COVID-19 has brought out the hero in this former ANU student

Wilson Griffiths has helped raise more than £1 million to support frontline healthcare workers battling the coronavirus in the UK. Alice Watt reports.
14 September 2020

After starting studies in a Bachelor of Fine Arts at The Australian National University (ANU), Wilson Griffiths moved to the UK in search of his next big adventure.

The former student says he knew straight away that he wanted to use the skills he learnt during his time studying at ANU to work for a young and energetic company.

When COVID-19 broke out, Wilson saw his chance to put his skills to the test and got involved in founding the HEROES charity.

"When coronavirus started to get out of control, the UK's National Health Service (NHS) got overwhelmed. People wanted to support healthcare workers but it was difficult for their goodwill to reach the frontline in time to help," says Wilson.

A London doctor named Dominic Pimenta put out a tweet calling for people to help create a charity that would get the right work done quickly. When Wilson and a group of others responded, HEROES was born.

Their team turned an idea into a platform with a meaningful impact in less than two days by creating a secure website to provide support to frontline healthcare workers.

Since then, they have raised more than £1.1 million, partnered with over 30 organisations and supplied more than 543,000 items to healthcare workers.

HEROES supplies healthcare workers with protective equipment, meals, counselling, financial assistance and even items such as fridges for hospitals.

By partnering with organisations like Rolls Royce and The Body Shop, they have managed to supply health care workers with PPE and over £1 million worth of self-care products.

"Our role is to support healthcare workers of all kinds who are working so hard to keep us safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. We try to reduce their physical, mental and financial strains and support their day to day needs," says Wilson.

In August, Wilson and the HEROES team won a Royal Academy of Engineering Award for Pandemic Service in the UK.

The award recognises the contribution that Wilson has made to address the challenges of the pandemic.

"I am also incredibly proud of engineers everywhere who have worked round the clock to maintain essential services, critical supply chains and infrastructure in unprecedented circumstances, using their training and skills to find innovative solutions to a host of problems and to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives," President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Professor Sir Jim McDonald said.

NHS workers say the support HEROES has provided  has changed their lives.

"I am a doctor and single mum working in a busy London teaching hospital. When COVID hit our hospital I could not afford childcare. My three- year-old had to stay isolated with my parents for over a month," one anonymous NHS doctor said.

"It was a difficult sacrifice, being apart from him but I knew at that time, I was needed most by the sick patients in my hospital. This donation has helped me afford a temporary nanny to assist when I'm required to work late and take my son to the hub nursery. Thanks to your generosity I am reunited with my son and can keep helping our NHS patients in a job that I love!"

Wilson's role in this life-changing work is to create and design the website and its content.

"The pandemic is a personal and emotive topic for everyone, but the charity's mission is positive and supportive. I needed to design in a way that was bold and urgent, without being brash, and supportive, without focusing on the negatives which so many have experienced this year," says Wilson.

Wilson says his time at ANU and the skills he developed during his time studying at the University helped him achieve this.

"The fundamentals of visual art that I learned while at ANU gave me skills that are often missing in software teams such as colour theory, and an understanding of form, space and texture," he says.

 "This means designing with a focus on what the user sees and experiences, not just the underlying software mechanics, which was really important for HEROES. We needed to appeal to both the public and corporate partners, as well as serve healthcare workers under stress."

The HEROES team are now focused on building a more sophisticated platform.

"The start of the pandemic was a flurry of activity. We had to build fast without many systems or planning, so now it is about setting up the charity for the long term," says Wilson.

The team are hoping that if the UK has to face another outbreak this winter, they will be ready to support as many healthcare workers as possible.

Wilson says he is planning to stay in the UK and start a new company but that ANU always has a special place in his heart.

"I'll always be grateful for my time at ANU!"