As I’ve spoken about in the past, I own a laser cutter. So when the pandemic hit and the call went out for people to help produce PPE I leapt at the chance to do something to help.

Over the course of a couple of weeks I produced several hundred face shields and several litres of hand sanitiser, the face shields mostly going to Nottingham University Hospital along with others from Nottingham Hackspace and the hand sanitiser going to the hackspace to keep the volunteers operating the laser cutters there and assembling visors safe.

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I also donated my time and skills in keeping track of the finances of the project, the hackspace raised over £10,000 from the general public to produce PPE and I helped manage the expense procedure to make sure volunteers were appropriately reimbursed for costs they’d incurred. I even wrote possibly the worst excel formula in existence to automagically use the google maps API to calculate mileage claims for us.

This effort is something I am incredibly proud of, and whilst I don’t imagine that we’ll ever get any kind of official recognition the knowledge that I did my part is enough for me. What I didn’t expect was the threats from the government.

The University of Nottingham was one of the first organisations to take the design that we’d been working with and get it certified. They then got a puff piece published by the BBC about how “other designs could be doing harm” and were “worse than no PPE”, rather than work with groups like Nottingham Hackspace, or the hundreds of schools turning their own laser cutters towards the effort. And then a few days later came articles from a variety of sources talking about how numerous groups and individuals had been told that if they continued producing ad-hoc PPE that they’d be sued by the government.

I still receive around two requests a week, which in my mind shows that despite what the government might be saying that the shortages haven’t been solved, and it breaks my heart to have to say no. It makes me angry that often the only difference between our design and the certified ones is a plastic rivet. An organisation like the University of Nottingham could have reached out and told us what we needed to do to meet the certified design specifcations.

And yet.

There are still individuals at Nottingham Hackspace making a difference, producing cloth masks for people which is especially important given the government has finally seen sense and is advocating for people to wear masks in an increasing number of situations. The rest of us stand ready should the need arise for anything else we can help with.

Hopefully we won’t be needed again.