Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt, County Derry, is usually full of visitors enjoying the multisport offerings; but two years ago, it became the site of a huge operation to supply healthcare workers across the North and South of Ireland with PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies.
In March 2020, Derry blinds manufacturer, Bloc Blinds, was preparing to close its doors and furlough its workers due to its status as a non-essential business. But then a thought occurred: why not use their expertise to ease the PPE shortage?
It was never an option […] we were going to try and help whatever way we could.
Bloc Blinds, Managing Director
Diamond needed to find new premises for the production in order to comply with strict social distancing requirements, and the huge open space of the Meadowbank Sports Arena immediately spang to mind. The 70m span x 145m long structure is the largest of its kind in Europe.
He approached Mid Ulster District Council, which runs the arena, and they said yes instantly. Martin Kearney, Council Chair, explained: “That’s the beauty of local government and local people. We can just get on with it.”
They quickly got to work setting up over 100 workstations—each appropriately distanced—in the sports arena. Between them, poles were put in place to hook and drag boxes from one table to another, minimising contact.
Initially, all of Bloc Blinds’ 120 employees were set to work. Demand quickly outpaced production, however, resulting in them hiring an extra 220 workers over the following weeks. In May 2020, the operation was producing a staggering 500,000 face shields per day for healthcare workers.
I feel very privileged that I’m fit to help our doctors and nurses, who are the people on the front line. You knew you were helping in some way, and that gives you a positive when there’s negatives all round you.