A portable desktop screen co-designed by a Scottish therapist and specialist manufacturing firm Angus 3D Solutions is enabling community support workers to continue mask-free face-to-face sessions in a Covid-secure way.
THE 60cm-square polycarbonate screen can be removed from its travelling case, assembled quickly and sit on a desktop thanks to removable feet – allowing support workers to talk face-to-face with their clients on the other side of the screen without the need to wear face coverings.
This enables better support than is possible via video calls through being more able to read clients’ non-verbal communication, allowing greater facial recognition and avoiding the distraction of masks or visors. It also allows children, or the therapist, to draw on it using whiteboard markers.
The screen is already being used by Angus community support organisations to continue vital face-to-face support sessions with the vulnerable people they serve. It’s hoped other groups in the county and elsewhere will use the screen to deliver the same benefits.
The idea and initial design for the screen came from Gail Penman, a director of North East Wellbeing Solutions CIC (known as NEW Solutions CIC), who provides a mental health and wellbeing support service to pupils, parents and staff in schools in Angus and Dundee from her Montrose base as well as bespoke mental health training programmes for workplaces.
During Lockdown she realised the limitations of working with clients over video calls – they don’t allow her to see what’s going on off-screen – such as the person fidgeting or the anxiety of a parent. Masks also have their limitations: “In therapy, wearing masks reduces the ability to see what’s going on. You need to see all communication – as you use a lot of observation to assess how best to identify and adapt the need and direction for intervention,” explains Gail.
So as plans were being made for reopening schools she came up with the idea of a portable screen which she and other support workers can carry with them – to enable mask-free face-to-face support sessions without screens having to be permanently installed at each location.
Gail took her initial prototypes and the challenge of making the screen freestanding to Andy Simpson, managing director of Brechin-based Angus 3D Solutions. He designed the detachable polycarbonate feet and revised the screen so they can just slot in before making the new design for Gail.
She then had Montrose Rope & Sail create a custom padded shoulder bag to carry the screen in. Financial support for the project came from the Scottish Government’s Wellbeing Fund.
After she started using the portable screen for school visits, together with Covid security measures such as wiping surfaces and the screen, Gail mentioned the project at a meeting of an Angus third-sector collaborative group. As a result, Angus Women’s Aid, Angus Carers Centre and Deaf Links – the Tayside Deaf Hub service – have all bought screens for their support workers from Angus 3D Solutions at a price of £95 each.
So far 12 have been made and Andy expects more orders as word spreads among groups for whom it can re-enable face-to-face contact within the relevant Covid security rules. He hopes the price per screen can reduce if the volume of orders increases greatly and the cost of materials allows it.
Speaking about the project, Gail said: “While I now have to use Zoom again for ‘home visits’, the portable screen has enabled me to provide the face-to-face support sessions in schools vital for those who need them, particularly with the extra pressures the Covid-19 pandemic has placed on peoples’ mental health. Andy’s design and manufacturing expertise has been vital in bringing my idea to fruition.”
A spokesperson for Angus Carers Centre said: “The screens are practical, easy to carry around and assemble and have been used within our counselling services to adult carers, and within school settings with young carers, providing carers and staff with the extra dimension of safety.”
Andy Simpson said: “We’re delighted to have been able to use our R&D experience to help Gail create a viable product and manufacture more for other community support groups whose work is essential. We’re sure there are lots of other groups and companies for whom this would also enable Covid-secure face-to-face sessions and we’d be happy to make more for them.
“It also feels good to use our expertise to enable important support services to continue in a Covid-secure way. We also made custom screens for Angus Council vehicles – so workers can share them safely.”