A few of the comissioned portraitsEthel Mann
Ethel Mann

An enterprising Cambridge postgraduate student has launched a truly imaginative appeal to help the victims of a recent fire in Arbury. In return for a donation to the fire appeal, donors can request a digital portrait of a friend or relative, and have it posted to them as a surprise gift.

The portraits are the work of Ethel Mann, a volunteer and committee member with the Cambridge Tzu Chi Collegiate Society, the local youth branch of international relief foundation Tzu Chi. Ethel is currently studying a master’s degree in Researching Practice through the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, putting herself through the course by teaching design engineering at Stephen Perse Foundation School.

"When I saw the devastating effect of the Arbury fire, I decided to offer digital portraits in return for donations"

The fire, on 10th May, engulfed a Cambridge City Council block of eight flats, leaving all but one uninhabitable.  Another Tzu Chi volunteer, Hsin-Ling Liang, lives nearby. “A friend of mine called to check that I was not affected,” she says.  “Luckily I wasn’t, but I decided to go down to the site to see what help I could offer.  The police and fire fighters were still on scene when I arrived.”

Ethel Mann

After providing what immediate help she could, Hsin-Ling called Ethel and together they set up a help desk for the fire victims. “The flat where the fire started has been completely destroyed and all the others have severe smoke damage,” explains Hsin-Ling. “Because the block has been designated a crime scene and is also a health hazard, the residents can only enter for a few minutes a day. Two of them had almost nothing with them and needed to buy things like nightwear and toiletries, and we have also been providing all of the twelve residents with daily breakfast packs. One of them also had an urgent need for a bicycle.”

Seeing the plight of the fire victims led Ethel to come up with the idea of the appeal. “I started producing portraits for friends and family as a way of keeping in touch during lockdown,” she says. “But when I saw the devastating effect the Arbury fire had on the residents, I decided to offer digital portraits in return for donations to support them. A digital portrait is a great gift for someone you haven’t seen for a while.”


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She continues: “The Council initially placed the evacuated residents into a hostel for the homeless and rough sleepers, and provided them with a room plus lunch and an evening meal. We took them breakfast and provided funding for essentials: some of them left their flats with almost nothing. Later, they were found temporary flats, where they will stay until they can move back home.  We are continuing to help them with the work of cleaning up their smoke-damaged flats and possessions, and building their lives again.” 

 Anyone who would like a portrait produced as a gift for a friend or relative can contact Ethel via the Tzu Chi Cambridge Group Facebook Page,  or can complete the form linked here. The suggested minimum donation is £8.