Wednesday 25 January 2023

Sleep Pod, Ian Ashby, Justin Devereux and Pete Kenyon, 2018

When we began planning for the Endurance exhibition, we considered many different environments a person might find themselves in and how plastics materials can help them to survive in those particular conditions. For example, we wanted to examine difficult situations such as exploring the Arctic/Antarctic, trying to live in a Desert and adapting to fly at high altitude. One area we felt passionately about representing was much closer to home – living on the streets.

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Although only first legally defined in UK legislation in 1977, for as long as this country has kept historical records, homelessness has been an issue. From 7th century vagrancy laws to Victorian workhouses to 1960s night shelters, awareness of the problem and public concern have both steadily grown. A large number of organisations and initiatives have been set up to provide vital support and specialist services for those in need but, sadly, homelessness continues to grow.  In 2021, the national charity Crisis estimated that approximately 227,000 people were homeless across England, Scotland and Wales. 

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The Sleep Pod emergency shelter is one initiative, intended to be made available to outreach teams and charities for distribution to rough sleepers that have been unable to access overnight accommodation through existing services. It was developed over a number of years by friends Ian Ashby, Justin Devereux and Pete Kenyon, who had been volunteering in refugee camps across Europe in 2015. On returning back to the UK, they saw rough sleepers experiencing similar problems and made the decision to try to design a simple, effective solution for preventing people from succumbing to exposure on the streets.

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The lightweight, rain and wind-resistant temporary structures are made from a double-skin, aluminium foil backed polyethylene (PE) bubble-sheeting, wrapped in recycled low-density PE, and taped over a bamboo frame to form a long triangular form with one end sealed and the other a Velcro-controlled entrance. The material successfully insulates the body and can achieve an internal temperature of 5°C (an equivalent next-to-body temperature of 22°C) whilst external conditions drop to -16°C.

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First launched in 2018, the pods are constructed by teams of volunteers through build workshops, adapted recently into ‘Build at Home’ projects due to Covid-19 social distancing. To date, 6500 have been made by over 3000 individuals and community groups. The charity maintain that the Sleep Pod is not a solution to the homelessness crisis and work hard to develop strong relationships with partner organisations equipped with the expertise and experience that can help inform where and when it is appropriate to give out Sleep Pods within their local areas.

Image credit: MoDiP

If you would like to find out more, please visit the sleeppod website:

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday 18 January 2023

Veret electric bed warmer, Ernest Paul Feakes, 1937

Mindful of the cost-of-living crisis, my family have been using our rubber hot water bottles far more this winter than we have done in previous years. They are a fantastic invention and help with the energy-saving mantra I keep reading everywhere: ‘heat the person, not the room’. 

MoDiP does not actually have a rubber example in the museum yet, but we do have this lovely bakelite version (refer image below) by Rothermel, part of the Plastics Historical Society collection. It is a great object because being made from a plastics material, it could have been any shape the designer wanted it to be. On this occasion, the form chosen was an exact replica of the familiar rubber hot water bottle we all know and love, presumably so that when a customer saw it for the very first time, they would instantly recognise what the product was.

PHSL : 3
Image credit: MoDiP

We have two other electric bed warmers in the collection that operate in a similar way but look very different (refer image below). They were both manufactured by a company called Veret in the late 1930s/1940s, compression moulded in phenol formaldehyde (the brown example) and urea formaldehyde (the green example). Until recently we knew nothing more about them, but in November 2022 we were contacted by the designer’s granddaughter who was able to give us some additional information.

AIBDC : 0_2423 and AIBDC : 0_2425
Image credit: MoDiP

The Veret bedwarmer was designed by Ernest Paul Feakes, a carpenter and builder from Belvedere in Kent, who is rather well known in the Bexleyheath area due to his property development partnership with Robert Richard Richards (Feakes & Richards). He can be seen in the image below on the left, standing next to his business partner.

Ernest Paul Feakes (left) and Robert Richard Richards (right) with a
contemporaryadvertisement for their Bostall Park Estate development.
Image credit: Cordelia Olds and

Ernest Feakes was always interested in making and inventing things and held at least nine patents registered between 1904-1938 for a variety of items including furniture and fastener improvements. He set up the Veret company sometime around 1937 for the manufacture of his cylindrical bed warmer, establishing the business from his family home in Woolwich Road, Abbey Wood, London. An improvement to the device was patented ten years later, but we have been unable to locate the original application.

The 1947 Veret Ltd patent for an improved cord connection.
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The bed warmers were sold at chemists and electrical hardware stores, advertised as ‘shock-proof, fool-proof and guaranteed. No water to leak, suitable for all voltages and consumption is only one unit a week when left on day and night. Price 14/-'.

Two contemporary adverts for the Veret electric bedwarmer.
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Feakes’ granddaughter recalled her father passing through Charing Cross on his journey to and from work each day in the late 1930s. E.P., as she affectionately referred to Ernest, would ask him to ‘nip into Boots as he went past and buy a couple of the bed warmers, telling everyone how good he had heard they were’. Upon return home, he would be reimbursed and the bedwarmers returned to stock! She also described her experience of using one when she was a child in the early 1950s, standing on her bed to remove the ceiling lightbulb in order to replace it with the fitting attached to the bed warmer. She remembered the appliance made a gentle humming noise when it was switched on and considered it old fashioned as by then, rubber hot water bottles had proven more popular and cost effective.

Sold boxed and with a cover, the Veret electrical bed warmers were available to buy in pastel blue and green colours, as well as the typical brown and black bakelite. Providing 150 hours warmth for just one penny sounds amazing given the price of electricity now and I wonder just how warm they were. Sadly, we cannot test our examples to find out but if you would like to view them, the Rothermel, or any other objects, please contact us.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Olds, C. 2022. Veret bakelite bed warmer. (email).

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Endurance - in a flood

In 2020 England recorded record breaking levels of rainfall which had a devastating impact on thousands of homes and communities. It is estimated that over 5.2 million properties in England are currently at risk of rising water levels and, although the government has pledged to double the amount they spend on flood defences, there are relatively inexpensive measures that homeowners can take themselves to reduce the impact of flooding to their property. 

Airbricks are devices used in buildings to allow the circulation of fresh air beneath suspended floors and within cavity walls to prevent the build-up of moisture and gasses. They are ideally incorporated on all sides of a building and guidelines recommend that they are installed at least 75mm above ground level to prevent water ingress.  However, in a flood it is estimated that up to 50,000 litres of water can flow through a single unprotected airbrick in one hour, potentially causing major and often irreparable damage, so extra measures are needed to prevent water entering a building.   

The SMART Airbrick, currently on display in MoDiP’s Endurance exhibition, is an innovative solution to this problem.  Developed by Eco-coverage Technologies, it was designed specifically for domestic use and as a replacement for traditional clay airbricks. It allows unrestricted airflow beneath a property under normal conditions, but when flood waters rise to such a level that water begins to flow through the airbrick, flotation valves, comprising chambers containing a ball, are activated, blocking its passage.  It also works in strong gusty winds in excess of 30mph, potentially helping to reduce heat loss from underneath the property.  

The SMART Airbrick is manufactured in the UK and is made of recycled polypropylene.  

Pam Langdown Documentation Officer

Wednesday 4 January 2023

Anya Hindmarch - a triptych

Anya Hindmarch founded her business in London in 1987. The luxury brand is now known for its ground-breaking work in sustainability. It is committed to creating responsibly, and striving to innovate to reduce its impact on the earth, whilst also using its platform to drive education and discussion around the subject. This is demonstrated by the triptych of bags on display here.

Creativity, modern craftsmanship and personalisation sit at the heart of everything Anya Hindmarch does. She is a passionate advocate of British design and arts and is an Emeritus trustee of both the Royal Academy of Arts and the Design Museum. In 2017, Anya Hindmarch was awarded a CBE in recognition for her contribution to the British fashion industry.

Behind the sustainability work of Anya Hindmarch is the manta ‘progress, not perfection.’

I'm not a plastic bag, 2007, 
Anya Hindmarch, We Are What We Do

I'm not a plastics bag

This canvas tote was marketed as part of an anti-plastic bag campaign in association with We Are What We Do. Working alongside the creative agency Antidote, the promotion of the bag was designed to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags used by changing the behaviour of middle-class women. Hindmarch herself commented on how fashion can persuade people that ‘it’s not cool to use a plastic bag.’ At the time, Hindmarch’s handbags were retailing upwards of £700, so the appearance of a bag by such a prominent designer at the price of just £5 in the UK, USA, Japan, and Taiwan caused a significant reaction. The limited number of bags produced also enhanced the excitement with, in some cases, kilometre-long queues outside shops being reported. The bag sold out in all four countries in as little as five hours. They generated much publicity for the campaign within the media. US Vanity Fair magazine gave them away as a goodie bag at their Oscar Party. As such, many celebrities including Kylie Minogue, Mischa Barton, Sienna Miller, Keira Knightley, Lily Allen, Erin O’Connor, and Lily Cole, were seen with them.

It was suggested that the long queues of people waiting to purchase the bag were made up of green-consumers wanting to wear their eco-credentials on their arms. However, many of the bags quickly ended up on auction sites for inflated prices.

I am a plastic bag, 2020
Anya Hindmarch

I am a plastic bag

This black and white shopping bag is from the ‘I am a plastic bag’ collection and is a continuation of the ‘I am not a plastic bag’ campaign. This bag, designed to never be thrown away, is made from a cotton canvas-feel material created using 32 half-litre plastic bottles and then coated with polyvinyl butyral (PVB) used to stop car windscreens from shattering.

It took two years of research to create the cotton canvas-like fabric and coating, which is made in Taiwan. The country is world leading in recycling and innovation. The bags are crafted in Florence, with the leather coming from an Italian Gold standard Working Group Tannery. The company’s aim is to also make the plastic fabric in Italy to reduce carbon footprint.

To promote the launch of the product range, instead of doing a London Fashion Week show, Hindmarch filled her 3 flagship shops in London with 90,000 bottles as a way of drawing attention to the waste generated by using single-use bottles.

Universal bag, 2021
Anya Hindmarch, Solent Group, Sainsbury’s


This large purple tote bag is the latest by Anya Hindmarch to contribute to the debate on the material value of plastics. It was made by the Solent Group (Solent International Ltd) for Sainsbury’s, with a green version being available through Waitrose.

The Universal bag is intended to tackle a number of sustainability problems by being desirable, durable, and reusable. It is made of 100% recycled materials and is, itself, 100% recyclable. The bag has a 10-year guarantee, however, when it gets to the end of its useful life it can be easily returned to the manufacturer. The bag can be folded up into the internal pouch which creates a parcel with a pre-paid Freepost returns label. At this point it can be placed in a postbox. Once with the manufacturer, it can be recycled locally.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP