During the past year, more volunteers have stepped forward in London than ever before. The most recent call for volunteers has been for members of the community to help stewarding at the vaccination centres, greeting those receiving the vaccine, signposting people around the centre and other admin tasks. On the weekend, LSE Volunteer Centre Coordinator Beth volunteered at her local vaccination centre in London as a steward! We caught up with her and asked her a few questions to see what the experience was like.
First of all, why did you sign up to volunteer at your vaccination centre and how did you find out about it?
Having moved to a new part of London, I was keen to get involved in something local as I’ve always found it’s a great way to understand your community better and meet others in your area. When searching the Volunteer Centre Greenwich website, I saw the call out for vaccination centre volunteers – something I had heard about in the news but assumed it was for NHS Responders only. After looking into it, I realised it was open to everyone and that my local vaccination unit was in desperate need of volunteers to deliver the program.
I had received both of my vaccines earlier in the year and benefitted from other volunteers directing me around the centre, so I wanted to do the same in return. At first I was worried that the volunteering role would be a weekly commitment during the working week (although I’m sure I could have struck a deal with my manager🤫). But after investigation it was clear that volunteers were asked to sign up to whatever shifts they could AND they needed volunteers on the weekend! And so I signed up…
What was it like when you got there?
I hopped off the bus and walked up to the centre, which was at Charlton House (I would recommend a visit to the Peace, Pond and Sensory gardens as they’re very beautiful). As I approached the entrance there was already a queue of people waiting outside for it to open in half an hour. I was welcomed in by the site manager, who was wearing a face mask and led me upstairs to the staff and volunteers area. I was given a medical face mask to swap with my own mask and asked to do a rapid lateral flow test (which was negative thankfully)!
After waiting for my result, I was shown where to get refreshments, introduced to the two other volunteers and the vaccination staff (health care professionals including GPs and nurses). Everyone was super friendly, and some seemed to already know each other fairly well! The two other volunteers had done quite a bit of volunteering at the vaccination centre so they ran through the roles and how it works with me, which was really reassuring.
What did you do during the shift?
I actually did 3 different roles during my 5 hour shift, which was fun and has made me feel really confident about going back. At first, I was asked to steward people from the front desk to assigned seats which were numbered. This was important as we had to remember the order in which people came in, and make sure that each chair was wiped down in between patients. It was also my responsibility to send people to the stations (the area where people received the vaccine) once the health care professionals were ready. As my fellow volunteers had explained to me, it was incredibly intuitive and you get into the swing of it after 5 minutes!
We swapped roles half way through, and I was tasked with greeting those in the queue outside the building and handing out some slips. On the slips, I had to write their name, Date of Birth and time of appointment – whilst having a little chat of course! This was then given over to the volunteer at the desk so they could find their NHS number (the unique numbers allocated to registered users of the NHS). In the last hour when it was a bit quieter, I was shown how to find NHS numbers and check people in.
The whole system in the centre was simple but incredibly effective, and the main requirement was a warm smile!
Did you feel safe whilst volunteering?
Whilst everyone was friendly and welcoming, we did have strict rules about social distancing and wearing a mask was compulsory (unless exempt). For those who had forgotten there masks, spare ones were handed out! The space was quite large, so it was easy to socially distance and there multiple ‘sanitisation stations’ around the centre.
Did you enjoy your volunteering experience?
I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy pretty much all of my volunteering experiences, but I have to say this one did feel extra special. Given the year we’ve had, there was something about being part of the COVID-19 effort that gave me an extra boost of motivation! The fact that I was a part of the vaccination centre by mainly providing a warm welcome and friendly directions was an added bonus!
Would you recommend others to volunteer at their vaccination centre and how can they find out more?
Yes! If you want to get involved I would really encourage you to find out more and have a go, I’ve already signed a couple of my housemates up. I would bear in mind that it does require being on your feet during the shift and your are of course surrounded by people receiving vaccinations, so if you have a phobia of needles I would make sure you let the volunteering manager know that you don’t want to be in view of those receiving their vaccination. I didn’t realise this before, but the Mayor of London website has actually put together a list of different vaccination programmes across London and who to get in contact with to find out more. Of course, these programmes are happening across the UK and volunteers will be needed, so I would recommend either getting in touch with your local Volunteer Centre or signing up via NHS Responders.