Meet the 94-year-old at Cambridgeshire care home who loves 3D printing
Retired engineer John Downes uses technology to help fellow residents
Ninety-four-year-old John Downes is not your average pensioner.
A retired engineer, Mr Downes’s room at his Cambridgeshire care home contains not one, but three state-of-the-art 3D printers – technology he uses for the benefit of his fellow residents.
Having lived in Toft for almost 50 years, Mr Downes decided to remain in the village when he moved to the nearby Home Meadow care home in May last year.
There, he was keen to continue his tech-based hobbies, so staff arranged for his 3D printers to be set up in his room.
Since then, Mr Downes has been making computer-modelled creations, including a number of functional ergonomic items, which his fellow residents are able to use, including light pull cords, egg cups and ornaments.
The former Rolls Royce owner and helicopter pilot – he flew helicopters with an instructor into his 80s – enjoyed a successful career as an electronic and optical engineering consultant and, along with two business partners, ran an engineering firm making machinery for the quartz industry. He also lived in Rome for eight years, where he worked as a technical director for an Italian engineering company.
It was his curiosity which steered Mr Downes towards 3D printing.
“I was reading an article in an electronic magazine and I saw that a certain type of insulator had been 3D printed, and that made me curious. I couldn’t resist it after that,” he explained.
Having spent some of his working life in technology – mainly in the television and motion picture industries – keeping up to date with its developments has always been important to Mr Downes.
“It’s taken me to a good many parts of the world,” he said. “I spent quite a lot of time in Hollywood and all over Europe. I lived in Italy for eight years working for a company that specialised in importing and exporting technical equipment.”
Mr Downes said he made quite a few visits to Hollywood, including working on the 1945 film, Caesar and Cleopatra. “I did play my little part in that,” he said. “I was sound engineer for one or two of the sequences that were shot in Rome.”
Printing in 3D has been a hobby of Mr Downes for a couple of years – a previous hobby was building pipe organs for churches – and he likes to print, among other things, high-resolution 3D animals and useful devices designed to make life easier for those around him.
“The pull cords are an absolute godsend,” said Joe Ballard, activities coordinator at the home, “because in a home like this a lot of people have arthritis and the little white plastic things are really hard to get hold of. All our bathrooms and WCs are actually now fitted with John’s designs.”
Mr Downes, who also used to be a commercial photographer, added: “The pull cord couldn’t be simpler, it’s just a cylinder with rounded ends. A small hole for the cord and a large hole to use the knot in. It took less than a quarter of an hour to design it and generate the file. I used a programme called 123D Design.”
Mr Ballard said that all nine Christmas trees at the home will be decorated with items printed by Mr Downes and his machine.
“My work at Home Meadow is all about enablement,” said Mr Ballard, “helping our residents to do the things they have always enjoyed doing, the things they love, and John’s 3D modelling is a brilliant example of this.
“John is a highly intelligent, brilliant man, who loves to create things and find answers to problems, so he spends a lot of time designing and creating using his equipment.
“When he said he had some ideas for things he could make for residents, we were delighted and everyone at the home loves seeing his latest designs.
“The fact that John’s creations are bringing real benefits to the home is a bonus – he’s also planning some creations for Christmas and is designing some decorations that our residents will be able to paint or personalise for their rooms.
“We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.”
More by this authorAdrian Peel