Engineering and design giant Arup has launched a new handwashing solution which aims to help stop the transmission of the coronavirus in schools.
Since the initial outbreak of the pandemic in the UK back in March, schools have had to remain shut forcing children to have to learn remotely. The Government’s latest instruction is that children can return as schools are unlikely to be serious transmission points for the virus, but in any case, precautions must be taken.
The encouraging of hand hygiene is one such measure. However, having the appropriate infrastructure to support more frequent handwashing for all students is a challenge schools will be grappling with as classes resume this week. In a bid to tackle the problem Arup has repurposed one of its projects, originally earmarked for humanitarian relief, to provide accessible sinks and taps.
Following an “understandable format”
Called Jengu, development of the design initially began in 2018 as a response to a challenge set by the British Red Cross. The organisation was looking for a robust handwashing solution that could be used during a humanitarian crisis, Arup global product design leader Stephen Phillips tells Design Week.
“Although it was a product design challenge, we pooled together Arup’s different areas of expertise in water engineering, structural engineering and international development,” Phillips says. After examining different solutions on the market and assessing the requirements for a handwashing station from the Red Cross and other NGOs (non-governmental organisations), the team began developing Jengu.
“Interviews with the refugee community we conducted in Uganda found that everyone recognised the sink as a universal symbol for handwashing, but most of the solutions being used didn’t follow this understandable format,” he continues.
Rather, solutions were based around what could be found locally, usually involving heavy and high-up tanks to hold water and modified bottles as taps. Phillips explains these were “not very comforting” in an emergency, as they were unfamiliar and therefore could put people off washing their hands.
Making handwashing an experience children “actually want to engage in”
When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the UK, the increased importance placed on handwashing prompted the consultancy to pivot the Jengu design for use in schools, Phillips says.
“Schools are faced with the same situation: how to make handwashing a nice experience that people, in this case children, actually wanted to engage in,” he says.
The design needed very few tweaks to get it ready for school use in the context of the pandemic, according to Phillips. The steel tube frame is adaptable for different heights, meaning it can be shortened for children of different ages.
Meanwhile the foot pump that powers the water supply has been designed so as to provide just enough water for users to wash their hands – in this way, it prevents children from wasting water.
Users press the pump with their foot, releasing water that is held on the floor in a jerry can. A soap dispenser is designed into the framework, as well as a mirror so that users can engage with themselves further. Finally, the used water is carried out of the basin and directed down a drain via a separate pipe.
Even beyond the pandemic, Phillips says these units could be invaluable education focus points for schools: “It’s great to get children enjoying washing their hands, because it’s something they can take with them for life.”
Buildable even during the most acute pandemic disruption
Arup sought to get 50 Jengu units made in lockdown. These were then disseminated to four schools before the summer holidays to test out. The feedback was promising, Phillips says.
To ensure units of the Jengu design are made locally and conveniently for schools, the blueprints are open source. The materials chosen for the design were settled upon for their accessibility – most areas, whether they be in the UK or central Africa, Phillips says, will have nearby a manufacturer that works with steel.
“Schools can go to fabricators to both make the units and source the parts,” he says, adding that the company’s successful attempt to get 50 units made during lockdown, when so many manufacturers were compromised with furloughing and supply shortages, is a good sign that these designs are achievable even during the most acute pandemic disruption.
The next stage of Jengu will be to encourage more schools to adopt the product into their coronavirus precaution plans. So far, Phillips estimates there are some 70 units out in the field – 20 are in Uganda and 50 are in the UK, placed within communities. Most are in schools, but others have been sent to organisations like homeless shelters.
“Our aim is to eventually have these products everywhere, not just in the UK but in other countries in need of accessible handwashing solutions,” Phillips says.
Schools interested in the Jengu system should head to the website here.