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Issued:19/02/15

A student from Sheffield Hallam University has turned what some may consider a disability to her advantage by producing a set of stylish, ergonomic cutlery for people with arthritis.

Charlotte Simmons, 22, studying for an MA in product design at Sheffield Hallam University, developed rheumatoid arthritis in her final year of a jewellery and metalwork BA - but found her calling - making ergonomic, hand-crafted cutlery.

Charlotte's designs draw upon Sheffield's heritage as a town famous for cutlery manufacture, by using reclaimed Sheffield steel, British Silver and hand-carved Olive wood.

And it's caught the eye of potential manufacturers at Arthritis Research UK's Marketplace event, where products aimed to help people with arthritis are showcased.

It's a far cry from the summer of 2011, when Charlotte started to develop unexplained pains in her legs, back and neck and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis while on a work placement at British Silverware.

"I could hardly walk, my sister tried to take me shopping but old people with walking sticks were moving faster than me- at no point did the thought cross my mind that it could be arthritis," said Charlotte.

It took two months for Charlotte to get diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, with doctors initially thinking she had been stung by a bee. "It isn't something you think can affect younger people," said Charlotte.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a severe form of inflammatory arthritis which causes those affected to experience swollen joints, pain and fatigue, and affects approximately 400,000 people in the UK.

Charlotte's condition affects her whole body, meaning that she couldn't carry on with her jewellery and metalwork course, which required a lot of strength and dexterity.

To make matters worse, Charlotte was given some ergonomic cutlery by occupational therapists. Charlotte said: "They were huge, blue and clunky. I hated how they looked so medical; I was embarrassed to use them. So, I decided to make my own."

Charlotte tested out some prototypes on a panel of people who all had arthritis themselves. Charlotte said: "The look on their faces when they tested the final design was a picture. I wish I had taken a photograph - one lady nearly cried!"

Charlotte said: "When I was diagnosed I became really depressed and I thought I was going to drop out of University.  But my arthritis gave some purpose to my designs -I enrolled on the product design masters course which made me think creatively about how to solve problems and my work changed for the better."

Alaster Yoxall is an expert in ergonomic packaging design and a principal research fellow at Sheffield Hallam. Alaster has been working with Charlotte to develop her cutlery, he said:

"Arthritis is stigmatised as a condition associated with old people, hospitals and disability, the fact that Charlotte can relate to this problem gives her an inspiring passion to help other people with the condition. Her impeccable eye for design has helped her to create a beautiful and desirable product which won't make people feel embarrassed when eating out.

"It’s been a pleasure working with Charlotte and I look forward to seeing what the exciting opportunities that she has lined up have to offer."

Roger Bateman, MA design programme leader said: "Charlotte has prototyped, exhibited and field tested designs and the feedback has been very positive. Charlotte's work has been supported by teaching and research staff who have a wealth of knowledge in the broad area of design for health, something that has certainly helped Charlotte develop here ideas to a very high level.

Charlotte added: "Sheffield Hallam have given me so much support and encouragement; it's been a huge confidence boost to have my work recognised and the thought that I can make a real difference to the lives of people with arthritis is so rewarding."

For press information: contact Nicole Kelly in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 2811 or n.kelly@shu.ac.uk