AN army of expert volunteers set up in Chippenham to make free face shields for front line key workers may be forced to down tools over red tape.

Annette Alchin, from Devizes, who set up Shield Wiltshire, says she and her team may be forced to stop work as the Government has brought in new regulations which will mean they must pay in the region of £5,000 to have their masks tested.

She said: “It felt like a punch in the stomach. The team were in full swing and have spent most of their spare time making the visors for free from their homes. The design we use for our shields has been approved in America and Europe and have also been approved by Wiltshire Council.

“We understand and respect the need for items to meet regulations but ours have already been shown to be of extremely high standard.  The protection the visor offers is through the plastic face shield and we use the same materials as other certified visors.  I think if we went through the process of accreditation, the visors would pass the testing.

“We are all unpaid volunteers and we are only doing this on a temporary basis. We have now put our work on hold while we decide what to do but the feeling at the moment is that we most likely will stop.”

So far the group has supplied nearly 20,000 shields to organisations such Wiltshire and Thames Valley Police, care homes, pharmacies, voluntary groups, undertakers, Erlestoke Prison and dental groups.

She said many inquiries had started to come in from schools and nurseries needing protection ready for the return to the classroom planned for June 1.

She said: “I do feel the demand is still there and this is shown by the comments and messages of support and reviews that have been left on our Facebook page.


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She does not believe it would be possible to get the new testing fee waived as the part of the legislation requires the visors to be approved by external bodies and there are fees involved with this.

She said: “We have relied on grants from people such as Wiltshire Community Foundation and Chippenham Borough Lands. We provide the shields for free to front line staff. We knew we would stop at some point as we were only bridging a gap, but we wanted to be the ones making the decision and this is rather an abrupt end.”


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Mrs Alchin, who owns Miles Recruitment Ltd in Chippenham, set up the group after seeing visors selling for £7 and asked her brother to produce one on his 3D printer. “I thought it was really rubbish that people on the frontline were risking their health and would potentially have to pay for these items to keep them safe. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘my brother could make them’.”

She posted a picture of the resulting mask on Facebook and got an immediate response. “I had a paramedic doctor saying he wanted to order some and then it escalated from there. I had the Devizes Covid-19 group on and then the others started contacting me. I was absolutely taken aback by how many people were contacting us,” she said.

Some of our team are really technical and include inventors and they helped refine the design so that it increased productivity and used less material. Teachers at Lavington School have also volunteered their help and made a significant amount with laser production.

Devizes Covid-19 group has become involved and among the volunteers is 18-year-old Tom Durnford from Devizes, who sometimes delivers the finished visors on his skateboard, and 71-year old Tim LeMare from West Ashton near Trowbridge. He said: “Now I cannot go out, and looking for something to do, I learnt how to use my 3D printer. I was pointed to Annette and I began making five visors a day. Now I can do 60.”

The new government legislation for COVID PPE  published last week says: “Before PPE intended to protect UK workers in any environment from COVID19 can be placed on the UK market, it must meet the essential safety requirements and be assessed in line with the regulatory easements.”
Mrs Alchin said: “One of the experienced engineers in my team heard about this and looked into it and we believe it would cost about £5,000.” She has approached Chippenham MP James Gray who is looking into the issue. Other companies in the region including Hack the Pandemic has had to put its work on hold and also estimates the cost of  the safety testing at £5,000.