How lockdown created DENNY The Bear

There is no denying how challenging the pandemic has been for us all. But through all the hardships faced during this unprecedented time, it’s important to appreciate some of the positives that have emerged – particularly the opportunity to engage with new hobbies or rediscover the joy of old past times. Whether it’s getting active, relishing the great outdoors or learning a nifty new skill, getting stuck in with hobbies has been great way of banishing lockdown boredom and staying on top of our mental health. Yet, it was one creative endeavour in particular that not only achieved this, but also led to the birth of our first ever mascot: DENNY The Bear!

Hazel, aged 80, from Leverstock Green was struggling during the first lockdown. Unable to have face-to-face contact with her family or social clubs, she was suffering from a real lack of motivation.

Hazel explains, “Franky, my granddaughter, started to become concerned that I was getting bored and suggested I took up knitting again. I used to knit bears about 18 years ago for ‘Teddies for Tragedy’ and they were sent all over the world, but then I stopped knitting for some reason. At first I didn’t think I wanted to do this as I hasn’t knitted for such a long time, however Franky kept encouraging me then provided me with the wool, so I thought I’d better give it a go,”

It wasn’t long before Hazel had finished crafting her first teddy, a sweet gift for a family friend’s new-born baby, and she was extremely proud of her creation. Hazel’s family then set her the task of making a special version of the teddy for DENS – complete with a dashing yellow jumper. As soon as our Fundraising team saw her handiwork, they knew something special was afoot. DENNY The Bear was born!

Buoyed by this positive response, Hazel has now well and truly caught the knitting bug. Since the first lockdown, she has knitted a total of 27 teddies for DENS.

Hazel adds, “I’m glad my granddaughter persisted with me dusting off my knitting needles as I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it. It’s nice to knit away whilst also being able to watch TV or listen to the radio. I feel a good sense of achievement when I’ve finished each bear and I like the thought that what I’m doing might make a difference to DENS”.

Soon, word began to spread about DENNY The Bear. When Julie, a sister of a DENS volunteer, found out about the adorable knitted mascots, she was keen to get involved.

“I have been knitting for charity for about four years now. My friend first introduced me to her ‘Knit and Natter’ group who were knitting bears to be given to children in Eastern Europe. Then my sister told me about her fundraising efforts for DENS, so we got our knitting needles out to make DENNY!,” Julie said.

Julie, based in Brighton, has knitted almost 100 bears with her group, which have been shared out among various charities. She added, “The bears are fairly quick to knit up, and when the facial features are added, they are just so friendly.”

Thanks to the fantastic support from knitters within the local community and beyond, a total of 50 DENNY The Bears have been made so far. There are now big plans ahead for all of our DENNYs to go on their very own adventures throughout Dacorum. Expect to see the teddy as mascots in local schools, making appearances across the borough during our Go Yellow week in June and going out as thank you gifts to fundraisers young and old.

The very first recipient of the mascot was Chris. This inspiring man from Hemel Hempstead was the top fundraiser in our STEPtember campaign. After completing 10,000 or more steps each day throughout the month of September, he more than doubled his fundraising target to reach £526. Chris, who has a learning disability and autism, was delighted to receive a congratulatory hamper including his very own DENNY The Bear.

Nicky Maxwell-Braithwaite, Community & Events Fundraising Manager at DENS, said, “We are so excited to finally reveal our new mascot to the world! The creation of DENNY and the reaction that has followed is a perfect example of how our supporters have been able to come together and stay connected with the charity throughout the pandemic.

“There are some exciting plans in the pipeline for getting DENNY out to the people of Dacorum. Get ready to see our cute mascot everywhere – such as at our upcoming events, like Go Yellow Week in June, as well as making their way to top fundraisers, schools and community groups that have supported us.”

Anyone can get involved with making a DENNY for us. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the needles or a master knitter, we want you to help us build our growing family of mascots. DENNY can be any colour or size; the most important thing is that they’re wearing the eye-catching yellow jumper! If you’d like to start knitting for DENS, please contact fundraising@dens.org.uk to get your DENNY The Bear pattern.

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