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Steve restoring a camper van, one of his other engineering-based hobbies.

The People Making Things Possible – Steve

Steve, pictured above restoring a camper van, one of his other engineering-based hobbies.

Steve Groves takes us through some of his favourite solutions since joining REMAP as a volunteer engineer.

I was always inquisitive about how things worked, and I learnt to rebuild and fix anything with an engine in my early teens. I even taught myself to drive at 14, although not on the roads!

My work background was in prototype design and building mainly Naval and marine based systems. Eventually, I set up my own company designing and building marine sensors, control and monitoring products and small-scale manufacturing and other product development. I have worked on submarines surface vessels and super yachts as well as restoring my own vessel.

I have involvement with my local Menshed charity where I undertake wiring, plumbing and chatting with other retired folks, and this is where I first heard about REMAP. Deborah did a visit and explained about what REMAP did and that they were looking for new volunteers with engineering backgrounds. Time went by but I bumped into her at Tesco and she asked if I was interested in helping out.

The first job I did was to repair an electrical circuit fault on a controller for a vibromat unit. I then designed and made a window opener and closer for a lady who used a wheelchair.

Another project that I really enjoyed doing was to design and build a custom tray holder that could be simply fitted to a wheelchair for a young teenager who helps out in a cafe. I designed a universal bracket system that I was able to machine using my own lathe, and then built a frame that simply dropped into place at the correct working height for the user. The frame was custom made to accept the trays that the cafe used.

By sliding and dropping the tray into place it was locked into position by an angled extrusion. This prevented the tray from being able to bump out of position in use, but was also simple to remove by tilting the tray and pulling it back at the correct angle. This solution allowed the user to collect plates and trays etc, as well as deliver some orders to the customers.

I have since repaired some switches and communication units, and am currently making a step unit that will fit on a slightly modified toilet hand frame, to enable small children to use an adult-sized toilet unaided.

I like being involved with REMAP as I can see the valuable work all the volunteers do, and being able to use some of my old skills and experiences to assist folk is very rewarding.

A Turning Table for Margaret

Margaret has been affected by Motor Neurone Disease and now needs assistance with many aspects of day-to-day life. Her son lives with her, and she has carers who help her with a variety of tasks throughout the day.

Margaret wanted to be able to move her plate away after mealtimes and move her tablet communication device nearer, so that she could use it. Her Community Occupational Therapist, Ellis, felt that some form of a table-sized lazy Susan might work, but this was not available commercially. Ellis therefore reached out to Remap, to ask for help and was paired with engineers Graham and Catherine Wylie.

Following a discussion with Ellis where very specific measurements were given, Graham and Catherine considered how to make a suitable table. Consideration was given to fitting in with other furniture in Margaret’s room, the ease of turning the device, stability, and the ease of use by her family and carers.

Initial Design

Two table bases were bought from local charity shops, an overbed table and a cantilever type table. With these bases, two designs were made for Margaret to try, one rectangle tabletop with linear movement, and one circular tabletop with rotational movement. Graham enlisted the help of a friend, Ian, who did the necessary welding.

Graham and Catherine considered the best way for Margaret to move the table and felt that having her hands on the surface was preferable, so they made sure that the movement was as smooth and effortless as possible.  A Formica top was glued in place on both tables, and minutely sloped away from Margaret to ensure that any spillages would go away from her rather than towards her lap.  

For the rotating table, a suitably heavy-duty ball bearing and roller bearings were sourced online, and a tabletop was cut from MDF and routed to a circular shape with two areas for the plate and the tablet to go. This tabletop was smaller and could fit between the arms of Margaret’s recliner chair. It was made to be 61cm high but, like the over bed table this could be adjusted if necessary.

First Impressions

A meeting with Ellis was arranged and the tables demonstrated to Margaret and her son, prior to a home visit being done.

Margaret and her son immediately preferred the round table as they felt that it was more easily used, possibly as it was slightly smaller and more in keeping with the other furniture in the room.

Margaret managed to move the table easily in both directions. However, she had some difficulty when trying to use a bowl and spoon as there was some movement with the table and, when she went to recline her chair, her feet caught on the legs.

Discussion followed about ways of solving these two issues, along with possible methods of stopping objects moving on the table.

Final Adjustments

The circular tabletop was removed from the cantilever table and welded to the overbed table, to prevent Margaret from catching her feet.

Graham also added a small magnet and steel plate to the tabletop and fine-tuned the roller bearings and the ball bearing in order for the tabletop to run very smoothly with just a light touch. The magnet meant that the table could be stopped in one position, making the use of a spoon and bowl steadier but, if it was too hard for Margaret to initiate the movement again, it could be made easier with a little bit of tape over the magnet.

The Dumfries paediatric Occupational Therapy department kindly supplied some dycem matting as a non-slip device for use by Margaret, which worked well.

A further home visit was arranged, and the table was set up. The first thing Margaret checked was that she could recline her chair without getting her feet caught, which she could.

She and Ellis were very pleased with the table and were keen to trial it at home. Margaret felt that it helped her and had potential to allow her to access her tablet much more easily. This will hopefully allow her to more independently access her activities, reading and games, along with communication.

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