Masks For Life

In mid-March, the Islington Mill community found ourselves in a strange new world. Our building had to close temporarily for safety, restricting access to studios and materials. Our tenants, many of whom are self-employed artists and makers, lost income and contracts overnight, while others would soon be furloughed with time on their hands in a crisis. Unable to work in their usual ways, many people wanted to stay active, and better yet to make a contribution to help others weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Masks For Life emerged from this extraordinary situation.

A call-out for participants found a medley of different talents that could initiate a mask-making project that would support both our tenants and the community at large.

‘As a high-risk patient I found lockdown hard, being on my own and not having a purpose. I wanted to help. Masks For Life has not only given me a purpose during these horrible times but also kept me hopeful. I’m so grateful to be a part of an amazing experience and a fabulous community.’ – Heather Bell

We are artists and designers, fabric printers, sewers, textile artists, marketers, writers and social media managers. We Zoomed! At our first meeting we found like-minded souls who were equally bewildered by the pandemic but eager to make a contribution of time and skill, people who had lost earnings alongside others who hadn’t but were willing to share resources in fair and supportive ways. We invited illustrator Jack McConnell to be our ‘scribe’ and chronicle our early idea-forming sessions and you can see his beautiful work in this newsletter.

The impact that the Masks For Life project will have on its participants is as important as the products we make and sell. Small online communities like the one we have formed have been lifelines for many of us while physically separated.

‘I want to be part of a team who have similar ethics to me in regards to creativity and giving back to the community along with supporting the arts. A lot of my work and projects are solo so it is a great opportunity to help out with project with the skills I have. Not only do I want to offer skills I already have but want to develop skills in assistance on setting up and running a project like this. In this current climate I think it’s really important for the arts to bring people together (not only for mental health but for a lasting legacy) and I feel that this project will do that, both within the group for the artist and the people who it will reach.’ – Jessie Stringer-Fewtrill

The Masks For Life project has evolved into a scheme with 3 parts:

1. We sell unique face masks, made and designed by Islington Mill artists, including those who have lost some or all income due to COVID-19. Our masks are quality fabric face coverings designed to protect you and others in public, as advised by official health guidelines. Each design is limited edition, printed and handmade in Greater Manchester.

2. We donate free face masks. For every order received we will also produce additional masks that will be donated for free to local organisations or individuals in need. We will have a special focus on our own city of Salford which has been disproportionately affected by the virus.

3. We amplify. We want to use our platforms to divert attention to worthy projects that are also responding to COVID-19, such as Manchester Pink Scrubs and The Big Community Sew, supporting front-line workers and helping protect the community.

Here are some ways you can support…

* Buy a Mask For Life from our beautiful ever-changing selection!

* Contact us to let us know if your group or project needs free face masks to help keep you safe.

* Share with us your own COVID-response project so we can help to publicise it:

We are also happy to hear from anyone who would like to donate fabric or materials towards our free mask scheme!

‘I was furloughed pretty quickly in March and when a call-out came for people to come together and start making masks, I was keen to get involved. I had bought myself a sewing machine early in lockdown and thought I could use my sewing skills to help to get this thing going. I was called back to work so it’s been a bit mad making masks whilst working too, but once mandatory face-coverings in shops was announced, it galvanised me to get a load of stuff ready.I hope more people see the need to use face-coverings, they can really mitigate the spread of the virus while allowing you to go about most of day-to-day life.’ – Rory Clifford

We want to thank Arts Council England for supplying us with emergency funding for our Islington Mill COVID response projects. With it we are able to supply Masks For Life starter packs for artists which have been used for formation, resources, documentation, support, delivery, web design and original mask artwork sourced from the team. The resulting masks are sold to raise income for the artist while a proportion of each batch are put aside for free donation to partner groups, charities or individuals in need.

Thank you to everyone who has donated their time and creativity, or has bought a mask!