“I don’t want to be moving deckchairs on the Titanic. I want to build the rafts,” says Brian Dunn.
Starting this week, Brian, who is a partner at Kingswood and Hazel Leys (KHL) Big Local in Corby, and a group of volunteers across Northamptonshire will be going into full production, making free reusable 3D printed masks to try and combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Brian explains, “You can pick up a 3D printer for as little as £100 and they’re certainly good enough to produce these masks. It takes around two hours to print each one and then I do a water pressure test, which is the same sort of test you do on the inner tubing of a bicycle. So I’m checking to see if any air bubbles come out, which means air can get in.”
The one that Brian uses cost £250 from Aldi and was purchased last year with Creative Civic Change funding as part of a community shed project.
“I’ve also applied for grants for more printers and there are three 3D printers in Kettering who are working to our plan. This is very much a team effort.”
There are also plans to do online tutorials and help other communities to produce their own 3D masks.
At first, Brian started making soft fabric masks not long after the virus had broken out in the Far East. “My starting point was a YouTube tutorial from a girl in Taiwan and it’s based on her design.”
There are now two sewing groups producing soft masks with filter pouches for children and adults, as well as those printers churning out the 3D versions.
To date, KHL has produced 70 soft masks, 30 Montana 3D masks – so-called because they were invented by a college graduate and a pair of medical professionals from Montana – and more than 70 3D headbands.
“With the headband, masks can be worn for a much longer period. They are pain-free and provide greater protection, whereas the elastic band on surgical masks can cause blistering and breaks the skin when worn for hours on end, and this creates an easy entry point for the virus.”
Another Big Local area has also backed projects to make 3D visors that can be worn by frontline NHS staff and key workers.
Boston provided finance for Emma Whitton, who is Head of Technology at their local high school, to buy polypropylene sheets that have helped Emma and her team to produce close to 1000 head visors. They have been distributed to staff at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital, Grantham and District Hospital, St Barnabas Hospice, as well as numerous GP surgeries, home care providers, and secure unit employees.
However, attempts by KHL to supply healthcare workers with masks at a local medical centre were rebuffed. Brian explains, “Ten of our masks had been given out to staff, but then the management issued an instruction not to wear them because they don’t conform to the government guidelines. The staff were furious. Meanwhile, other governments, including Germany and the USA, have relaxed their rules. There simply aren’t enough masks available.”
The nature of coronavirus has compelled Brian and countless others to come up with DIY solutions to a complex global crisis.
But he has also been able to put his years of experience in making his own range of healthy products to good use.
“I worked as a logistics manager at Tottenham Hotspur on the catering side, looking after 14 restaurants, 17 bars and 500 staff on a match day. I thoroughly enjoyed working there but it was very stressful.
“So I wanted to do something that would allow me to switch off and de-stress. I became fascinated by soapmaking and discovered that I could spend hours doing something that I not only enjoyed but also meant I wasn’t thinking about work.
“That was around 15 years ago and I now have a small hobby business making natural soaps that are alcohol-free, where none of the ingredients have been tested on animals. My soap formulation is EU certified and every ingredient has been chosen for their antiviral, antifungal, or antimicrobial properties.
“Because I make soaps I’ve got PH paper and I’ve also been making PH neutral sanitisers. My sanitisers are what homebrewers and winemakers use, and is a mixture of water, vinegar, and bleach. Both vinegar and bleach are anti-viral and when you put it all together the sanitisers are PH7 or PH neutral. So they are skin safe and better than alcohol-based sanitisers that will kill skin cells.
“I’ve been shocked and appalled by the lack of good advice around this. People who are frequently using alcohol-based sanitisers will also crack their skin and every scratch or crack is another entry point for the virus.”
He adds, “Part of our COVID strategy is to develop a multi-pronged defence, with getting PPE into the community as the main part.
I’m also a herbalist – rosemary, thyme, and turmeric are excellent antivirals. So we are looking at antivirals that are in foods to fortify the immune system, and boost antibody production.”
The plan is for KHL to send out packs which include a mask, soap, and a recipe for making the sanitiser. They have also been working with other organisations to support across the county for people who need it most right now.
Brian says, “We’ve provided funds for Helping Hands – a volunteer group that was set up in response to COVID-19 – to get them off the ground. We’re also working with Home Start, a charity that helps families with at least one child under five. It’s about groups coming together and thinking about what we can do for people both inside and outside of our Big Local area.”
But, there is also a personal significance behind Brian’s determination to do whatever he can to help others through this crisis.
“It’s almost three years since my mother died and if I could have done anything to save her life, I would have done it. And that’s what’s in my head at the moment. You can call it a crusade if you want, but I don’t really care what anyone calls it. I don’t want to sound dramatic about it, but that’s what is pushing me to do this.”