £700 for charity. In 2018 a few more friends joined and the group began to diversify. They made marmalade in January and chutneys in the autumn raising more money for charity.

Meanwhile, Colette Totman showed a home-made patchwork bag to the group of creatives and the group turned to making patchwork bags as well. In November 2019, St Josephs Catholic Primary School in Epsom invited the group to run a stall at the school fair. The group had a sewing bee and made a range of bags and other items such as scrunchies (for tying hair) making £200 to £300.

Picture: Colette Totman making a mask at her home / Credit: Colette Totman

Then the pandemic hit, so the group could no longer meet or sell items at church. One day via zoom they hit on the idea of making masks people would need in these new times.

The masks were to be three-layered cotton, with a breathing filter, a nose piece and ear strap, so as to be World Health Organization compliant. There are pleated and cupped versions, different sizes for men, women and children, a variety of colours and patterns, and they are fully machine washable and reusable.

Six members, including Colette, have been involved in the mask making. Mary Mackinson, Irene Herbonnet, Colette Stow, Gay Donavan and Kit Kwan have all taken the orders and made and distributed the masks. Irene is "our wonderful, efficient treasurer" who distributes money to the group's charities. Mary Henry and Jenny McQueen are also part of the Creative Card Ladies group.

Getting by Giving

Picture: St Joseph's parishioners proudly sporting their Creative Card Ladies' masks.

From left: The Hub, Theresa Park, Teddy Totman, Colette Totman and John Flood

The group sold their first mask in June 2020 and within a month had sold 200 masks at £5 each, raising £1,000 and topping their usual annual income for charity by nearly £200. This was achieved by word of mouth and a notice in the parish newsletter.

By December, the group had sent £3,500 to a charity in Zambia they have been supporting from the beginning. A friend and parishioner, Theresa Park's sister is a religious sister, Sister Anne, who runs a school in Zambia.

When the pandemic hit the children were no longer able to access the school where they had been fed breakfast and lunch. So the group were able to answer Sister Anne's plea for help, in tranches, enabling her to provide all the families with food as well as the usual educational support.

YouTube video: Manna Society AGM 2020 - Noble's story

With their increased funds the group were able to diversify their charitable giving. So from October to January 2021 they sent £1,600 to Peru to help another charity sponsored by the church. The money went to Father Ed, a priest working with the poor in the barrios of Lima.

The group were also able to support two UK charities. £650 went to The Manna a 24/7 homeless shelter near London Bridge, then a chosen charity of The Catenian Association.

Colette belongs to the Wives Fellowship, a national organisation with a chosen charity St Christopher's Hospice in Sydenham, the founding hospice in Britain, who received £650. Altogether the group has raised and donated nearly £6,500 from mask sales.

When The Hub tried to congratulate Colette on the achievements of the Creative Card Ladies she rightly pointed out: "The great thing is whenever you give you get so much more out of it. I think we all know that." True, but a heartfelt thank you to the Creative Card Ladies, St Joseph's parish and all who have supported their wonderful work!

Colette's Inspiration

Speaking of what inspired her to be involved in an enterprise like Creative Card Ladies, Colette reflected on her life journey:

"I have had an interesting upbringing. My father was 51 when I was born. He was the eldest of ten and he was born in 1894. There are not many people who can say their father was born not just in the last century but the century before."

Picture: British troops negotiate a trench as they go forward in support of an attack on the village of Morval during the Battle of the Somme, July 1916. / Photograph: PA

Colette's Londoner father went over the top in the Battle of the Somme in July 1, 1916 and was injured in the first half hour. His parents both died within six months of each other in the 1920s and he made the fateful decision to stay and be the father figure to his nine siblings.

He met Colette's mother in Liverpool in January 1939 and they were married shortly after the start of the Second World War in October, when he was 45. A son was born a year later, followed by Colette four years on.

Colette recalls she and her brother having: "Loving wonderful parents, but a very sheltered life. My mother was always there, my slippers and the tea were ready when I walked in from school every day."

Picture: Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio as a young Jesuit / Society of Jesus

When Colette was 14, her brother decided to leave home and join the Catholic order of The Jesuits, of whom Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. At that time in 1959, the order's strict regulations meant the close-knit family were able to see their son and brother for only three hours, three times a year. He was not allowed home for the first two years.

So when they first went to see him, Colette recalls bursting into tears. The church later relaxed those rules and he was able to spend more time at home. But then, having been a healthy man Colette's father died from a coronary when she was 17.

It was a "hard" event in early life "because he had been wonderful" that framed Colette's following years. Looking back Colette says: "I just had love around me. Sadness because of death. But then you think about the pandemic and all the hard things people have gone through. So I've been very lucky."

Colette felt she should leave school and get a job to help with the family finances. But her mother insisted she went off to college, because, "your father wouldn't want you to stay at home". So Colette trained to teach at Digby Stuart College in London and taught home economics in secondary school. The girls would open up to her away from the classroom.

Picture: Daft and ephemeral... Chris Harper and Laura Rogers in the farce See How They Run at The Royal Exchange, Manchester. The play is a favoured memory of Colette Totman's amateur dramatics / Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Colette taught until her son was born, staying at home for the next thirteen years while three girls were added to the family.

During this time she became involved with the church as she "wanted to do things and joined social groups". Colette and her husband Teddy were also part of the group steering a new church building at St Joseph's.

Colette did some amateur dramatics and admits she would have loved to have gone on the stage. She believes an ability to perform and willingness to make a fool of herself helped her as a teacher. She fondly recalls performing in See How They Run, a Whitehall farce made famous by Brian Rix.

Order Your Masks

Picture: "My Hero During Lockdown" - Colette making masks, 10 year-old grand daughter Tabitha's Royal Mail Heroes Stamp Design competition entry / Credit: Tabitha

You can order a mask from the Creative Card Ladies and contribute to their charitable giving by following the details at the bottom of this notice.

St Joseph's Catholic Church newsletter notice:

Yes - the Creative Ladies are back in business! Now that we are emerging from Lockdown, the requirement to wear face coverings in Churches, shops, or on public transport is still with us. Some of your original masks may need replacement, or maybe you feel ready to diversify your wardrobe!

Please think of ordering from us. All the masks have three layers including a filter, nose wires and are washable. And there are two styles to choose from. We charge just £5 a mask and all the proceeds go to Faith in Action.

For more details and to place an order please contact:

Audio Interview

You can listen to The Hub's interview with Colette Totman of Creative Card Ladies by clicking on the link below.

Colette's Collection

You can hear Colette's Collection, a playlist curated by Beatles' fan Colette Totman to reflect music significant or inspirational to her, by clicking on the link below.

The Collection starts with Swanee River by Paul Robeson, the song her father would sing to her, "as a little girl, if I couldn't go to sleep".

YouTube video: Paul Robeson - Old Folks at Home (Swanee River) (1930)

The Beatles' Twist and Shout is, "great dancing music." Colette's college friend Yvonne would bring back fortified elderberry wine from her parent's farm and a group would listen to Joan Baez's House of the Rising Sun while, "drinking pretty strong stuff!"

Lara's Theme from the movie Doctor Zhivago recalls early courting days with Teddy. Three songs associate with three of the couple's children. Oasis' Wonderwall with daughter Carmel, The Beach Boys "Do You Wanna Dance" with their son and U2's "fantastic" Where The Streets Have No Name.

Turning classical, Nigel Kennedy's version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, "is amazing". Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor and Bruck's Violin Concerto in G minor complete the playlist.


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1 Comment

Vince Yearley
Vince Yearley
May 30, 2021

Great work Colette and the Creative Cards team! Thanks to The Hub for highlighting their initiative. And your "desert island" list sounds good too!

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