Emily Duffy is a woman that has been involved with helping the homeless for many years now. When she was in Junior Cert she came up with the idea for 'Duffily Bags'. The Duffily Bag is a sleeping bag designed to alleviate the problems faced by homeless people sleeping rough on the streets. It is lightweight, waterproof, heat-retaining, non-flammable, and highly reflective. It has a pouch in the head for storing valuables which doubles up as a pillow.
Duffy is now in her first year of commerce in UCC and is now trying to expand the production of her products in order to combat the homelessness crisis in Ireland.
We spoke to Duffy about her cause, how it came about and how she finds juggling college with trying to manage the project.
How did the idea for the Duffily bag come about?
It started back in 2014 when myself and some of my friends were organising a charity event for a homeless service in Limerick called Novas Initiative. While doing that I had to research into the charity itself and also homelessness and I came upon the statistic that at any given point in Ireland there’s about 5,000 people homeless. That figure has since gone up to 7,942 in the Spring of 2017. That statistic in itself made me realise that homelessness was a far more prominent issue in Ireland than I had first imagined.
I had previously been involved in the BT Young Scientist Exhibition and I knew that it was good to find a problem and come up with a solution. So I focused on homelessness and sleeping rough on the streets for my 2015 BT Young Scientist project.
I knew I wanted to create a sleeping bag and I knew I wanted it to have certain properties and that’s when the design and development stage came into it. and then in early 2015 i showcased the sleeping bag at the BT young scientists it received a lot of media publicity and it’s continued since then.
Can you explain how the bag is made?
It’s designed using metallic bubble wrap which gives it it’s properties such as light weight, waterproof, heat retaining, unflammabele, and then I knew I wanted it to have a space which could hold valuables such as documents, jackets, phones.
So the pillow doubles up as a storage space for these valuables it has additional areas on the bottom of it for extra back support and it’s designed using velcro so it’s easy to get in and out of
At the moment it’s being made by homeless people in Dublin as I’ve partnered with an organisation called the Mendicity Institute and we employ up to 20 homeless people and they get paid ten euro an hour to make the bags which are then distributed around Ireland.
How hard has it been juggling your education with the Duffily bag project?
The Mendicity Institute are very understanding about how much time I can give. Now that I’m in college there are so many supports for people who are involved in social entrepreneurship that it’s brilliant. I’ve also received an 'Active Citizenship Scholarship' so UCC are trying to give me as many resources as possible to make working with the project, student life and social life as easy as possible for me so that I can continue doing this project which is absolutely amazing. I know for a fact that will come into use in the next four years of my degree.
What is your long term goal for the project?
At the moment, my goal is to set it up in Cork and distribute it to charities around the Cork area. Last I checked there was an estimate 161 people sleeping rough in the streets of Ireland at any one point and that was in 2017. So to be able to distribute enough sleeping bags for those homeless people sleeping on the streets and then to distribute it to other countries to also benefit them would be great.
You can check out Duffy's website here for more information on the bags and how to support the project.