Corinne McManus has been running her textile design studio, Atom Designs, for over 30 years from its base in New Cross, travelling the world selling designs to pretty much every major fashion and sports brands you could name – you’re most likely wearing or seeing one of their prints on yoga pants, swimsuits, dresses, t-shirts, board-shorts, socks, underwear, Hawaiian shirts, umbrellas, tents, wrapping paper, note books, push-chairs and anything else you can put a print on.
When the lockdown occurred in March 2020, her company, reliant on international travel, was one of the first to feel clients closing their doors to all visitors. Like many, she started with a top down clean of her studio and came across a large bag of old surplus unique fabric samples she realised could be transformed into colourful patterned uplifting face masks to give to dedicated essential workers whose jobs had become unbelievably extraordinarily challenging for which they hadn’t been trained or equipped. Bus drivers, shop workers, carers, postmen, teachers and many others who faced the public without being provided any protection. After a few days of “are you sure?” from her life partner Ben Roberts, a photographer who also works for Atom Designs, he worked out they had enough unique printed fabric swatches in a huge range of different styles to make the first 1500 limited edition masks before needing to find different outer fabrics. Wherever possible they sought bright funky printed fabrics so as well as being a necessary safety precaution they added style, were less intimidating and could help normalise the need to wear a protective face covering in public as well as lifting the spirits of those they met.
Several hours after the first 17 masks were taken on Wednesday 8th April by their bus driver friend Trevor into New Cross Bus Garage a request was made for 700 masks, and that was just for one garage… From one sewing machine, 20 masks and a few FaceBook posts, Masks For Extraordinary People grew to over 60 volunteers.
Atom Designs owner and Masks For Extraordinary People founder, Corinne McManus
We put a call out on social media for donations of fabrics and bedsheets, t-shirts for making ties and for volunteers to help sew. Soon enough we were able to provide free masks to the local bus companies who were at the time severely lacking in PPE. To meet demand for masks we managed to buy Dutch and African wax print fabrics locally. The bus drivers loved the vibrant colourful prints as they made them feel more positive, safe and stylish. In July 2020, MFEP were commissioned by Stagecoach Bus Company to make 13,000 African print face masks.
As the news changed and the public were asked to wear facemarks in shops we started to grow more demand from the public. For every mask brought we could then continue to provide free masks to those vulnerable and less able to afford it. Since the start of our mission in April 2020, we have made well over 42,000 face masks of which more than 20,000 have been donated. We are currently producing 500 masks a week for Everydoctor.org.uk, a doctor-led organisation campaigning for a better NHS for all, doctors and patients. If or when this situation comes to an end or our operation winds down we intend to distribute any excess funds to a local education based charity we already support.
Photos by BenRoberts.co.uk photoshoot campaign for MFEP
Furthermore, We helped our bus drivers make this video featuring a beautiful poem written by Carolyn Pelling, a bus driver. https://youtu.be/yBhJdJ34kcI
We also thought we should paint a message on our wall…
MASKS FOR EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE Corinne McManus 07961 107485 | Ben Roberts 07932 033355
Atom Designs, 443 New Cross Road, London SE14 6TA Caption