Social care settings in Gateshead, both council-operated and private, could not access essential PPE as the COVID-19 emergency developed. The library service responded by developing the production of PPE visors. In total 7,500 visors were produced by the library service in 8 weeks.
Gateshead Council – Libraries, Arts and Heritage
Social care settings in Gateshead, both council-operated and private, could not access essential PPE as the COVID-19 emergency developed. The library service responded by developing the production of PPE visors. Initially the service used 3D printing technology and co-ordinated a community effort. It then switched to using a recently purchased laser cutter to massively increase production to meet demand.
In total 7,500 visors were produced by the library service in 8 weeks.
From early April 2020 the extent of the pandemic grew rapidly in the UK. There was a national shortage of PPE, and huge community efforts were mobilised to assist the NHS, for example through the making of scrubs. It rapidly became apparent that there was also a PPE crisis in care homes.
The challenge for Gateshead Libraries was to meet a rapidly growing demand, to repurpose equipment available and staff time to collectively respond to a crisis. Demand increased from 100 visors per week for adult social care settings in Gateshead, to a request for 1,650 visors per week at the peak of the crisis.
The library service had officially opened a new facility called MakerPlace on Saturday 8th March. This facility included two 3-D printers and a laser cutter. The facility is planned to be used for creative family learning activities, including coding, basic robotics, 3D printing, digital embroidery and more.
The library service closed its buildings on the 23rd March. Early in April the team started investigating the use of 3D printers to produce visors for potential PPE use. The demand rapidly emerged. Working closely with the Council communications team, the library team used a small, but dedicated, network of 3D printers in the community to create visors.
3D printing is very slow. With the network of community helpers and the library 3D printers, production was increased to approximately 50 visors a day.
The library team rapidly turned their attention to the potential to use the laser cutter for visor production. This piece of equipment increased production to initially 250 visors a day and ultimately 400 visors per day.
Deliveries were made to over 60 different private care homes, paramedics, the Red Cross, the Council’s undertaker service, schools and nurseries as well as satisfying the demand to help protect Council care workers.
In total 7,500 visors were produced. No setting waited more than two days for the delivery of the visors they had requested.
This intervention led to the resolution of one aspect of the PPE crisis locally. The crisis in care homes gradually grew and demand increased. The provision of visors rapidly and efficiently enabled key care home managers to attend to other more pressing matters and not worry about the supply of this particular item of PPE.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The PPE production lasted approximately 8 weeks and has now ceased. Gateshead libraries will be there to produce more visors should that be necessary. The approach of being creative and adaptable will always be sustained.
The team that produced the visors has already moved on to supporting the roll-out of 500 laptops to priority vulnerable families. The team is devising ways of engaging with and inspiring positive educational and creative use of these devices.
The key lesson is that creative and compassionate employees can apply existing skills, adapt thinking and respond to diverse needs. Libraries have a wide offer beyond the provision of books. They are centres of innovation on the high street and can provide entrepreneurial solutions to challenges facing a community.
Councillor Angela Douglas, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport said “We're all incredibly proud of how our library service has responded to this crisis and particularly the way they have helped to protect frontline workers across the borough. Producing PPE is just one great example of how our library staff continue to help others despite our buildings being closed.”
Note: Library services across the country including Manchester Central Library, Libraries Unlimited in Devon and Suffolk Libraries used relevant equipment to produce visors for care homes and NHS staff.