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Young Scientist

How a Limerick teen's 'sleeping bags for the homeless' idea caught the world's attention

Plans for the bags have been sent to the US and Australia, and there’s been interest from all over the world.

IT’S JUST UNDER two months since ran a story on the Duffily Bag – the sleeping bag designed with homeless people specifically in mind.

The creation of Limerick teenager Emily Duffy, it first gained attention at the BT Young Scientist exhibition last year.

A Dublin charity, the Mendicity Institution, picked up the idea and ran with it (with Emily’s blessing, of course) and started producing the bags on a larger scale. As part of a programme of theirs set up with the aim of getting homeless people back into the workforce, a production line was set up at the charity’s Dublin 8 base.

“The idea is you get some pride in yourself… It’s the pride in creating something,” the charity’s Julian Judge told us, earlier this year.

What’s happening now? 

In the last eight weeks or so, the story’s gone near viral worldwide. It’s been translated into several languages, and and the Mendicity have had enquiries about the sleeping bag from as far away as the US and Australia.

The charity now says it’s hoping to expand the work programme that makes the Duffily Bag over the next year or so – and they’ll be looking for another product to manufacture too in the coming months.

“There was a lot of interest – we got a lot of immediate interest in the bags,” Mendicity manager Charles Richards told us this week.

“We sent out around ten bags to the UK – and then for people in other countries we sent the instructions and bits of materials.

There are Eagle Scouts in America working on them, and people in Sydney and Perth trying to make their own bags as a result.


Richards said they were now in the process of recruiting a workshop manager to come up with alternative ideas.

“This is something we can do in the winter when have some market for them, or some use [...] we hope to find another product that can be made too.”

Work is continuing on the Duffily Bags in the meantime, and the charity is still providing altered ‘mat versions’ of the product to Merchant’s Quay homeless services in the city.

bag's Daragh Brophy tries out the bag.

How are they made?

Former street-drinkers from Eastern Europe are employed at the workshop of the Mendo (as it’s also known) – which is located just off the quays in Dublin, near Christchurch and just a few blocks from the Guinness Storehouse. Following step-by-step instructions, they work in pairs to construct the finished product from the raw material provided (Chadwicks of Lucan provide all the material at cost-price).

The workers, generally, arrive at the charity’s base after completing the Simon Community’s detox programme. At €20, they’re paid just over the minimum wage for each two-hour session at the workshop.

Richards said a number of men had successfully progressed from the workshop in recent months, and moved into full-time work and employment.

The charity is working to get funding to upscale the programme, and hopes to expand from four participants to 20 by the end of the year.

workshop The Mendo workshop


Emily, meanwhile, says it’s “the most unbelievable thing” to know that people have been benefiting so much from something she had a hand in.

She’s been to the Mendicity several times to talk to the charity about how the project is progressing – but, with a Leaving Cert to think about next year “I don’t really have that much time on my hands to get involved”.

They’re great there – they’re doing a great job, and when I went up there recently to view the latest version of it, it was unbelievable.

A raft of modifications have been made to Emily’s initial prototype (check it out in the video below) and the Limerick teenager says it’s come on “in leaps and bounds, design-wise” in the last 12 months. / YouTube

The Desmond College student says she’s by no means letting the attention go to her head, noting, “I’d like to say that I’m a local celebrity, but I’m not”.

In tandem with her studies for the Leaving, she’s also busy working away on her Young Scientist entry for next year.

This is all going on in the background for me. When the media attention comes up, that’s when people realise this is what I do with my free time.

Read: Could this ‘Homeless Wrap’ be saving lives on the streets?

Read: In a south Dublin park, three men and a dog bed down for the night >

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