Prior to March 2020, my trusty Ultimaker 2+ and I were kept busy with CREATE Education, producing content and resources and also developing and delivering 3D printer training to Primary and Secondary schools. Then COVID happened! With schools closing their doors to all except vulnerable and key worker children, a 7 week complete lockdown and most children including my own being educated from home everything changed. I was put onto furlough a week after the schools closed and decided to use my time to help my local community.

A local community support Facebook group was set up and I volunteered to shop for residents who were isolating. Little did I know that I was soon to become very busy.

It all started with a post to the community support group from a GP who was responsible for organising the local NHS COVID response. Contrary to government reports, supplies for PPE were not getting through and he put out the following call.

I knew that 3D printing was being used in this way but until I saw this post and had subsequent call with Greg, I didn’t appreciate the demand and urgency. This initial post resulted in myself and another local resident starting a small production operation, initially printing about 12 a day between us using our own stocks of filament. We needed supplies of elastic and acetate to complete the visors, prompting the following post to the community group.

The community responded and we soon had enough supplies to keep us going for a while. Local charity Violet Grace’s Gift saw the post and stepped in to order larger quantities of acetate and elastic.

After a bit of research, we switched to the 3D Verkstan face shield design which required no elastic, took less than half the time to print and used half the material. This allowed us to over double production to around 30 a day between us. After a few days I got a call from CREATE Ambassador Rob Jones offering his support using six further 3D printers from CREATE Hub School Cowley International College. Initially Cowley International College donated filament that the school held in stock, but fortunately the fundraiser was being shared throughout the community and donations for materials were flooding in.

News quickly spread and I was contacted by several other local makers and the Design Technology technician at St. Cuthbert’s High school also offering their 3D printers, laser cutters, time and expertise to help. The St. Helens COVID Mask Makers group was soon set up on Facebook to share good practice along with a messenger group to aid communication and a shared spreadsheet to co-ordinate our efforts, the ordering and distribution of filaments and collection of completed face shields.

Very our small group were producing hundreds a day, but demand was increasing. We were inundated with requests from private care homes and hospices, Marie Currie, the ambulance service, the local police, district nurses, pharmacies, schools and other vital front line organisations and workers all of who were struggling to get hold of supplies through official channels. The local community shared and donated willingly to the fundraiser raising a total of £3580. CREATE Education were a vital support during this time as filaments were getting difficult to source and taking too long to deliver. CREATE Education were able to supply our group with all the filaments we required on FREE next day delivery so our production efforts could continue without worry of running out of filament.

Keeping track of requests and co-ordinating the collection and distribution of the shields became almost a full time job for me alongside home educating and my trusty Ultimaker 2+ working around the clock. We developed an automated request form that fed into our organisation spreadsheet to help capture and track requests and co-ordinate deliveries. On the distribution front, another local Charity – The Steve Prescott Foundation offered their services, supported by local celebrities including players from the St. Helens Rugby League Team and Comedian Johnny Vegas who were doing deliveries of the face shields in person to help boost the morale of key workers.

In total the St. Helens COVID Mask Makers group managed to make over 7000 Face Shields, but that is only part of the story. Efforts like this were being replicated around the country, in particular school Design and Technology departments were rising to the challenge, putting their workshops, 3D printers and skills to use. School Design and Technology Departments alone manufactured and donated over 424,000 items of PPE at last count during the pandemic, and these were just the numbers recorded so the true figure could be much higher than this.

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