Members of North Belfast Men’s Shed Project Create Their Own PPE
John Johnston of the North Belfast Men’s Shed Project tells us how the Shedders turned the Covid restrictions crisis into an opportunity and learned new skills in their determination to produce their own PPE equipment.
“However crucial the Government’s lock-down arrangements have been in managing the Covid- 19 pandemic, they strike right at the heart of the raison d’etre of the North Belfast Men’s Shed Project. Fundamentally, this project aims to promote and enable reduction of social isolation whereas the Government’s management of the pandemic has centred on promoting social distancing and elements of self-isolation. The challenge deriving from this paradox had every potential for disabling much of the positive progress being achieved by the Shed Project. Rather than being framed by helplessness in these circumstances members of the Shed cast them as an opportunity for proactivity in terms of learning, well-being and self-help.
In order that the hiatus caused by closure could be overcome at the earliest possible time, the Men’s Shed’s Management Group met on a weekly basis – initially outdoors – to identify and develop a strategy for reopening that would be compliant with all regulatory protocols. It was regarded as crucial not only that the Men’s Shed reopened as soon as possible, but that it would do so with Shed-specific measures in place aimed at protecting the safety and healthy well-being of all participants.
Accordingly, the forward planning identified several arrangements, relating to the day to day operation of the Shed, which would be put in place upon reopening. These related to the number of participants permitted to be on the premises and the number permitted in each area within the Shed at any given time. Other arrangements relating to floor markings, movement within the building and use of the kitchen area etc. were also identified and put in place. All aspects of this planning in the Men’s Shed were guided by advice circulated by the Irish Men’s Sheds Association. The arrangements are specific to North Belfast Men’s Shed and the needs of those who participate in the Shed Project.
A highly significant further aspect of the North Belfast Men’s Shed’s preparation for reopening was the development, manufacture and assembly of its own PPE face screens. This was an idea that initially presented itself as an opportunity for Shed members to engage in self-help but which mutated into a substantive undertaking. The extent to which this initiative would make demands on the adult learning of participants was scarcely anticipated. In order that the Shed’s Epilogue laser machine could be used to cut the screen shape from a sheet of PETG (plastic) material, a few Shed members needed to acquire and use the necessary basic graphic design skills. A small team of Shed members worked tirelessly to acquire and fine tune this newly-acquired learning. They also needed to get to grips with and learn how to apply the methodology of the INKSCAPE software used by the laser machine.
Achieving the production of a really high quality PPE face screen was an extended developmental process that evolved over several weeks. It variously demanded much learning by trial and error, overcoming roadblocks, and cooperative teamwork in what was a creative and challenging problem -solving experience. The production process incorporated the fitting of a pre-cut sponge spacer across the top front of the screen to facilitate use of the screen by spectacle wearers. Strong elastic waistband material was used for the headband and cut to length following field trials conducted with various Shed members. The elastic was attached to the screen by the use of appropriately-sized plastic rivets which had been sourced online. Their adoption followed the several false dawns arising from the trial use of paper clips, sellotape, staples and superglue. This production process was initially accomplished by an assembly line of volunteer Shed members who endeavoured to implement or acquire the specific skills necessary. In a few instances this involved developing a simple work-around tool or template.
The newly-planned arrangements together with the availability of our home-produced face screens enabled the Shed to reopen at the beginning of September. Each participant was issued with a face screen free of charge. Wearing of the screen was obligatory while attending the Men’s Shed following its much needed and much anticipated reopening. Although the Shed was closed again following the implementation of a four-week Covid-19 ‘Circuitbreaker’, the Shed is again well-placed for reopening as soon as is permitted. The Men’s Shed Project also looks forward to publicising its capacity for producing its face screens. It is very much hoped that the screens will become part of the Project’s social enterprise product portfolio. This would mean that screens could be made to order for other Men’s Sheds or organisations/groups requiring this high quality element of Personal Protective Equipment.
In short, the story presented here ticks many of the North Belfast Men’s Shed boxes and ‘does what it says on our Shed’s tin’.