Covid Relief Society | Meeting the Union’s latest society!

It’s no illusion that the Covid-19 situation has drastically affected the lives of almost every person on the planet.  Students at Strathclyde have taken notice of the global impact and chosen to act.

We caught up with the team of the Covid Relief society to find out how and why this all started:

Tariq - Society President

Tariq – Covid-19 Society President

Strath Union: Introduce yourselves!

Tariq: I researched many ways to help hospitals and local communities and the most pressing concerns seemed to be based on the lack of ventilator support available. I also communicated with teams in the university who were producing PPE equipment and that all seemed to be in hand from my point of view. I also helped Glasgow makers teams secure plastics, for PPE, from abroad which were in short supply at the time.

The total ventilators available in the UK was wholly inadequate and so I decided to contact Jim McDonald to get his advice. He got me chatting to university professors and a range of teams from the University’s leading-edge manufacturing hub The Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), out in Renfrew.

Caleb Gambrah was instrumental in bringing our work to the AFRC and representing our aims and objectives.
Many ventilators being developed by makers groups / universities and commercial organisations were wholly inadequate and based upon outdated designs that were not validated by professional clinicians – respiratory doctors / nurses / physiotherapists.


Caleb Gambrah

So, we took the decision to move forward with creating a device which was fit for purpose but would take a longer timeline to develop. When the number of individuals in the UK with the illness began falling and the prognosis looked better overall, we began a process of reaching out to African countries because they had yet to have the infectious disease take hold there.
Callum used his contacts to reach out to Malawi.

The country has long historical roots with Strathclyde going back to when the inimitable Dr David Livingstone was blessed to have walked this good earth. Andrew has been shaping and guiding our design process and can add important comments here to bring us up to date.

Callum: I am a second-year PhD student in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department. I also studied a Masters in Aero-Mechanical Engineering at Strathclyde starting in 2013, so similarly to the others I have been around a while at Strathclyde!

Stephen: I am currently in the third year of my PhD in the Centre for Dynamic Intelligent Communication, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. My research focuses on the development of low-cost and secure wireless protocols for the Industrial Internet of Things and Sensor Network applications. The assessment of the protocols has been in conjunction with PNDC and its Tier 1 members. The Strathclyde Students for COVID Relief is a great opportunity for me to engage in a multidisciplinary project and to apply my research and engineering skills beyond academia.

Stephen Ugwuanyi

Stephen Ugwuanyi

Strath Union: Why did you want to set up this society?

Tariq: Collaboration and Teamwork was our initial intention in establishing this student group. The medical device development process is very complex and often fraught with what seems like insurmountable challenges, but we firmly believe that through working together as students, staff and professionals in the field we can achieve our shared goals. It is part of our social contract to help those most in need and work with our medical professionals, allied health professionals and support staff, who give so much of themselves so that we have a good standard of health and access to life-saving services. This is a complex project which brings together the Public Sector, Private Sector, Education and Industry and our society is working at many levels of entrepreneurship and outreach – both in this country and in Malawi. We are also in the process of bringing more members on board.

Callum: All credit for starting the society goes to Tariq – after he messaged me asking to get involved I was very curious, then after we had an introductory meeting it all snowballed (in a good way) from there. Initially, we were an informal group of Strathclyde students and alumni. We decided to affiliate as a society with the Union to improve our outreach to students and take advantage of the funding and resources available so that our project can have the most impact possible. Another decision made to maximise impact was to target low-income countries which might not have the resources available to deal with the pandemic and therefore be the hardest hit. I suggested Malawi both for the existing university links with the country and my own links, as one of my family members has done voluntary work in Malawi. This allowed us to get in touch with the Scotland Malawi Partnership and through their network establish contact with researchers at the Malawi University of Science and Technology. Our focus now is on collaborating with these researchers, sharing knowledge and expertise between both groups, and coming up with a design suitable to the needs of Malawi.

Callum - Society Treasurer

Callum – Society Treasurer

Strath Union: How do you hope you can help students?

Tariq: Jim McDonald often speaks about Strathclyde being the place of “useful learning“, so I suppose our project is a part of this tenet which has been with us since the founding father, John Anderson, developed it during the Scottish Enlightenment.“ The practical application of knowledge and experience developed in lab conditions by students can be put to the test by our COVID Relief society.

Callum: I suspect many students, myself included, will feel powerless in the current situation and want to help but do not know how or whether their particular skills can be useful. This project presents an excellent opportunity for students to apply their knowledge to a real-world problem and help COVID relief efforts. Note that the nature of the COVID Relief society does not only require engineers. We hope to engage with students from across all university faculties to realise the project’s goals.

Andrew: Primarily, our goal is to have a positive impact on the treatment of COVID-19. To do this, we need the skills and experience of all students at Strathclyde – and as a voluntary project, our way of helping students is to provide a charitable way to apply and hone their skills. Everyone who gets involved will have an impact on the project, from detailed design engineering to the running of the project – and all of this can be very valuable on a CV or job application. The project also includes international collaboration in a way that’s really difficult to secure otherwise.

Strath Union: How have you personally been affected by Covid-19?

Callum: Only as much as anyone else with the usual issues of spending far more time at home and not being able to see friends as much. Fortunately, my PhD research is very computer-based and so this in theory should not be affected, but it is quite difficult to remain as productive at home compared to being in university! This is something I am still getting used to and finding ways around – even simple things like rearranging my bedroom to have a small dedicated ‘office’ space has helped me.

Stephen: Yes. Having had to self-isolate at some point and with the family around, there were occasions I lost concentration on my PhD work.

Andrew: Nah, I’ve just been working from home significantly more, and going outside significantly less. I’m lucky, in that respect – I don’t need much lab time to keep working!

Strath Union: What have you been doing to keep up mental wellbeing?

Callum: Getting outside when possible and trying to have regular socially-distanced meetups with friends. To try and stay active I created what I would call a ‘low-tech home gym’ whose main features are a rubber floor mat, a skipping rope, and some resistance bands. Much like working from home, not being in the gym removes some of my motivation to exercise, but thankfully I do not feel considerably less fit than pre-COVID!

Stephen: Primarily bonding more with my family while taking on a couple of industrial projects remotely. However, my focus remained working hard on my PhD, increasing my professional network and skill set. Getting involved in this COVID-19 relief CPAP project has helped me to remain actively engaged in achieving some of these targets, serving as a source of motivation.

Andrew: Working on various personal projects when I’m not working – including building up a darkroom in my flat to start printing my photos, and cooking increasingly elaborate dinners on the weekends.

Strath Union: Do you have any society events planned?

Callum: Aside from our regular meetings, once we have received interest from new members we will have an introductory meeting to find how people are best placed within the COVID Relief society. Maybe one day we will be able to meet up for a social.

Andrew: Regular meetings, from top-level strategic planning to the nitty-gritty detailed design planning and project management!

Strath Union: How can students join your society?

Callum: Via the Union website – we will send out emails soon to have a virtual meeting with new members. If you are especially keen to get involved and have key skills which can benefit the project, please email us at so we can get you involved and up to speed on our progress ASAP.

Strath Union: Are you members of other societies?

Tariq: Fusion radio, strath tv, and many others in the past

Callum: Yes: Jazz Band, Concert Band, and Strath ICE. At some point, I have been on the committee of each of these. It is obviously very difficult just now to have activities with these societies but the bands, in particular, have still had regular virtual meetups.

Stephen: Yes. I am the current president of Nigeria Society and one of the outgoing co-chairs of Doctoral Researchers Group. Two exciting roles through which I had the opportunity to support students and kept them engaged during the lockdown.

Andrew: I’ve been a member of the Photo Club since 2015, and on the committee since 2016. I’ve also been in SURGE, and still play a weekly D&D game with folk I met through that.

Strath Union: Have you engaged with the Union before?

Callum: Plenty and I am now looking forward to engaging further as our project and COVID Relief society develop.

Stephen: Yes, since my first program at Strathclyde in 2015 with three Star Awards (Engineering Rep of the Year 2015 & 2019 & the 2020 Strath Union Community Volunteer of the year). I was the Engineering Postgraduate Taught Rep in 2015/2016, the Engineering Postgraduate Research Rep and the co-chair of Doctoral Researcher Group in 2018/2019. I have also engaged with the union in other capacities like being a Strath Union Student Trustee Board member since 2018.

Andrew: Spent a year on Clubs and Societies Exec, and covered more than a few society events and balls through the Photoclub.

Strath Union: Any other fun facts?

Tariq: I was an ice climber for many years and would chase up and down the country searching for wild ice climbs with my climbing partner. High up in the frosty mountains, and ice gulleys, where there are no safety nets, we would pit our skills against the extreme weather conditions. The forces of nature are powerful and demand respect under all circumstances, as they often take no prisoners.

I learned so many life skills by living off the edge of a pair of ice axes pinned against a mountain. A favourite motto of mine was “The easiest way down (the hill) was UP!” – because, believe it or not, I feared heights! But I would swallow my fear and just keep going until the job was done.

Summer is always nice but was only ever really seen as preparation for building the stamina to get through the winter climbs. When the vast carpet of powdery snow descends upon the heavily glaciated landscape of Scotland, turning it into a fine chalky white marble, our footsteps become etched in snow and something magical happens – the primaeval spirit that is normally asleep – is awoken in the true sense of self-actualisation!

Callum: As Tariq mentioned, Strathclyde has strong existing links with Malawi going right back to David Livingstone after whom Livingstone Tower is named. Students will have seen plenty of donation cans for the Malawi Millennium Project around campus, which is separate from our society and also a great initiative which you can find out about here.

Stephen: I love playing football and visiting the pub which unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to do since the lockdown

Andrew: YES: Helicopter is derived from the Greek “Helix” for ‘Spiral’, and “Pteron” for ‘Wing’, though filtered through the normal layers of French and that to eventually reach modern English. Interestingly, many modern helicopters feature a single large nut to hold the rotor blades on, commonly referred to as the “Jesus Nut”, because if it fails during flight, all you can do at that point is pray.

Join the Society here
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