AN army of expert volunteers set up in Chippenham to make free face shields for front line key workers may be forced to down tools over red tape.

Annette Alchin, who set up Shield Wiltshire, says she and her team may be forced to stop work as the Government has brought in new regulations which will mean they must pay £5,000 to have their masks tested.

She said: “It is like a punch in the stomach. Our shields have been approved in America and Europe and have also been approved by Wiltshire Council.

“We understand the need for items to meet regulations but ours have already been shown to be of extremely high standard.

“We are all volunteers and we are only doing this on a temporary basis. We have now put our work on hold while we decide what to do but the feeling at the moment is that we should stop.”

So far the group has supplied nearly 20,000 shields to organisations such Wiltshire and Thames Valley Police, care homes, pharmacies, voluntary groups, undertakers, Erlestoke Prison and dental groups.

She said many inquiries had started to come in from schools and nurseries needing protection ready for the return to the classroom planned for June 1.

She said: “I do feel the demand is still there and this is shown by the comments that have been left on our Facebook page.

She does not believe it would be possible to get the new testing fee waived as the government has passed the job over to big commercial companies who will expect payment.

She said: “We have relied on grants from people such as Wiltshire Community Foundation and Chippenham Borough Lands. We provide the shields for free to front line staff. We knew we would stop at some point but we wanted to be the ones making the decision not to have it forced on us.”

Mrs Alchin, who owns Miles Recruitment in Chippenham, set up the group after seeing visors selling for £7 and asked her brother to produce one on his 3D printer. “I thought it was pants because people on the frontline were risking their health. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘my brother could make them’.”

She posted a picture of the resulting mask on Facebook and got an immediate response. “I had a paramedic doctor saying he wanted to order some and then it escalated from there. I had the Devizes Covid-19 group on and then the others started contacting me. I was absolutely taken aback by how many people were contacting us,” she said.

One volunteer who is a Dyson scientist has helped refine the design so that it can be made more quickly. Teachers at Lavington School have also volunteered their help to use a laser cutter.

Devizes Covid-19 group has become involved and among the volunteers is 18-year-old Tom Durnford from Devizes, who delivers the finished visors on his skateboard, and 71-year old Tim LeMare from West Ashton near Trowbridge. He said: “Now I cannot go out, and looking for something to do, I learnt how to use my 3D printer. I was pointed to Annette and I began making five visors a day. Now I can do 60.”