Engineering graduates help arthritis sufferers with magnetic fastenings innovation

Three University of Sheffield graduates are helping people with limited dexterity who find fastening buttons a challenge.

Matt Barrett, Natalie English and Tom Fantham, the team behind Handy Fasteners, have been awarded £25,000 by Arthritis Research UK to further develop their magnetic buttoned shirts for people with arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions. Handy-Fasteners is a set of magnetic buttons that can be retrofitted to any garment to replace fiddly buttons or fasteners.

The award was announced following the team’s progression through the prestigious Design Council Spark programme, a unique innovation fund and support programme designed to fast-track products to market.

Handy Fasteners beat over 300 entrants to participate in the rigorous 20-week programme. They were then encouraged to pitch for up to £50,000 from Arthritis Research UK as their product makes a real difference to people.

Matt, who studied Aerospace Engineering, is enjoying the unexpected direction his engineering pathway has taken: “It’s been a weird but hugely exciting journey,” he says. “The product development process has been really interesting and the look on people’s faces when they try out the shirts is amazing.”

It all started with the popular ‘Make a Change’ module which gives engineering students the opportunity to apply their theoretical engineering knowledge to solve real problems.

"Once again our students evidence that with engineering skills they can and do make a change to people's lives.


Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, who tasks the students with designing commercially feasible products and solutions to a real problem, said: "Once again our students evidence that with engineering skills they can and do make a change to people's lives. I am incredibly proud to have taught these students and see their idea emerge and progress into a winning product."

Liam O’Toole, Chief Executive of the charity Arthritis Research UK, said: “Arthritis can stop you doing the little things that have a huge impact on your independence and confidence. If you have arthritis in your hands, using buttons and zips can make getting dressed independently really difficult. That’s why we are delighted to have been part of the Spark Awards and support the winning entry.”

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2016 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Kirsty Bowen
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 1034