One of the hardest parts of this lockdown business is the feeling of helplessness it generates. The plague is amorphous, invisible, and very hard to pin down and beat the shit out of.
The other day I went along to the Ipswich Makerspace to use the woodworking machine shop. I have a key and usually go there when it’s empty- and during plague times, it’s usually empty! I was surprised when I got there to find Steve Chalkley and David Atkins socially distanced but working together on something. Steve roped me in to make a stand for a hole-punch. I was baffled at first- not least as Steve is more than capable of making one himself!
But then he explained that they were making face shields for frontline workers and needed the hole punch thingy for the visors. I practically broke a leg leaping at the chance to actually do something. He had his hole-punch holder thing an hour later (because glue takes time to dry).
The process of making the masks is quite straightforward. They are using the laser cutter to cut out three plastic strips that make up the headband, and then punching holes and trimming off the corners from acrylic binder sheets (from Office Depot!). I am entirely incompetent to manage a laser cutter, but I can punch holes and use scissors like a champ, so I stuck in and got about a thousand cut that afternoon.
These parts get boxed up in sets of 100, and delivered by David to various volunteer households who assemble them. David then collects the finished masks and delivers them to the NHS. Naturally, I took a box home for my family to have a go at!
The team is well supplied with volunteer assembly people so we’ve only done three boxes so far, and I’ve only had the chance to cut another 600 face shield acrylics. It’s tedious work, but damn, it’s nice to feel useful.
These masks have a maximum lifespan of four hours, and are changed more often if the patient has COVID-19. There are thousands of nurses, ambulance crew, doctors, carers, and other medical staff who need them, so we have to produce as many as we possibly can. At maximum capacity we can produce about 500 per day- the limiting factor is the speed of the laser cutter. But we can only do that if we have the materials.
The materials cost quite a lot, and they have a justgiving campaign to raise money for it. If you’re still employed, have some spare cash, and feel like helping out, please do!
In lockdown some people have a lot of time on their hands, and others are busier than ever (especially those with younger kids). If you fall into the first category, you may be able to find something close to you that you could help out with. I know my elder daughter’s high school has a sewing room, and it’s currently in full-time use by volunteers making scrubs. There’s probably an initiative of some kind going on somewhere near you that could use a willing pair of hands (however unskilled), or some other kind of help. Its probably the best thing you can do for your mental health. This was certainly very good for mine!