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Teacher leads lifesaving project making PPE for local care homes

Pictured: Joan Brown

Joan Brown, a teacher who is currently studying a Level 4 Leadership and Management Apprenticeship has put her new skills into practice, producing 5,000 protective face-visors for staff in local hospitals and care homes.

Joan, 40, was the driving force behind the activity at Ysgol Clywedog which saw colleagues and members of the local community donate their time and resources to produce face visors to combat the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The Welsh Government recently announced a £40m jobs and skills package which will be crucial in incentivising employers to recruit and retain up to 5,000 apprentices, like Joan.

Joan, who moved to Deeside after a family member was taken ill with dementia, said: “As soon as we saw the news unfolding about the lack of PPE, I wanted to do anything I could to help.

“I have a close family member in a care home and so I was very aware of the situation they were facing. I started thinking about the equipment we had in in the design and technology department at school that wasn’t being used and began to research designs for visors.”

After a few prototypes, Joan and the department technician, Nick Clarke began production in her classroom, using the departments laser cutter and workshops for labelling.

Joan, who is studying for her apprenticeship with Portal Training alongside her full-time job as a teacher, said: “I was working full-time, studying and making visors during any spare time I had.

“It was a really busy time and I would often work evenings or weekends to mark work and prepare lessons and resources for online learning”

“We didn’t stop for three months but knowing the possible impact that the virus was having on people’s lives, kept us going.

“We began approaching local schools in the area to look for volunteers to help us with production. After a few weeks what started as a handful of volunteers grew into a team of over 30, producing visors for six hours each day, with local organisations, small businesses, community groups and individuals donating material and machines to help us keep up with demand.

“As part of my apprenticeship, I was learning about successful project management, implementing change and collaboration with other organisations – all the skills I needed to see this project through, it was really quite apt!”

Joan and her team at Ysgol Clywedog produced over 5,000 visors in just 10 weeks.

She said: “I knew I was taking on a lot when I started the project, but my apprenticeship helped me become a better leader and also taught me how to manage my workload, so things never got on top of me. I’ve also really benefitted from the one to one mentoring that I’ve had – it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on the skills I’ve developed and those I want to develop further.

“The project has been a very humbling experience and my apprenticeship has given me the motivation to look at additional projects for both school and within the wider community. I’m now planning to move on to my Level 5.”

Matt Vickery, Headteacher at Ysgol Clywedog said: “Joan has been brilliant throughout this whole project. We have supported Joan throughout her apprenticeship, and we couldn’t be more proud of what she’s achieved, even during these unprecedented times. She’s the first member of staff to enroll onto this apprenticeship and she’s been so pleased with the training and the skills she’s developed that she’s inspired three more members of staff to sign up next year.

“I’m looking forward to seeing her enroll onto her Level 5 Apprenticeship and bringing the new skills that she’s developed into her classroom.”

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales said: “It’s so encouraging to see apprentices like Joan doing a great job in challenging times. Coronavirus has had a real impact on our economy, and we need to ensure the next generation are skilled, adaptable and work-ready in order to support our economic recovery.

“That is why we recently announced a significant £40m support package which will be absolutely essential in helping employers to take on and train new workers, including apprentices and young people.

“Apprenticeships continue to play a vital role in delivering the skills employers need. Having this pool of talent will help equip individuals and businesses across Wales with the knowledge and skills needed which will help Wales return to the levels of growth we were seeing before the pandemic.”