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GETTING BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS: Community groups take on vital front-line roles

THE systems we all once relied on to run our society - all of them thought to be stable and dependable - have suddenly ground to a halt during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The sheer chaos of the “new reality” we now live in requires a totally different approach to help people get by. A system that is NOT fuelled by profit - but by good will and a renewed community spirit.

Scottie Press has been talking to some of the unique new local services that were created to combat the crisis.

DoES Liverpool is based in the city’s Fabric District. Its usual function is providing a multi use “maker space” where independent creatives can work together in an open plan workshop.

But today it finds itself in a life-or-death battle – manufacturing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for carers.

The collaborative nature of the company, its long-established knowledge of manufacturing – plus all the necessary equipment already available in-house – meant they could provide a really rapid response to the PPE shortage.

Adrian McEwen

“There’s a global maker community that we are already hooked into,”  explains Adrian McEwen, co-founder at DoES Liverpool. “Our standard way of doing stuff is that we share designs and talk to each other and share the cool stuff that we’ve made.

“We experimented with it for a little while, because there is a load of medical knowledge that we didn’t necessarily have – but tackling the PPE shortage was something we could tackle with the kit we’ve got.”

Adrian praised the support of Alex Lennon, who hot-desks at DoES. Shortly after the outbreak of the virus the pair started formulating ways to start PPE production – and support for their idea soon spread beyond the workshop.

“Tom Dowel has also been a star in all of this,” says Adrian. “He’s based over in Manchester and previously worked at DoES.

“Tom’s girlfriend is a surgeon so she had a very good idea of what the situations is like in the NHS. She gave DoES a firsthand insight into what medical staff really needed.”

The discussion about manufacturing PPE then moved over to Twitter, attracting contributions from lots of other medical professionals, manufacturing experts and other PPE makers across the globe.

“Dr Dave Frazer, who also worked at the Does community in the past, came back on board.” Adrian says.

And DoES employee Jackie communicated with Spanish health care professionals about their experience, to inform the new Liverpool PPE operation.

“The maker community started sharing designs online from all over the world”, adds Adrian, who now had a blueprint to get started.

“Then I reached out to some people I know in the Walton Centre and they were really good at giving me feedback on how the design works – and if it would be all right to use.”

It was then time to talk about the most efficient way to manufacture the new PPE designs.

“Laser cutters are much faster than 3D printers,” Adrian explains. “And over the past week I’ve made a design that can be done on a laser cutter that only takes one-and-a-half minutes.

“And while I concentrated on the designs, Tom, Alex and some others in the community have been working on our Go Fund Me campaign.”

That started on April 1 and quickly gained a rapid public response. “Our initial target was £10,000 – and we reached that in just 48hrs,” Adrian revealed. “A month later the page is still raising money – and has reached a staggering £22,500.

“One of the things that this is showing is that there IS such a thing as society, and everybody DOES want to help - you see it everywhere.”

As the DoES workshop tried to meet the ever-growing demand, manufacturer Little Sandbox, based in Norris Green, became a partner on the project.

DoES was soon being contacted by local hospitals enquiring about availability. They were all asking the same question: “How much PPE can we get – and how quickly can we have it?” – underlining how desperate they are to get protection for frontline staff.

By April 29, DoES had made an extraordinary 10,000 visors. Adrian says: “Demand is now slowing slightly from hospitals” – but there are now more care homes, drug rehabilitation centres and other front line workers enquiring about PPE.

Inside the DoES workshop


“A lot of us have worked together, which has helped,” says Adrian. “I guess we’re a five week old start up in some ways.

“But our core DoES project has been running for nine years. That’s part of the reason why we have a maker-space – because you’ve got this community of people and equipment which can turn its hand to just about anything.”

Adrian also gave a special mention to the volunteers who’ve come on board and “learned how to use a laser cutter or cleaned stuff up and hole punched visors and done all the tasks we need.”

He adds: “One of the things that this is showing is that there IS such a thing as society, and everybody DOES want to help – you see it everywhere.”

Adrian then directed Scottie Press to check out neighbouring companies Fabricationstudios and the Try & Lilly factory – also based in the Fabric District – who are now both part of the “Helping Dress Medics” project which makes scrubs for the NHS.

The project began after people in the Costume Department from the BBC TV series “His Dark Materials” formed a group to make scrubs and set up a Go Fund Me page to pay for materials. The news soon spread around the country, attracting other creatives and delivery drivers who wanted to help out. It has now grown into a nationwide initiative.

Mary Lamb, from Fabricationstudios, tells us: “The fabric is paid for by the Helping Dress Medics fund. It arrives in 100 metre rolls, so Try & Lilly use their industrial cutter to get it down to useable sizes. Then we sort it and I pass it on to another 12 people who actually make the scrubs.

“Everybody does between about 10 to 20 sets of scrubs each and then they  are delivered to Kitty’s Lauderette who wash them free of charge and then we distribute them to  local hospitals .”

“I like the fact that we’ve kind of made a factory out of the community. We can’t all work together because we can’t be in the same room. But we’ve got runners, we’ve got the Try & Lilly factory, and we’ve got all these separate sewers in their own homes.

“There is just something really nice about that.”

The project has already supplied scrubs to Walton Hospital, Arrowe Park Hospital, The Royal Hospital, Alder Hey Hospital and Whiston Hospital.

Mary says they are now also manufacturing gowns, after a member at DoES told her that staff at Broadgreen Hospital “were in absolutely desperate need”. After sourcing materials and creating a design, the Liverpool team is now in the process of producing an astounding 2000 gowns for the Broadgreen medical staff.

Liverpool's Helping Dress Medics

Liverpool’s Helping Dress Medics operation is also receiving support from locally based business Kittys Laundrette – who are washing scrubs free of charge.

The community organisation is named in honour of Kitty Wilkinson, an Irish immigrant who fought the highly-infectious cholera outbreak in Liverpool in 1832. In the current Covid situation, the Everton based laundrette is doing justice to Kitty Wilkinson’s homage.

The laundrette has also started doing FREE service laundry – with collection and delivery for elderly and vulnerable residents, plus FREE service washes for key workers and FREE DIY washing and drying for anyone in financial hardship.

We caught up with co-founder of Kitty’s, Grace Harrison, who tells us: “We knew when the news of the Covid crisis broke that we were going to lose all of our commercial washes – football kits, hotels and B&Bs, plus general dry cleaning – because no-one would be going out.

It didn’t seem like the right thing to close, because you know your regulars and you know their lives. You know the people who don’t have access to any other facilities and who use us every week, it’s part of their weekly routine. So the real questions were: How do we stay open? And will we even be allowed to stay open?”

When the government list of essential businesses that could stay open was made public, it did include laundrettes. Grace recalls: “It was then about what do we do with all this extra capacity? We’ve got all these washing machines sat here, so how can we be more helpful to our community?”

And after receiving a grant from The Morgan Foundation, Kitty’s was able to start providing free washes for the people who need it most.

Agile couriers picking up laundry at Kitty’s

Grace adds: “Our vulnerable and elderly collect and drop off service is run in collaboration with couriers Agile.

“It is primarily aimed at people who use launderettes – and are still using them – but who shouldn’t be leaving the house.

“It is also for carers or relatives who usually do the laundry for people, but who’s circumstances have changed, and for people struggling to manage at home.

“Our other service is around key workers – free service washes for people to come in with laundry and drop it off at a time that suits them. We do a free wash, and dry and fold it for them to pick up. It’s for people who feel they need one less job to do in their busy lives.”

“We also help NHS staff and care staff who now need to live in hotels because they live with a relative who is really vulnerable.

“So we’ve been doing service washes for some of those people who now have no laundry provision – because they are not living at their own homes.”

Grace explains that they have contacted the person coordinating the hotel residency scheme for key workers, and are putting out direct notices to workers in need of their service.

“We’ll also be expanding what we’ve been doing with the food banks,” she says. “That will give free access to washing for people who are in financial hardship.

We’re trying to work with partners to make sure this information gets to the people who really need it and can benefit from it.”

Kitty Wilkinson's Frederick Street Wash House

As Grace explained, the drop off and collection service for the laundry is done by local courier company Agile. Scottie Press spoke to Danny Robertson about Agile, and his other cycling venture – Peloton – that also uses pedal power to combat the crisis.

“It’s nice to have a purpose,” Danny tell us. “A few of the other lads agreed that they wanted the business to continue. We all felt that we could – so it was just about the why and the how.

“We’ve got the place, we’ve got the appetite – and we’ve got the OK from the government”

Agile is also contracted with food banks in North Liverpool to run deliveries to people in isolation, in a scheme that’s been set up by local Labour MP Ian Byrne and Everton councillor Jane Corbett.

“I was speaking to one girl today and she was very much down,” Danny tells us. “She was probably mid 70s, living in Everton – and by no means affluent. You could see in her eyes that she was desperate to get out – but there is nowhere we can go though, is there?”

Danny is trying to provide interaction and conversation when calling at people’s homes, to help combat loneliness.

“Because of the way we are funded we can do that,” he says. “Councillor Corbett said: ‘Go out there and use your smile’.”

Meanwhile, the Peloton bike workshop, which operates from The University of Liverpool, has expanded its work space to the adjacent car park, to make it safer to continue their work.

Free bike giveaway on Peloton’s twitter

“The extra space means we can really manage customer interaction – and customers can come in and have a go of the bike as well,” Danny says.

“We’ve also continued to sell refurbished bikes, and we’re doing servicing and repairs – which is done though collection.”

Peloton use a electric van to run a bike repair drop off service, “We’ve put a couple of little things in place to make sure we’re keeping customers – and ourselves – safe.

“Alongside that we wanted to boost our social value and decided to start donating bikes every week”.

So they are using their social media page to give away FREE refurbished bikes to key workers.

“The first bike went to a lady called Helen, who is a paramedic,” Danny tells us.

“People are also now donating bikes for us to fix up and pass on to people.”