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UAL receives vital funding to support vulnerable global communities impacted by Covid-19

Written by L Constantinou
Published date 05 September 2020

UAL has been jointly awarded significant funding of £766,675 by UK Research and Innovation through the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund, for People’s PPE: Dealing with a Crisis by Building Livelihoods in Za’atari Refugee Camp.

flowers painted on a wall

Led by Professor Tony Ryan of the University of Sheffield alongside LCF’s Professor Helen Storey and in collaboration with UNHCR Jordan, Al Albayt University, University of Petra and Syrian refugees living in Za’atari, the project will co design and manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) that responds to the needs of the local community and region. This will include things such as ensuring that masks are compatible with hijab wearing & PPE cut for female body shape, whilst keeping people safe, and addressing the issue of plastic waste.

"This project is about empowering refugees in a moment of health crisis. I’ve spent years working with the people of Za'atari and learning from their incredible resourcefulness and creativity. Faced with a global pandemic, we are working together to design and produce the protective equipment the refugees and their host community need to stay safe, while reducing plastic waste, creating jobs and building resilience within the camp community." - Professor Tony Ryan, Sheffield University

People’s PPE will also address the limited availability of PPE in the camp and the wider Jordanian community. Home to around 80,000 Syrian refugees, Za’atari is one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Whilst Jordan has done extraordinarily well in suppressing transmission of the virus, recording 11 deaths from 1100 cases, it has only been achieved through the result of a very severe economic and social lockdown and stringent defence laws being invoked. As lockdown eases the UNHCR is preparing for a dramatic uplift in community transmission.

The project will develop sustainable local manufacturing capabilities within the camp, using a reliable supply of locally available, low-cost materials. This will open up employment activities and help build livelihoods which have been severely disrupted by the crisis. It will also tackle the problem of plastic waste, and reinforce a sense of shared responsibility. This research will directly benefit the large refugee populations in Jordan, as well as other low-resource economies hosting displaced people around the world.

UN tent being torn in 2 by men

Using innovative methodologies, People’s PPE has been designed to achieve sustainable and empowering change. At its core are the people of Za’atari and Jordan working hand in hand with academics from science, fashion and engineering. The community-led social research will address broader questions that address the effects of PPE uptake on peoples’ sense of agency, ability and willingness to play a role in preventing and treating COVID-19.

Professor Helen Storey has worked in Za’atari since 2016, initially through Dress for Our Time, an act of fashion activism, which raised awareness around the mass displacement of people and climate change. Helen is currently UNHCR’s Designer in Residence – addressing and responding to the needs of people, mostly women and girls, living in Za’atari, through projects which provide training and education to build livelihoods. Helen also assisted in the setting up of the camp’s first ‘Made in Za’atari’ centre which fosters entrepreneurial activity and provides a safe and supportive environment for women.

Since 2016 I have been working with communities in Za'atari. I have encountered a level of innovation and resilience which speaks to all our futures – together we are responding to the Covid-19 crisis with the same energy and resourcefulness that has been, and is, the hallmark of their remarkable lives. - Professor Helen Storey, LCF.

In collaboration with some of the world’s leading academics, this project uses the power of creativity to shape lives. The funding underlines UAL as a global leader in arts education and its role at the forefront of pioneering research-led interventions and Knowledge Exchange projects for social good.

Reflections on Zaatari 2019

Helen Storey and UNHCR Jordan

Helen Storey reflects on the past year in Zaatari Refugee Camp.