Masks with a bigger purpose

Masks made by The Skill Mill for Virgin
The Skill Mill
Head shot of Tania Steere.  She is smiling, with long, wavy blonde hair
by Tania Steere
19 July 2020

Virgin Management has ordered hundreds of face masks from The Skill Mill, a social enterprise which has employed around 130 young ex offenders.

As the pandemic hit, The Skill Mill saw the need to produce more face masks for the community and wondered how they could help. They hired a group of women who had the required sewing skills but who had previously been out of the job market. They set up a project to make personalised face masks – with all of the profits generated from selling the masks going towards supporting young ex-offenders into environmental maintenance jobs. 

Image from the Skill Mill
Image from the Skill Mill

At Virgin, we’ve long believed it’s part of our responsibility to support people who deserve a better chance to help get their lives back on track. Supporting ex-offenders provides clear business benefits, such as access to what is widely seen as a loyal and strong talent pool, as well as improving the disruptive and entrepreneurial potential of our teams.      Entrepreneurs and businesses play an important role in helping solve problems and giving people opportunities. One of the team members from the Skill Mill said: "Joining The Skill Mill has changed my life. I’m earning my own money, paying my way at home and made my family proud of me. That’s not something I thought I’d be saying a year ago. I really feel that I’m making a difference by keeping the parks clean and tidy. Aye and I’ve not re-offended".

The Skill Mill also received seed funding from the Virgin Money Foundation, which enabled them to hire a full-time member of staff to add to their very small operating team of two people. Charlotte started as a volunteer in 2012 during the pilot stage before becoming a project coordinator once The Skill Mill was established. The Skill Mill is now set to expand its operations in England this August.  She received mentorship from Virgin Management’s People Director Bill Percy, which she said provided her with the confidence that if she puts her mind to something it is always achievable.   The partnership has also presented opportunities for her to get involved in a number of Virgin Group events which have led to new conversations and partnerships for The Skill Mill. Virgin Management hosts an annual Better Chances event, bringing Virgin companies and partners together to discuss what businesses can do to take action on issues of equality.    The COVID-19 crisis has shown how quickly entrepreneurs are having to adapt to entirely new circumstances and pivot their business to meet the shifting demands in times of crisis. have put together a series called Business as Unusual, focusing on Virgin StartUp entrepreneurs who have had to shift their output during the pandemic.

The Skill Mill face masks are a great example of that entrepreneurial spirit with added environmental and social impact.Virgin also supports a UNHCR led initiative called Made51, which helps refugee entrepreneurs access a global market. Richard Branson blogged recently how many of these entrepreneurs have also pivoted to producing masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet critical needs in this time of crisis.   Head over to The Skill Mill to learn more about their projects.