Kind Kate is giving something back

Time volunteering at refugee camp in Greece shapes Degree Show project

Date posted

25 May 2017


Last updated

14 June 2022

An Edinburgh Napier student has designed a safe sleeping mat for refugees after being inspired by her time volunteering in Greece.

Fourth year product design student Kate Henderson spent two weeks last summer volunteering at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios.

Kate was posted within a women’s centre within the town which was run by refugee charity Action for Switzerland. The facility helped provide a safe space for females to visit where they could go for comfort, a hot shower and support.

Thousands of families and individuals have arrived at Chios after fleeing troubles in both Syria and Afghanistan. The camp has been set-up in response to these landings.

After witnessing first-hand the conditions that those were living in within the camp itself, Kate has designed and produced ‘Embrace’ – a safe and warm sleeping mat that could potentially be used by those staying within refugee camps. It is one of hundreds of items currently on show at Edinburgh Napier’s More Than A Degree Show at its Merchiston campus.

The thermal mat’s design includes designated pockets that people can store clothes within, with two panels allowing it to be folded over so that clothes pockets can be used as extra padding and heat. The portable bed is made from a lightweight polyester/cotton blend and is easily transportable and waterproof.

Details of Embrace

Kate said: “The camp in Chios was set-up to help those that were fleeing the troubles in their homeland. In my short time there, I met doctors from Syria and even lecturers from Afghanistan who had uprooted their families in the hope that a better life awaited them elsewhere.

“There was more than 3,000 refugees on the island when I was there and despite the fantastic work of volunteer organisations which were located there, I still saw individuals living with just a blanket on the ground – it really wasn’t acceptable. Out of desperation, I also saw items getting stolen – shoes and t-shirts would regularly go missing.

“With this in mind, I’ve used my time at Chios to shape my final year project. Embrace is a safe and warm space for individuals to sleep on and store their clothes in. It’s a simple design but I think it could potentially make a massive impact on the wellbeing of individuals who are staying within camps. Some people flee their home country with little or no possessions and it is important that there is support available for them – a place to sleep and keep warm is essential.”

Kate, originally from the Black Isle near Inverness, was joined for part of her trip by family friends Frances and Andy who had been regular volunteers on Chios for the previous year. The camp on Chios relies heavily on the work of volunteers who help run education programmes, provide help and support alongside general clothing and food. It is led by the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team.

She added: “My mum’s friends Andy and Frances had been out in Chios for some time and I saw their Facebook updates on the work they were doing and I felt inclined to do my part and help. It wasn’t an easy place to get to, it saw me take three flights to finally get there, but I’m really happy I went.

“I would love to continue my idea for Embrace after University, even if it means passing it on to a charity to develop further – I hope that one day soon, the mats will be being used to provide comfort and support to those who need it the most.”

Watch how Embrace works