The University of Bath’s effort to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for the NHS to help keep frontline workers safe during the coronavirus outbreak concluded earlier this month, with a total of more than 400,000 items donated.

Staff from Bath’s Faculty of Engineering & Design started making PPE including face shields, eye protectors and ear-protecting ‘ladders’ for face masks in March. Working from a secure lab on the University campus, the team of 60 produced 200,000 pieces of PPE, while local firm 4Ground produced a further 200,000 eye protectors of their own, using designs developed at the University.

Staff also worked with local sewing enthusiasts to produce medical gowns, of which 9,000 were made.

The project received widespread support from the local community, in the form of cash donations, assistance and materials donated by businesses and food and drink given to the team during shifts.

The team was nominated for a ‘Creativity for Good’ award in this summer’s Creative Bath awards, won a University staff recognition award for contribution during COVID-19, and also received a letter of thanks from the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, Annie Maw.

Most of the PPE was donated to the Royal United Hospitals Trust Bath (the RUH) after staff there helped validate and suggest improvements to the equipment in the project’s early stages. Equipment was also donated to GPs, pharmacists, dentists, hospices and care homes.

RUH Chief Executive Cara Charles-Barks said: “I’ve only recently started my role at the RUH, but from talking to staff I’m well aware of just how important the University of Bath’s production of PPE was to the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Alongside Bath Spa University, the support we have had from the city’s two universities has been incredible – the PPE they produced helped to keep our frontline staff safe while they cared for some of our most seriously ill patients. A big thanks from everyone at the RUH for your invaluable support.”

Professor Richie Gill, from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been involved in the project since it began and helped set up the partnership with the RUH. He said: “This has been an incredible team effort throughout the past six months. The time that people have put into helping the NHS, and the assistance that we received to continue the project, both from inside and outside the University and from local businesses and individuals, is truly humbling.

“As a community it’s a great example of how we can make a positive difference by using our technical skills and knowledge to directly help people locally.”

Dr Alexander Lunt added: “The project has been an incredible insight into the collective team spirit within the university, to pull together and provide assistance to those in need. The number of face shields produced is staggering. We would like to extend our thanks to all the volunteers, staff members and donors who have selflessly worked towards this highly worthwhile cause.

“We are honoured to have been able to assist those working on the front line taking care of our community.”

A large number of face shields are now stockpiled ready for use by NHS staff when they are needed. The team carefully documented their work and still has the regulatory approval needed to supply PPE, so they are ready to restart production quickly if needed.

Professor Ian White DL FREng, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bath, said: “The work to produce PPE within the University has been truly impressive and should be highly commended. Members of our staff and the wider community came together quickly, effectively, and with a clear sense of purpose and public spirit to help local healthcare staff. This is the kind of positive real-world impact that we strive to make at the University of Bath.

“I’d like to put on record my sincere thanks to everyone involved, from the staff on the production line, to all of the other volunteers, donors and supporters who helped the effort, and of course to all of the healthcare staff in and around Bath who have cared for our community so diligently during this very challenging time.”