“Our 3D printer is usually making prototypes of sex toys, not things that could be helping the NHS on the frontline,” says William Garland.
William and his co-founder Andrew Crichton set up CMG Leisure in 2013.
The firm typically produces up to 1,500 of its Doxy wand vibrators each week, sold on well-known websites such as Ann Summers or Lovehoney.
It’s now also turning out 100 “ear savers” for key workers every day. The plastic product loops around the back of the head to relieve pressure on the ears caused by wearing face masks for long periods of time.
“When the scale of the pandemic became clear, we asked ourselves: what could we do to help with the product we’ve got?” says William.
“But we didn’t want to be flippant about it or cause offence by sending out the Doxy wands we usually sell as a gift.
“Then one of our team saw a call-out on social media for extra ear savers, which even included a design which we could do with our 3D printer.”
The firm has since donated ear savers to NHS departments across the country, including the neonatal intensive care and accident and emergency units at its nearest Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, as well as several care homes.
The Cornwall-based firm is one of many quirky companies that has decided to step in to provide medical gear during the coronavirus pandemic.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and gowns helps stop the spread of Covid-19 and saves lives. But NHS workers are concerned about supplies, and many have been buying their own or relying on donations.
The government recently said that it had supplied more than a billion items of PPE since the coronavirus outbreak began. However, delivering gowns in particular has proven difficult.
The Fashion School, a small business which offers workshops and design courses, is now on a mission to produce 750 surgical gowns a day.
Its director, Caroline Gration, would usually be putting on a class on Alexander McQueen or arranging a fashion “takeover” at department store Selfridges for her students.
But since the London firm was contacted by the Royal Brompton Hospital, everything has changed.
“If someone told us three months ago we would drop everything to organise mass production of a garment in a synthetic material, and get applauded for it, I wouldn’t have believed it,” says Caroline.
It now has two sanitised workspaces, one at the Royal Brompton, and another at the Royal Free Hospital where Caroline’s daughter is a doctor.
A team of volunteer machinists and cutters work seven days a week, from fashion designers and stylists to families and students.
“Many come from the fashion industry and may have lost their jobs, while others have been self-isolating on their own for weeks without anyone to talk to,” Caroline says.
Strict protocols are followed where the absorbent surgical gowns are made from operating theatre drapes.
PPE worn during the highest-risk situations are typically single use, unless they can be decontaminated. With sustainability a big focus for Caroline’s small firm, she hopes that it might one day be able to use medically-certified fabric which can be washed and reused.
Fluid-resistant surgical masks are also recommended for those working with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients, in addition to gloves, aprons and eye protection.
The British and Swiss luxury watchmaker Larsson & Jennings initially committed to donating 20,000 disposable masks during the pandemic.
It now allows customers to either donate cash or buy masks in bulk from its website at cost, having seen huge demand. The firm then ships them directly to frontline workers as requested.
That could increase even further, with Labour urging the government to stockpile masks in case official advice on wearing them changes.
Co-founder Andrew Jennings told the BBC that its dust-free watch assembly lines in China are an ideal environment for producing PPE. Larsson & Jennings has now donated more than 30,000 masks in total.
“We have seen many heartbreaking stories of those affected by the lack of PPE, so I’m just pleased that we are in the fortunate position that we can help out,” Andrew says.
These are just some of the smaller companies stepping up to provide critical PPE to NHS workers during the coronavirus crisis.
The Royal Mint, for example, has also swapped commemorative coins for protective visors, while carmaker Aston Martin is contributing surgical gowns too.
Each one has faced different challenges while pivoting from its usual focus to making medical equipment. Drawing on the expertise of its staff has been crucial.
As Caroline says: “It’s a real team effort, and there is lots of laughter and positivity in every room.
“There is still music playing, and socially-distanced dancing!”