Hot off the press! How the Mail Force PPE was made in Britain

Hot off the press! How the Mail Force PPE was made in Britain… as three more vital deliveries are completed and Grant Shapps praises readers’ ‘tremendous’ support of charity’s campaign

  • Mail Force secures PPE to protect those working in hospitals and care sectors
  • The kit will come from the More Polythene factory at Griffin Mill in Blackburn 
  • Britain, like every other Western nation, must still look East for most of its PPE 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Early yesterday morning, they were just a drum of white granules on a lorry from Grangemouth. 

Hours later, they had been heated, rolled, pressed, stamped, cut in to medical aprons, folded and boxed at a factory in Blackburn before delivery to a warehouse in Preston. 

By this morning, they should be on their way to the NHS front line in the battle against Covid-19. Here is the latest addition to the UK’s fast-growing personal protective equipment (PPE) industry – all of it hatched, packed and despatched in the North of England. 

It is just a fortnight since the advent of Mail Force, the charity created with one simple, urgent aim: Securing PPE to protect those working in our hospitals and care sectors. 

It is just a fortnight since the advent of Mail Force, the charity created with one simple, urgent aim: Securing PPE to protect those working in our hospitals and care sectors. Pictured: Rachel Jenkinson, a hospital worker, in the new kit

Given that most PPE manufacturing is in Asia – and that the whole world is fighting for a finite amount of it – Britain has to import a great deal of this vital equipment.

However, the charity is keen to buy British wherever possible, and this week announced a scheme to deliver 1.5million hospital aprons to the NHS before the end of the month. 

And, if all goes to plan, many more may follow. As yesterday’s Mail revealed, the whole lot will come from the More Polythene factory at Griffin Mill in Blackburn. 

There, inside what had once been a redbrick cotton mill and latterly a carpet factory, I watched a modern production line rumbling away at full speed. It takes less than an hour from beginning to end to make a hospital apron. 

The raw material: the first stages – plastic pellets, right, are fed into the machine which produces polythene for aprons

Granules of low-density polyethylene are poured into an extruder, a heated barrel with a big screw like a meat mincer. From here, an enormous blob of molten plastic is forced through a dye and then flattened into a sheet which is pressed and rolled and pressed again on a downward journey to a rotating drum winding it all into rolls. 

Each roll is then transferred to a separate line where sheets are cut to size, stamped and cut into aprons. With this particular clothing line, I’m afraid, it is one size fits all. Every apron is 686mm wide, 1,170mm long and 20 microns thick. 

This is about 30 per cent thicker than the cheaper imported aprons usually bought by the NHS. ‘It doesn’t sound much but it makes it just feel that little bit stronger,’ says factory boss Habib Patel. 

Rolling off the machine: A sheet of polythene emerges and is rolled as part of the manufacturing process 

Folding the polythene: the plastic sheet is folded before it is cut into aprons during the process

Batches of aprons are then folded by hand, boxed up and sealed for delivery. It’s a pretty simple process for a pretty simple product but then this is a charity with a glaringly simple purpose: Get as much kit to as many doctors, nurses and care workers as quickly as possible. 

HERE’S HOW TO DONATE 

Mail Force Charity has been launched with one aim to help support NHS staff, volunteers and care workers fight back against Covid-1 in the UK.

Mail Force is a separate charity established and supported by the Daily Mail and General Trust. 

The money raised will fund essential equipment required by the NHS and care workers. 

This equipment is vital in protecting the heroic staff whilst they perform their fantastic work in helping the UK overcome this pandemic.

If we raise more money than is needed for vital Covid-1 equipment, we will apply all funds to support the work of the NHS in other ways.

Click the button below to make a donation:

If the button is not visible, click here 

And the shorter the distance, the better for efficiency, the environment and the bottom line. Hence, yesterday’s Government announcement of a deal to procure 70million respirator masks from a plant in Scotland over an 18-month period, starting in July. 

They will be most welcome – but we still have much to do between now and then. Mail Force has been working closely with the Issa Group, a Lancashire-based family business which has specialised in the healthcare sector for years. 

As well as supplying hospitals and surgeries across the North West, the company has been teaming up with local businesses to promote British-made PPE. 

Early on in this pandemic, some nations, including France, started blocking exports of some hand sanitiser products. So Issa sought a home-grown solution. 

As a result, a local bottling company, EMBPS Ltd of Preston, diversified from packaging shampoo and fruit flavourings and is now producing its own brand of hand sanitiser, Medisanitize. 

Issa now supplies it to customers all over the UK, in both the public and private sectors, and has donated hundreds of thousands of bottles with all its PPE deliveries. 

‘When we started, the official guidelines stated a minimum content of 60 per cent alcohol but we’ve followed World Health Organisation guidelines to make it 75 per cent,’ says EMBPS operations director Ataur Rahman, 46. 

Templates being cut: the aprons begin to take shape at the Lancashire factory

Labels on for sending: workers mark the protective gear for its journey

‘Everyone’s really proud of what we do here. We were all a bit gloomy when this pandemic started and business fell away but it’s just taken off now,’ he added. 

As with aprons, the production process is highly regulated yet relatively simple – distilled water, essential oils, aloe vera and industrial alcohol from a Government-licensed supplier in Shropshire. 

Such is the demand that the company has had to outsource bottling to some of its old competitors. 

Britain, like every other Western nation, must still look East for most of its PPE. But it’s good to know that, while some sections of the economy have been virtually wiped out, our oftneglected, irrepressible small manufacturers have lost none of their ingenuity, adaptability and flair. 

Mail Force makes three more vital deliveries: Now they can be angels again… safely 

Staff at three more care homes are celebrating taking the latest batch of Mail Force deliveries. 

Our crucial personal protective equipment has arrived at a trio of homes in Hampshire, Kent and Surrey. 

At the Oak View home in Hayling Island, Hampshire, white coveralls were donned by staff members Bryony Morgan, Lisa Mitchell and Sandra Goncalves. 

New kit: Senior carers Bryony Morgan and Sandra Goncalves with administrator Lisa Mitchell (centre) at Oak View, Hampshire

Delighted: Staff at Rockdale House care home in Sevenoaks, Kent

Nearly 80 miles away, at the College of St Barnabas in Lingfield, Surrey, vital masks were delivered by our fleet of Mail Force vans. 

And in sunny Sevenoaks, Kent, more than a dozen staff at Rockdale House care home – which looks after up to 50 residents – thanked readers for the contributions which helped to make their shipment possible. 

Care homes have been on the coronavirus frontline but many have struggled to source PPE because they are competing with nearby hospitals who have far greater buying power. We’re planning more deliveries as our campaign continue 

Grateful: Suzan Jacks and Paul Wilkin at St Barnabas, Surrey

Opening your cheques, Mail reporter CLAIRE DUFFIN has been deeply touched by your wonderful messages of sacrifice and thanks – as she reveals in this tribute  

Scrawled in capital letters on a scrap of paper, it was a simple note but one that brought a tear to my eye.

‘I am a 78-year-old pensioner who, because of the lockdown, has a few bob to spare from my pension – so use it quickly to save lives,’ it read.

The message from John Morgan came with a cheque – a donation to the Mail Force charity, set up to provide vital personal protective gear for healthcare workers fighting coronavirus on the frontline.

It is one of thousands of letters we have received but, to me, it summed up the generosity and enthusiasm with which readers have responded to our call for funds.

A staggering 44,000 of you have already donated more than £2million to the charity. Cheques have been arriving every day in their thousands and, along with them, colourful cards and letters. I have had the pleasure of opening hundreds of them over the past ten days and have been deeply moved by the many heartfelt notes.

Daily Mail reporter Claire Duffin with some of the tens of thousands of posted donations to the Mail Force PPE appeal

Some were beautifully hand-written on expensive paper, others – like Mr Morgan’s – scrawled on scraps. But each were essentially saying the same thing: thank you to our wonderful NHS.

Many of our correspondents had a family member who had been treated for Covid-19, or had been treated for it themselves, and wanted to donate to help those who looked after them in their hour of need.

There were also, sadly, many donations in memory of loved ones who had passed away, sent as a thank you to the nurses and doctors who cared for them.

Denis Chantrey wrote: ‘Enclosed is my cheque in memory of my lovely brother George who died last week in a care home here in Bath from coronavirus.’ Maurice Owens donated in gratitude for a good recovery: ‘I am most grateful for the wonderful treatment I had at my local hospital (Queen Alexandra) Portsmouth for a severe head injury and at 97 I am once again back home on my own (family all gone) enjoying life around me and wonderful friends.’

Others had family members working in the NHS on the frontline. One was signed simply ‘from a worried mum’. One Post-it note, accompanying a cheque, said: ‘My grandson is an A&E doctor – thank you for protecting him.’

At a time when almost everyone is affected financially by the crisis, I have been bowled over by the willingness of readers to dig deep, sparing what they could, from £5 to £5,000. Dozens have sent all or part of their weekly pension. Many have given up their winter fuel allowance or money they have saved during the lockdown.

Eleanor Hiam wrote: ‘Please find enclosed money saved on hairdressers going to a very good cause. I read the Mail every day on my iPad I enjoy it very much.’

One man sent £167 – one full week of his pension. Mr Langford wrote: ‘I want to thank you for all your efforts to help in this crisis.

‘I was waiting for you to start an appeal fund as I knew you would do but to launch it with an airliner full of PPE was amazing.

‘I am a 76-year-old widower with health problems so there is nothing I can [physically] do to help the NHS and care-home carers. All I can do is donate to Mail Force’s fund, so I have enclosed a cheque for £167 which is one full week of my pension and I am pleased to be able to donate in this way.’

Mrs Joan Harris, from Wigan, sent money she saved on cakes. ‘Both my husband and I are pensioners and we often treat ourselves to tea and cakes at our local cafe,’ she wrote. ‘Because we can’t do this at the moment, we are donating the money we have saved to your wonderful charity. You are doing marvellous work.’ Enid Young, from Nottingham, wrote: ‘Please find enclosed a cheque for £110, money raised by selling knitted nurses dolls, four inches high, by an 82-year-old lady. Hope this will help just a little bit in this fight against Covid-19. Thank you Daily Mail.’

Many of our readers are (and I hope they won’t mind me saying this) from the older generation, and they wrote eloquently of how the conditions we find ourselves in today are similar to what life was like during wartime.

‘My husband (92) and I (93) lived through the last war and weren’t as frightened as we are now with this virus,’ said Kathleen Oates. ‘We hope for light at the end of the tunnel so that we will be able to celebrate our 70th wedding anniversary in July this year.’

Helen Jacobs, from Radlett, Hertfordshire, wrote: ‘My husband and I (sounds like the Queen – that’s what my children and grandchildren call me!) want to thank all the carers in the community, including all subsidiary drivers and workers wherever you are, for keeping us safe.

‘It reminds us – my husband is 85 years and I am 84 years – of the way the indomitable spirit of the English people helped us through the Second World War. It would be wonderful if, when we finally… defeat this virus – as we will – people the world over stay kind.’ The letters are being opened by a team of volunteers in Leicester. They normally work in the accounts department of the Mail’s owners, Daily Mail and General Trust, but have travelled in from home to help. They too have enjoyed reading the heartwarming messages of support. I am also proud of how impressed readers have been by this newspaper’s efforts to set up the Mail Force charity. Many of you were amazed and delighted that Mail Force has been able to charter a plane from China to deliver PPE to our frontline staff.

Jim Rees, a fomer Royal Artillery captain, from Halesworth, Suffolk, said the initiative reminded him of a generous gesture by the first Lord Rothermere, great-grandfather of the current chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust.

‘What a splendid flight from Shanghai (seven pilots!),’ he wrote. ‘I remember, as a boy, a previous Lord Rothermere donating a Bristol Blenheim twin-engine bomber to the RAF as a start… against Nazi Germany’s threats. Well done Daily Mail.’

Valerie Smith wrote: ‘I just love what Mail Force has achieved. I am a 71-year-old ex Rhodesian/Zimbabwean, and innovation was how we lived and overcame obstacles. You’ve taken control and achieved a plane-load of PPE plus the distribution of some.’ Shelagh Boatman was also full of praise. ‘Mail Force has done a wonderful job very quickly and efficiently to get the kit to the people and places that need it most,’ she said. Billy Stewart, from Sunderland, sent a cheque and the message: ’40 years a reader – never fail when we’ve got the Mail.’

And still they keep coming. Another 500 – amounting to £32,000 arrived yesterday – with another 2,500 expected today.

As a reporter, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day deadlines and pressures. But spending these last few days opening letters from readers has reminded me just how much the paper means to so many.

So a big thank you to all the people who’ve got in touch, not only for buying the Daily Mail, but for supporting the NHS and trusting Mail Force to fulfil the promise to get PPE to those who need it most.

Minister: Thank you, Mail Force supporters 

By John Stevens and Sophie Borland 

Daily Mail readers were last night praised at the daily Downing Street press conference for their ‘tremendous’ support of the Mail Force campaign.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the effort to buy personal protective equipment for healthcare workers was ‘greatly appreciated’.

The Cabinet minister paid his thanks as readers donated more than £2million to the Mail-backed charity.

He said: ‘Thank you to your readers for their tremendous work on PPE and the campaign you have been running, which has been greatly appreciated.’

And last month Prime Minister Boris Johnson also ‘expressed his thanks’ to Mail Force for helping ‘our national effort to tackle coronavirus’.

It came as it was announced that more than 70million masks will be manufactured in the UK as part of a major Government deal to boost ‘home-grown’ protective equipment.

Production of the FFP2 and FFP3 respirator masks will start in Scotland in July following an agreement with the global technology firm Honeywell.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) said the effort to buy personal protective equipment for healthcare workers was ‘greatly appreciated’

They will be manufactured at the company’s site in Newhouse in North Lanarkshire over an 18- month period with 4.5million masks made each month. Ministers also hope the deal will create 450 new jobs as well as helping to boost the NHS’s supply of PPE, much of which is currently imported from abroad.

This reliance on overseas stock has been beset with difficulties and earlier this month the Government admitted that 400,000 gowns flown in from Turkey had failed safety standards.

And hospital leaders said that supplies from China have been placed in boxes with incorrect labels with some not arriving at all due to Chinese red tape.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘These 70million masks are the result of our challenge to UK industry to scale up domestic PPE manufacturing.’

He added: ‘This deal is brilliant news for the whole United Kingdom which will not only deliver the masks we need but create around 450 jobs in Newhouse, Scotland.’

Lord Paul Deighton, adviser to the Secretary of State on PPE, said: ‘As countries around the world face unprecedented demand for PPE, British industry is stepping forward to make sure vital pieces of equipment reach our workers on the front line. My role is to increase our home-grown PPE supplies, both now and in the future, by investing in the potential of UK manufacturing.

‘This fantastic deal announced with Honeywell today marks a significant step along the way.’

Last month a survey of 2,129 doctors found that one in four were having to reuse their protective equipment. And 27 per cent of doctors said they could not get the supplies they needed.

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