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The People's Personal Protective Equipment

High point photograph of Za'atari
High point photograph of Za'atari
Za'atari - high point, image courtesy of Helen Storey

Refugees, scientists and artists develop sustainable PPE to combat Covid-19

Project duration: April 2021 - October 2023
Funded by: UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund

Project summary

A group of artists and scientists have teamed up with the UNHCR and Syrian refugees to develop new hand hygiene products and design and produce reusable masks, shields and gowns to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Jordan.

The collaboration with refugees living in Zaatari camp, are developing personal protective equipment (PPE) using locally available, low-cost materials that can be repurposed after the pandemic, creating training and employment opportunities at a new mask production facility, while keeping people safe and reducing plastic waste.

The project, The People’s PPE, led by academics at the University of Sheffield and London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London (UAL), with researchers from Al Albayt University and the University of Petra, has received £766,675 of government funding provided through UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund.

Project team

Project aims

  • To develop PPE and livelihood activities which will be sustained after the project, through co-production, skill sharing and ensuring 'ownership' by the local communities and organisations we partner with
  • To build research capacity of participatory action researchers (PAR) in the refugee and host communities, and of the partner organisations and Jordanian academic researchers
  • To engage in and digitally monitor the outcome of a range of PPE interventions and thus gain understanding of processes which can be further tested and developed in other contexts
  • To understand the complex interplay of intersecting axes of inequality (gender, age, marital status etc.), the related social norms and their relationship to refugees' and marginalised host communities' agency and capacity for innovation.
Women working in a science lab
Women making formulas in women's workshop, Zaatari


In both the UK and Jordan prototypes of masks, shields and gowns have been made, there have been co-created innovations in both design and joining technologies. This interdisciplinary co-production project, comprising of:

  • A socio-technical part focused on designing PPE for production in refugee camps and the host community, and socio-behavioural part, understanding how the availability of PPE affects people's attitudes and behaviours around risk, and so enables them to address health threats. The University of Petra will use semi-structured interviews and PARs to understand the social/spatial aspect of PPE-associated behaviour in the confined environment of the camp.
  • Digital manufacturing and digital data gathering will be central, enabling real-time collaboration even without face-to-face contact. In Jordan, UNHCR and Al Albayt University will train participatory action researchers (PARs) to engage in the design, manufacturing, and implementation of comprehensive reusable PPE (initially masks, shields and gowns, moving on to innovations in gloves and hand sanitiser).


  • Syrian Refugees
  • Givaudan

Related links

  • Dress for Our Time and Love Coats (Storey), 2017