More than 60 groups have now received funding from the Wiltshire Community Foundation to help them tackle the coronavirus crisis, including one that is making thousands of protective visors for frontline workers.
The Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund has raised £420,000 in a month, with more than £250,000 already distributed. Interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “This continues to be an amazing response and it is gratifying to see the money being used so effectively by all of these wonderful groups who are providing immediate relief to many of the vulnerable people in our local communities.
“The need in our communities is still rising and that will be the case for some time to come so we are really grateful for donations, the money will make a huge difference.”
Among the recipients is Shield Wiltshire, which has been given £4,000 to help a small army of volunteer 3D printer owners from all over the county make and deliver 6,400 plastic visors. It has already delivered 7,000 visors to Wiltshire and Thames Valley Police, care homes, pharmacies, voluntary groups, undertakers and Erlestoke Prison, which ordered 500 units.
Founder Annette Alchin set up the group after seeing visors selling for £7 and asked her brother to produce one on his 3D printer. “I thought it was pants because people on the frontline were risking their health. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘my brother could make them’.”
She posted a picture of the resulting mask on Facebook and got an immediate response. “I had a paramedic doctor saying he wanted to order some and then it escalated from there. I had the Devizes Covid group on and then the others started contacting me. I was absolutely taken aback by how many people were contacting us,” she said.
“Me and my brother were suddenly faced with hundreds and hundreds of orders and I thought ‘what can I do?’ I could either throw my hands in the air and say ‘I can’t do this’ or I could find people that could, and I chose the latter.”
Mrs Alchin, who is working ten hours a day on the project, used her contacts to recruit more 3D printer owners and now has a network of 38 printers and volunteers. Amog the volunteers is Jonathan Cherrington of Swindon, who is UK engineering manager at Praxair Surface Technologies in Drakes way, Swindon. He and two colleagues have given up their time to make visors. He said: “I am enjoying helping the Shield Wiltshire team with visor production and have other members of staff helping with this project.”
Mrs Alchin said of the volunteers: “There is such a community spirit out there, people want to help and there is such a demand for these things. It takes 45 minutes to print one visor, so if you consider the time and effort these wonderful people are putting into that it is quite phenomenal.”
Among the wide range of volunteers is 18-year-old Tim Durnford from Devizes, who delivers the finished visors on his skateboard, and 71-year old Tim LeMare from West Ashton in Trowbridge. He said: “Now I cannot go out, and looking for something to do, I learnt how to use my newly-acquired 3D printer. I was pointed to Annette and I began making five visors a day. Now I can do 60.”
One volunteer who is a Dyson scientist has helped refine the design so that it can be made more quickly. Teachers at Lavington School have also volunteered their help to use a laser cutter, which produces the visors far more quickly.
Orders for visors come via social media or through the group’s website. A complex logistics system then allocates work to the printer nearest to where the order has to go, and raw materials are dispatched to them. Either the printers make the delivery or more volunteers make the drop.
Mrs Alchin said: “I have used a lot of my recruitment skills, but I am still well out of my comfort zone. I am learning a lot about production.
“The biggest challenge has been finding the funds for raw materials. The units themselves cost 61p but with 6,400 units ordered I am now worrying about how I am going to supply these guys with the materials to keep making them so the Wiltshire Community Foundation grant will really help us.”
Donations for raw materials can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/f/materials-to-make-covid-visors-for-free and more details about the Shield Wiltshire can be found at shieldwiltshire.co.uk.
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund, or find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.