How Yorkshire's schools and universities are helping healthcare workers during pandemic

Several weeks have passed since the hall at Bradfield School in Sheffield was last abuzz with students. It is now no longer a space for the assemblies and drama classes that for years have been at the heart of Britain’s education system.

Friday, 17th April 2020, 4:50 pm
Kajin Osman is among student nurses at Sheffield Hallam University now joining the NHS workforce.

But far from being empty, as most pupils across the nation continue their learning at home, the hall has become a hive of activity of an entirely different kind, operating as a face shield production centre to help protect healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the start of lockdown, the education sector across the region, as with elsewhere in the UK, has been working hard to support the healthcare effort, with hundreds of university students opting to join frontline NHS teams in the fight against the virus.

Meanwhile, schools, colleges and universities have donated safety goggles and been involved in the manufacturing of scrubs and visors, efforts to be much-applauded given the British Medical Association’s assertion only last week that supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) in London and Yorkshire were “running at dangerously low levels”.

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John Bagshaw, head of DT at The Grammar School at Leeds, has been manufacturing visors for healthcare staff.

On Friday, the Government launched a plan ”to ensure PPE gets to where it is needed most” and said more than 761 million pieces of equipment had been delivered across the UK, with 24/7 military operations underway to manage supply and demand.

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Yorkshire grammar school staff set up production line making visors for NHS

“Every box that gets done, there’s a cheer because it’s another batch going to people who really need these,” says Bradfield’s Head of Design and Technology (DT) Sam Booth. “It’s amazing to be doing this and really quite emotional as well. Some of the places we’re delivering to, they are in tears when we’re giving this equipment...It feels like we’re making a difference, which is a great feeling."

Helen Vardy, the head of DT at King Ecgbert School, agrees. She has been manufacturing using a laser cutter in her classroom and can make up to 200 visors per day. “I’ve seen in the media the fear that key workers have without the right PPE,” she says. “If we can make them feel safer, that is an amazing thing to do.”

The hall at Bradfield School has become a face shield production line.

From his classroom in Leeds, John Bagshaw is also manufacturing visors, dealing with requests from local care homes and GP surgeries and distributing to Leeds and Harrogate hospitals.

Head of DT at The Grammar School at Leeds, he is producing two designs, one made using a laser cutter, and the other with a 3D printer. John has sent out a design file for the latter to students and alumni who have offered to help and have the facilities to 3D print at home. In school, meanwhile, four young people, children of keyworkers, are helping with laser cutting and assembly.

“I feel honoured to be able to do this,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do and I would hate not to be able to help and see our resources just sitting there...It’s bad that people appear to be in great need. I think people are being forgotten in care homes and GP surgeries, which are not directly on the frontline of the illness but they are having day-to-day contact with people and some of them haven’t got anything. The more we can do to help, the better.”

John’s students are not the only ones going above and beyond to help. At Sheffield Hallam University, as at many others across the country, nursing and healthcare students have opted to join the NHS workforce to help battle the pandemic. Over 600 final-year students, all in the last six months of their degrees, will become paid volunteers, supporting key staff involved in the fight on the frontline.

Glenn Jensen is overseeing the face shield production efforts at Ron Dearing UTC in Hull.

The university, whose staff have also been assisting in the coronavirus testing process, has been delivering training sessions to help prepare the students, covering everything from PPE guidance to how they can look after their own mental wellbeing.

Kajin Osman, a student on the Master’s Adult Nursing course, is among those who has signed up to help. She hopes to be placed on a surgical ward within Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. “I wanted to make a valuable contribution whilst completing my studies,” the 25-year-old from Rotherham says. “I’m keen to do something to help the NHS during this COVID-19 pandemic. As student nurses, I believe we all have skills that can be really valuable and we all have a role to play in this pandemic.”

At Wakefield Girls’ High School, where head of DT Brent Carlin has been manufacturing visors and a team of teachers have formed a ‘hub’ to make scrubs for Pinderfields Hospital, students have also been encouraged to contribute to the efforts. They have been set optional tasks to make drawstring bags for scrubs, headbands to hold face masks, and knitted or crocheted hearts for NHS staff to give to patients and family members.

Year 13 pupil Ruby Allen has risen to the challenge, producing 32 scrub bags, whilst the first set of scrubs made by teachers Elizabeth Maher, Natalie Phillips, Emma Critch and Sandy George were due to be delivered this week, with community donations funding the fabric and materials.

Some of the team at Bradfield School, which is working with others across Sheffield to manufacture visors.

“I’m extremely proud of everyone in our community,” says head Heidi-Jayne Boyes. “It’s always important to make the best use of our resources...We are proud to be able to help our fantastic key workers in all the ways we can.”

Over in Hull, the focus is also on collaboration. Employer-led school Ron Dearing UTC is working with the University of Hull’s Aura Innovation Centre to design and 3D print protective face shields - and they are calling on schools, colleges and businesses in the area to help them.

They are urging organisations with 3D printing facilities to produce designs themselves using a pre-prepared file or to loan their printers to create a production hub at Aura. “We don’t want a single 3D printer in the region to be sat collecting dust,” Glenn Jensen, head of engineering at Ron Dearing, says. “This is an opportunity to really make a difference and support and protect key workers.”

The team at Ron Dearing are also creating a second face shield design, made out of Perspex. Both types are being distributed to pharmacy workers, social care professionals and Hull Royal Infirmary as well as postal and shop workers.

“They haven’t passed any medical standards in terms of PPE,” Glenn explains. “We are just four people in an engineering room putting these together and trying to get them out as fast as possible. But what we’re hearing from keyworkers is that they’re in short supply and they’re going to work and are worried. We’re trying to give them something. Even if it stops the spread from one patient to one keyworker, it will be worth it.”

- Schools across Yorkshire have donated equipment such as safety goggles, gloves, face masks and aprons to healthcare workers.

- Among those to do so are Heckmondwike Grammar, Rastrick High, Outwood Grange Academy and Outwood academies Freeston, City Fields and Hemsworth, Benton Park, The Mount School York, Ripon Grammar, Ashville College, Accord Trust’s Ossett and Horbury academies and Garforth Academy.

- Staff at Harrogate Grammar and St Peter’s School York are among education workers that have made protective visors and masks.

- And universities, such as Hull and Leeds, are also playing important roles, particularly when it comes to research and the development of protective and medical equipment.

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