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Arts University Makers Protect Medical Staff

20 May 2020

The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the UK has been widely reported. As arts institutions plunged into lockdown, staff at Arts University Bournemouth quickly mobilised to join the effort. ELIA caught up with Tom Preston, the technical operations manager for art, design and architecture to find how they dealt with this crisis situation.
ELIA: Can you describe how things have been since your university went into lockdown?

TP: These are challenging and uncertain times which we all have found a little unsettling so support to students and staff has been essential. We were aware that we would have to close at some point so prepared as best we could. Student needs were obviously the priority so we worked on providing the best online support possible. Staff at the AUB have gone above and beyond working additional hours while getting used to new modes of working.
ELIA: What has your institution and its departments done differently as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

TP: Working from home has become the new norm but there are feelings of anxiety that accompany this, especially about being constantly accessible. The situation changed so quickly and so much needed to be implemented and supported that some have found it hard to find a balance but the community have risen to the challenge and is adjusting accordingly.
ELIA: How did you and your team come up with the idea to create face shields, scrubs and other medical equipment using the university 3-D printing and workshop facilities?

TP: There was lots of content on social media regarding making face shields using 3D Printers and I got tagged in a few as people are aware of my position at the AUB. I started a conversation with Fred Holdsworth who is one of my Senior Technicians in our workshop who manages the digital side of prototype producing including laser cutters and our EOS 3D Printer.
We then connected with colleagues from Imperial College London who were planning on going into mass production and discussed face shield production options.
Paul Johnson our course leader from modelmaking made contact regarding accessing 3D printers and we formed a working group with Tom Marshal, Head of Estates and Campus Services and Lucy Deval, Innovations Manager to discuss appropriate materials. Fred and I then gained site access and started to work on different prototypes, well Fred did most of the work.

Next, we started to look at production and packaging. I worked on a risk assessment and put a proposal forward for senior management. Once approved we gained further assistance from Rhiannon Evens, Senior Technician for Photography. Eden Frankham, senior technician for visual arts and Alex Greatwich technician for graphic Design started producing a disposable and reusable type of face shield. We distributed around 6000 units and have the capability of producing a further 5000 reusable units.
With regards to producing medical scrubs, I was contacted initially by Jennifer Ridge, technician demonstrator for costume and performance design and Gillian Kelly, technician demonstrator in fashion requesting access to site and sewing machines.

Additional members of staff got in touch with the same idea and we looked at how we could facilitate the project. We looked into costing, time scales and with the team put forward a proposal to senior management. Production started with limited staff on site and others working from home using their own equipment.    
Custom-made sizes are being produced for local doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, while we continue prioritising students’ needs and supporting academic delivery.        
ELIA: What new measures will you put in place for students starting back in September/October?

TP: The University is currently looking at how we can open the campus with social distancing measures in place. My main concern is how we can facilitate technical delivery and the making process whilst ensuring students receive the high level of technical support, we pride ourselves on. Recent events have shown us that some delivery can be performed very successfully online but access to specialist machines and making processes will be essential throughout the academic year.  We are reviewing all inductions and workshops, examining how these can be delivered with social distance measures in place which will include limited numbers, staggered staffing, physical barriers, appropriate PPE and cleaning and the possibility of more home-working.    

We plan to make the most of online resources and create video inductions so students can then borrow or access equipment, but we also want to create video introductions to equipment and processes so that the amount of time students and staff have to attend physical inductions is reduced.  
We have realised and embraced the effectiveness of online meetings which in the short term will be the new norm even when we are back on site. This releases valuable real estate which can then be used for other purposes.   
ELIA: What have you learned as a result of this experience?

TP: That as a community we are adaptable and we can embrace blended learning approaches to include online content and delivery along with physical inductions and workshops, ensuring students receive a high level of technical delivery. 
To hear more about the experiences of our members during this difficult time, why not join our interactive webinars or watch the recordings for tips on how you can improve your work practices.

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