Volunteers are celebrating after helping deliver hundreds of thousands of vaccinations in Torbay over the past year.
Vaccinations began at the Riviera Centre in Torquay last January, and an army of marshals and chaperones were recruited to ensure the operation ran as smoothly as possible.
A short time later, vaccinations began at the Rugby Club in Brixham and later at the Scala Hall, also staffed by volunteers recruited through the Torbay Community Helpline. An incredible 300,000 injections have been delivered.
Latest figures show that 86 per cent of people over the age of 12 have had their first vaccination, 81 per cent have received their second dose and so far, 65 per cent have had their third dose or booster injection.
Volunteers have toiled tirelessly alongside NHS staff to keep the centres open, working three to five hour shifts inside and out whatever the weather, welcoming patients and making sure their visit is as quick and stress-free as possible.
Some have been with the team from the very beginning, others have joined more recently, but all now have something in common – the ability to smile their way through this crisis.
Despite some record-breaking days when more than 2000 injections have been delivered and the walk-ins outnumbered the booked appointments, the whole visit from drive-in to drive-out has rarely taken more than 30 minutes.
“Every time we have appealed for volunteers to come down and help we have been inundated with offers. We have built up an incredibly dedicated team who have remained flexible and willing throughout, “ said Tracey Cabache, Torbay Community Development Trust’s Operations Director.
“On behalf of the people of Torbay, we cannot thank them enough, because without them, who knows what would have happened? We certainly could not have achieved what we have achieved so quickly,” she added.
Feedback from the thousands of people who have visited the vaccination centres has been consistent with lots of compliments and talk of big welcomes and smiles at every turn, putting even the most nervous at ease.
Hazel and Chris Wood of Upper Cockington Lane in Torquay have been at the Riviera from the very beginning and regularly spend two and up to three days a week there Eighty-year-old Hazel, a retired travel agent, was volunteering for the National Trust, but COVID put paid to that and when she saw a newspaper article appealing for help delivering vaccinations, she did not hesitate, even though back then she, like everyone else, was unvaccinated.
“I knew I had to do something to help everyone get protected and Chris and I signed up straight away and have been here ever since.
“We have made a lot of really good friends; they are a great crowd of people and 98% of the people who visit are lovely too. Just grateful to be here,” she said.
“We will continue to do it for as long as is necessary and who knows how long that will be?” she added.
Husband Chris, a 75-year-old former paramedic, was volunteering as a hospital car driver until lockdown one and like Hazel jumped at the chance to help with vaccination roll out.
Since then, he has worked in all weathers – worn shorts on good days, long johns under his trousers on bad days and has seen queues around Riviera building all the way back to the tennis courts, several hundred yards from the entrance.
“But whatever the weather, it is worth it. If anyone can spare the time, then join the team, I can’t recommend it highly enough,” he said with a smile.
And it is the same story for so many others, like June H from Higher Watcombe, who joined the team a couple of months in and has been a regular ever since, working indoors on average three afternoons a week, chaperoning and keeping the queues moving.
The 68-year-old former admin worker for Torbay Council is also known as ‘the baker’ as barely a day goes by without her sharing a homemade cake or biscuits. She also ensures everyone’s birthday does not pass unmarked.
In her own words, “It is knowing that people are able to get their vaccinations not just for themselves, but for the sake of others as well.”
When the crisis eventually passes, June is looking forward to going back to volunteering for Rowcroft, but for now, she is enjoying meeting new people and making new friends.
Another wife and husband team is Carol and Gary Collins, also of Cockington who have been at the Riviera from the beginning – Carol liaises with the NHS team, between working indoors and out, and Gary is a fellow indoor marshal.
A retired police officer from the West Midlands, Carol, now 60 was volunteering in the shop at Cockington when she spotted the vaccination centre opportunity on social media
“And I am so glad that I did; it is great to be here. Some days you could describe it as organised chaos, but in a good way, so many grateful people are full of praise for what is going on. At the end of the day, I feel rewarded.”
Matt Dart, the Torquay vaccination volunteer coordinator, has seen many people come and go, but continues to be amazed by the dedication of them all.
“No matter how pressured it gets here, the team deal with it and they manage to do it whilst keeping smiling. They actually look like they are having fun, no matter what is thrown at them.
“I know that I can rely on them come what may. We often have to change shifts because of the availability of vaccines and the like, but they always rally whatever the day, weekends included.”
“We do not know how long we will be here, but we do know that we are here for the long haul, and in the vaccination volunteers, we have the team to do it.”
More volunteers needed
All the vaccination volunteers were recruited via the Torbay Community Helpline which was launched in March 2020 and has received more than 30,000 calls from more than 7500 people.
Volunteers have worked alongside staff from a variety of charities and voluntary agencies in the Bay to provide essential services throughout the COVID crisis.
At the beginning, the Helpline coordinated food deliveries and prescription collections for people who were isolating and unable to get out to pick up their own supplies.
Since then, the Helpline has evolved to provide a whole host of new advice and support services, including a mental health triage service, domestic abuse referrals, financial support, housing, adult social services and food parcel referrals.
In recent months as Omicron has continued to sweep the Bay (it currently has the third highest levels in the country) demand for Helpline services has continued begun to rise again.
Tracey Cabache, Operations Director of TCDT said: “We are not out of the woods yet, and we are aware that some of the most vulnerable in our society are going back into isolation.
“We therefore urgently need volunteer call handlers, volunteer rapid responders who can do shopping and prescription collection and volunteer drivers who can deliver food parcels.
“As a community we have fought this dreadful virus together and we still need everyone to pull together and keep fighting.
“We really do not want people to leave their houses if they have Covid – but neither do we want them to be cut off from the essential things they need. Nor do we want them to become lonely, so we need telephone befrienders to chat to them.
“Sadly, some of our residents do not have friends nor family nearby so the Helpline is a real lifeline. If you are interested in volunteering for the Helpline please call 01803 446022.”
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