A Wiltshire woman has been hailed as a national hero for personally making at least 15,000 Covid cloth masks available free of charge throughout the pandemic.

Naomi Betts of Amesbury, who gave away the masks from her driveway, has been named a UK sewing hero by Singer Sewing Machines for her work in supporting her local community.

Naomi was honoured at a lunch in London with Patrick Grant, a judge on the BBC programme The Great British Sewing Bee.

Realising that it would soon be made mandatory for people to wear masks in enclosed indoor spaces, Naomi decided she needed to do something to keep herself occupied and to contribute to her community’s efforts.

Having read about people in the Czech Republic hanging masks from trees in their own gardens for people to take, she set about organising the same.

“I didn’t actually have a tree, so I started by putting out a hat stand in my front garden and hanging some masks from that,” explained Naomi.

“Almost from day one, we had queues of people in the garden, initially reticent to take one but happy to do so once they had been reassured they were free to help themselves.”

As production was stepped up, donations began to be received to help pay for additional elastic and fabric as the model for the masks evolved and nimble-fingered people in other areas began to get involved in the project.

“Eventually we created an interactive map so that people could find out where mask trees were in their local areas.

“There was no pressure for anyone to put their tree on the map but, at its peak, we had 422 trees registered with many more operating off-map,” she said.

“After contacting those running their own mask trees, we estimated that around 200,000 cloth masks had been made. I think we had at least 15,000 distributed from my own driveway.”

Naomi says she was blown away by the success of the project.

“It gave me a purpose and a way of trying to be supportive of my own community during a horrible, worrying time.

"It connected me with my community in a way I hadn’t really been connected before and I know many others who feel the same.”

The other Singer heroes were Rosie Taylor-Davies from Putney, who created a network of sewists that have made more than 28,000 items, and Louise Drakes from Keelby, who made 11,000 lip-reading masks for the hard of hearing, those working in care homes with elderly people, for street teams working with homeless people, as well as masks, scrubs, and gowns for those working in the NHS.

Patrick said: “The stories of these three sewers are inspirational and reflect the enormous contribution that amateur sewers around the country have made to their local NHS and to help their neighbours through successive lockdowns during the pandemic.

“It’s not an exaggeration for Singer to call Naomi a hero and her local community and the whole sewing community should be very proud of her.”