In early 2021, we were asked to support the involvement of volunteers across the mass vaccination programme in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. This was in addition to our usual roles working for the Academy of Research & Improvement. It was quite a different role, and a steep learning curve, but we’ve really enjoyed the chance to be able to work with the volunteers, who played a vital part in delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to thousands of people.
In the beginning, our role was to set up and organise ways for volunteers to sign up to help at the vaccination centres and to get them started. We only had a couple of weeks to do this, but fortunately we had huge amounts of support from Voluntary Organisations. This included processing applications, arranging training and rostering shifts as well as coordinating and supporting volunteers on a day-to-day basis. We were spending long hours going through new applications and liaising with the vaccination hubs to book shifts for our amazing volunteers. We also spent weeks organising thousands of gifts throughout the year to thank our volunteers on special occasions such as Mothers’ day, volunteers’ week, Christmas and Easter.
Our offices filled with volunteer gift bags for volunteers week
It was key for us to build a rapport with our volunteers so we could ensure they were looked after and had a good overall experience.
People came from all walks of life to do as much as they could to help speed up the vaccination programme. We were blown away by how so many people wanted to help their community and support the NHS to deliver vaccines. We met teachers, business owners, retirees, and students, as well as people who had been furloughed, and in some cases, who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. In total, we had nearly 600 volunteers signed up to help through Solent, and over nearly half of them have continued to volunteer. We also received tremendous help from over 5000 volunteers from voluntary organisations such as the HIVE, St Johns Ambulance, Community Action, BVA, RVS, HANTSAR, SVS and Communicare.
As a result of the hard work of many people, more than 345,000 vaccines were given to those in our community within the first 6 months of opening our mass vaccination sites. It would be unfathomable to determine how the NHS would’ve been able to do all this without volunteers, so the least we could do was thank them for their selfless and brilliant work. We also received immense support from local and small businesses, community groups and local restaurants who provided tokens of appreciation for our volunteers who helped us at the vaccination hubs. This included gifts such as free lunches, food, easter eggs, cakes, and well-being boxes.
As the vaccination guidance was constantly changing, we had to adapt, and found that at times it was a very demanding and ever-changing environment. The hubs, as well as our team, were learning and adapting to ensure vaccines could be administered safely and effectively. Despite this, the volunteers were understanding and flexible of our needs and the demands of the vaccine programme throughout.
As the vaccine volunteers programme carried on a lot longer than we first envisaged, more than a year on, it has given us time to reflect on the inspiring individuals we’ve met along the way. All the volunteers were enthusiastic to help despite some having their own struggles during the pandemic. They helped in various ways such as welcoming and directing patients to their appointments, vaccinating patients, and marshalling the car park. Many shared how they have developed new friendships and now feel part of a community amongst other volunteers.
If we can take one thing away from this experience, it would be understanding the importance of great teamwork. We were lucky enough to be part of a team who could support and guide us in all the challenges we faced. Without their support we would not have been able to achieve what we have over the last 18 months.
Overall, we are still overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness from all of our volunteers which made working on this programme very rewarding. We want to thank them for their continued support and everything they have done so far for their community and Solent NHS Trust.