As COVID-19 transforms society, inmates are not the only surprising new manufacturers

Picture garments being manufactured and you probably wouldn’t think of prisons. But that’s exactly where thousands of NHS medical scrubs are in production, thanks to a campaign led by the Manchester Fashion Institute (MFI) at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). 

After a call for help from a North West NHS trust experiencing medical clothing shortages, MFI enlisted the cooperation of Public Sector Prison Industries (PSPI) - a department which manufactures and supplies a range of goods whilst providing employment and purposeful activity for prisoners.  

2020 11 05 Hmp Strangeways Peter Mc Dermott
PSPI offers on-the-job training and personal development in preparation for prisoners’ release Peter McDermott

The MFI technical team then created a simplified scrub template, designed for speedy large-scale production, which prisoners were shown how to create via workshops run by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). The scrubs will be used by doctors and nurses tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

2020 05 11 Mfi Scrub Template 1
2020 05 11 Mfi Scrub Template 2
A simplified version of existing medical garments, the MFI template features less components and colour-contrast stitching for different sizes

Prisons aren’t the only unlikely organisation to join in the manufacturing efforts during COVID-19. Much of the Royal Exchange wardrobe department has joined costume makers from theatre, film and television departments across the UK in making scrubs, as part of the Helping Dress Medics scheme (main image).

Nikki Meredith, head of the Manchester theatre’s wardrobe department, said: “Only a week earlier we had been making huge Victorian crinolines for our production of Rockets and Blue Lights and now it's green scrubs.

“Everyone is working from a spare room or a living room table but everything they are making is to the standard required by the NHS. All the garments are made from approved materials with issued patterns.”

2020 05 11 Royal Exchange Nhs Scrubs
Joining the national effort, the Exchange team are part of a passionate Greater Manchester hub with around 36 makers

From prisons to performance venues, these efforts are a vital support for those on the pandemic frontline. But there’s still more to be done, hence why a regional PPE taskforce is encouraging more potential manufacturers to get in touch. 

Alongside GC Business Growth Hub, the taskforce includes MIDAS (Greater Manchester’s inward investment agency), Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership, and GMCA (including Police, Fire and Transport for Greater Manchester), together with MMU. 

Do you want to get involved? If you’re in a position to help with the manufacture of PPE or the production of medical equipment, please email or call 07734 776 558. More info, including the MFI scrub template, can be found on the GC Business Growth Hub website 

Read more: Did you know that the Public Health Act began in Manchester?

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