A social enterprise based in Swansea is aiming to save the lives of rough sleepers while creating sustainable employment opportunities for those furthest from the job market.
Red Dragon Manufacturing is an ethical social enterprise manufacturer with 15 years’ experience, located in the village of Clydach in Swansea. It makes custom and traditional sewn flags and banners, and their clients include TV and film companies, corporate businesses, castles, universities, Royal houses and more.
Red Dragon has recently launched the ROOF coat bag - a coat and sleeping bag in one which aims to reduce the risks homeless people face on the streets. ROOF has been robustly tested in sub-zero temperatures for durability, slash proofing, strength and comfort. It’s made using a newly patented composite slash-proof material with an additional optional stab-proofing element.
There have been shocking stories in the news over the last year of homeless people being attacked on the streets, and of people dying while sleeping rough in freezing temperatures. The ONS have this week released figures which estimate that 2,627 homeless people died in England and Wales between 2013 to 2017, with deaths in deprived areas around nine times higher than in more affluent places. And while there are no official figures on the total number of homeless people in the UK, the charity Shelter estimate there could be more than 320,000.
Jo Ashburner Farr, who designed and founded ROOF, says: “ROOF is by no means an alternative to being housed, but it is what we believe to be a real time interim solution between living on the street and being in a home.
“ROOF has not been developed to make life on the street so comfortable that a person would not wish to continue to seek help, but tests to date show it will contribute to a reduction in ill health and vulnerability and go a long way towards filling the chasm between homelessness and having a home.”
Jo won an UnLtd Grow It award in 2017 which she used to push through the final development of the ROOF product and develop the composite and production of the trial coat bags. She employs nine people, all of whom had previously struggled with employment due to a range of personal circumstances.
Jo says: “Our specific mission is for ROOF to alleviate the discomfort of homelessness while enabling marginalized people to integrate back into mainstream society through training and sustainable employment. We’ve developed our own eight-stage training programme which covers all the skills needed for the manufacturing process and as a team everyone without exception is very much involved in the growth, development and decision-making of the business on a ‘push together’ basis.”
Testing has been conducted on ROOF by University of Wales Trinity St David (UWTSD) through the Astute 2020 fund. Each item includes a battery-operated monitoring system which continuously gathers information on temperatures inside and outside, moisture and wicking levels, movement, friction, and resilience to water and fire. In tests, this data is downloaded via Bluetooth by the wearer on a weekly basis at an agreed Access Point and used to support ongoing development.
This project is supported by an established partnership with the University and Llamau, Wales’ Homeless Charity. ROOF was officially soft launched at the Llamau Big Sleep Out in Cardiff in December 2018 and reached the UK final of the Chivas Venture competition in December 2018, won the previous year by UnLtd award-winner Cemal Ezel for his venture, Change Please.
Jo is now looking for organisations to get involved in the project through sponsorship which will mean Red Dragon can make and supply ROOF coat bags for homeless people.
Jo says: “We’re talking to organisations who have cash that they want to put into sponsoring a real time urgently needed product. Council leaders and commissioners accept there is a real homelessness problem that urgently requires innovative and proactive methods to tackle it. For NGOs who deliver emergency shelter, blankets and silver foil wraps to families and children in war and zones, ROOF is a real alternative to the waste and replace of the current emergency pack system.
Red Dragon does not have a conventional production line and their unique training programme is now lead-in to a Level 2 Apprenticeship, the first of its kind in Wales.
Jo has always been passionate about ethical social enterprise and fair manufacturing practices and was awarded Welsh and UK National Businesswoman of the Year for ethical manufacturing in 2006; and Welsh Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015.
Jo says: “It’s frightening to see the increasing number of people being forced into homelessness. It is more important than ever that social entrepreneurs with solutions, initiatives and products like ROOF are given backing from society, sponsors and philanthropists.”
As the problem of homelessness continues to increase, it is perhaps more important than ever that social entrepreneurs like Jo who have great ideas to help solve society’s biggest challenges can access the support they need to turn their visions into reality.
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