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Stewart Robertson, managing director at UCP

Business aims to boost UK face mask production

A new business is looking to boost UK face mask supply chains, and create opportunities for the next generation of manufacturing talent, after setting up shop to provide a zero waste face mask solution in the North East.

UK Community Production (UCP), based near Glover Industrial Estate in Washington, launched this month, aiming to establish more sustainable supplies of disposable facemasks, which are in high-demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The company is keen to give something back, by ensuring that its masks are eco-friendly – with a recycling scheme that will help tackle the environmental impact of single-use masks – as well as reinvesting a proportion of its profits into training to support more people into careers in advanced manufacturing.

The company hopes that the added value it can bring to the masks market will make it an attractive supplier for firms that are keen to minimise their environmental impact, reduce carbon footprint and boost UK manufacturing, while keeping their staff protected from Coronavirus. 

Stewart Robertson, who has joined UCP in the role of managing director, said: “We saw, at the beginning of this crisis, just how fragile our domestic supply chains are when it comes to items like masks, with an over-reliance on imports from overseas.

“It’s vital that we build resilience here in the UK, and the only way to achieve that is by companies like UCP investing in machinery to help us manufacture these items en masse here in the UK; and indeed for companies here to support us in that endeavour by buying from UK manufacturers.

“We are keen to deliver some added value to ensure that more organisations recognise the benefits of working with a UK supplier, and we really hope that allows us to build UCP, to ensure that we boost UK face mask supply and support North East manufacturing.”

The company has invested in two new machines, which can produce over 200 masks per minute.  UCP is planning to operate the machines commercially for only a few hours a day initially, producing a large volume of PPE which it hopes to sell to local businesses, authorities and organisations.  As orders increase, Stewart plans to increase production hours, but in the meantime, the company is planning to give something back by allowing training provider NA College to use the machines in order to boost the skills of would-be manufacturing operatives.

“We are keen that UCP gives something back.  UK manufacturing has suffered a real body blow as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, but we want to support it to grow and by allowing these machines to be used by trainees, we help to bring through the next generation of manufacturing talent, who can grasp opportunities that emerge when we come through this pandemic,” he explained.

One of the key benefits of UCP masks is the company’s commitment to recycling. 

“Single-use masks are very effective, but we know that one significant issue is the environmental impact of this waste.  We are committing to provide a solution to recycle our masks, so we’re asking our customers to collect their used masks, send them back and we will ensure that they do not go into landfill.”

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said that he had been amazed at the business community’s response to COVID-19.

He said: “Time and time again, I have seen Sunderland’s ‘can do’ attitude shine through during this crisis – businesses adapting in order to support the national effort to beat this virus. 

“UCP is a business that is not only meeting an immediate need in terms of the products it makes, but one that is supporting with developing the future skills needs of this region, and being cognisant of the environmental impact of its products too.  It’s fantastic to see another Sunderland business that is giving back and reflects the spirit of this city perfectly.”

The city council is playing a part in helping the city be carbon neutral city by 2030.

“Sustainability is at the heart of our vision for Sunderland,” said Cllr Miller.  “It’s encouraging that businesses are already looking to be more sustainable and that will stand us in good stead as we look to the future.”

To find out more about UCP, visit www.ucp-uk.com