Brooke Dennis is seen at work as she volunteers making scrubs for the NHS at her business Make Town in Hackney, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 13, 2020. REUTERS/David Klein
Brooke Dennis in Londonmakes scrubs for the NHS. ScrubHub, a network of home sewing enthusiasts, has been taking orders from hospitals, GPs and care providers, sometimes with unusually colourful results © David Klein/Reuters

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Trying to stay out of hospital because of avoidable injuries has become a concern during the pandemic, when the health systems are under such pressure. But stuck at home, there is also a fresh supply of time to fix those niggling patches of rot, seep or peel that we usually just glare at.

And adventures in quarantine home improvement have meant the world’s bodgers putting themselves in harm’s way. The Oxford Eye Hospital, for example, said it had seen a huge increase in cases of “traumatised eyes” from home or garden projects gone wrong. The National Health Service even appealed to Britons to take extra care with DIY over Easter — to avoid cluttering A&E. 

This urge is understandable — think of the flap of ungummed wallpaper that torments the hero of Michael Frayn’s novel Towards the End of the Morning. The drooping fragment on the bedroom ceiling becomes symbolic of what he feels are his many failures to combat entropy. With a pandemic raging outside, many are desperate to set at least one small corner of their world to rights.

This band of housebound tinkerers is also keen to help beleaguered frontline workers. ScrubHub, a nationwide network of home sewing enthusiasts and garment industry experts, has been taking orders from local hospitals, GP surgeries and care providers, sometimes with unusually colourful results, according to the grateful Twitter pictures from medics. 

The need for clothing that can be changed more times a day than usual, and will survive a hot wash, has massively increased demand for scrubs. One hospital doctor I spoke to a fortnight ago described being so scared of taking the virus into her own home that she and her colleagues had been stripping on the doorstep and running straight to the shower and washing machine when they got home — scrubs are more practical. 

Her comments on the supply of personal protective equipment and on the changing guidance on safe garb for hospital workers during the outbreak were unprintable. But more settings now require face shields and a cottage industry has sprung up to plug holes in NHS provision.

DIY PPE in UK - 3DCrowd UK pix from their website health workers thanking team for their face shields
Health workers wear homemade, 3D-printed face shields © 3DCrowd

Jürgen Maier, former chief executive of Siemens UK, has two 3D printers at home in Manchester, where his husband Richard Madgin has been making 10 face shields per day for the past 10 days. “We like our gadgets,” says Mr Maier. “And it’s really easy.” They print the reusable visor frame (the rim that fits around the head) from a downloadable design on 3D community website, and add acetate screens that can be discarded and replaced. So far they have supplied three small local care homes. Their next plan is to kit out neighbourhood shops who want protection for their staff. 

It’s a small army of hobbyists riding to the rescue. 3Dcrowd has been coordinating a response from more than 7,000 volunteers with access to printers to fulfil requests for tens of thousands of face shields. 

“It would be better to plan,” says Mr Maier, “but in this country what we’re good at is ingenuity.” It’s a crumb of comfort to those left open-mouthed by the medical procurement fiasco. But doing something to help feels important to many. And ordinary citizens are also making their own protection.

One neighbour, practical and resourceful, has been sewing DIY face masks using one of several well-researched free online patterns available. She favours double layers of sturdy, washable cotton and ear fastenings from a pile of elastic pooled from various neighbourhood mending baskets. Official advice in the UK lags behind, but Sadiq Khan, London mayor, has suggested wearing a face cover is responsible on public transport. But there have been warnings that buying surgical masks may affect medics being able to source their own.

I now have one of my neighbour’s beautiful creations — bartered for home-baked flapjacks. Will I find it in the back of a drawer years later, a memento of this frightening time? Or perhaps using it will by then have become the socially acceptable way to behave, as in some Asian cities. We all hope for the former. But if the chaos continues, the DIY boom will at least have helped the NHS through this part of the crisis — and the wallpapering can most definitely continue to wait.

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