'Everyone stepped up': How hundreds of vaccine volunteers have helped keep Shropshire safe

Vaccine centres across Shropshire would have ground to a halt without the hard work and selflessness of hundreds of volunteers.

Volunteers at Telford International Centre, where thousands of people have received their first and second jabs.
Volunteers at Telford International Centre, where thousands of people have received their first and second jabs.

Today the woman in charge revealed how a team of 844 volunteers were essential to the operation across the county.

More than 86 per cent of the adult population in the Shropshire Council area have now had their first jab, with 80 per cent in Telford & Wrekin. And more than 70 per cent of adults are now double jabbed across the county.

Shropshire Rural Communities Charity (RCC) has been central to the task of finding people to help operate vaccination centres.

Sue Homden, acting volunteer coordinator at Shropshire RCC, said today: “It’s a great contribution that the volunteers have made to get everybody vaccinated.

“It’s been lovely to see the effort from the community to make that difference and make it happen.

Sitting are Stacey Barsby and Mark Powell, then, from left, Karen Turner-Atkinson, Phil Groves, Simon Broad, Peter McPhillips, Pam McPhillips, Elaine Adams and Jill Skidmore.

“We are a relatively small charity and we had more than 1,400 applicants for volunteering roles. From our charity’s point of view it was overwhelming but very positive that there were so many people out there wanting to help. It shines such a lovely light on the county.”

From getting the vaccines to the centres, booking appointments, and administering the jabs to patients, Sue said it has been a huge partnership effort.

“It’s not just the NHS, but teams from the councils, the fire service, the ambulance service and the centre staff themselves who gave up their venues to act as the vaccination hubs,” she said.

Volunteers played a huge role in comforting those coming in who were nervous and just acting as a friendly face to greet them.

“The volunteers became the face of the service,” Sue added. “They have made a massive contribution to the programme. These are not people who are sort of retired and passing time at home, it has been a real mix of groups – from young people aged 18, to those of working age on furlough.”

As well as members of RCC, volunteers came from St John’s Ambulance Service, Good Samaritans, RJAH League of Friends, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.

They helped at centres that included The International Centre in Telford, Shrewsbury Bowling Centre and Ludlow Racecourse.

The vaccination programme has helped protect people as virus rates spiral. In Telford the rate per 100,000 is more than 500, the highest it has been since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020. In Shropshire it is around 400 per 100,000.

For many people, becoming a volunteer was a way to get out of the house and feel like they were helping do their bit, during a tumultuous time in history.

Karen Turner-Atkinson, from Madeley, and Stacey Barsby, 31, from Randlay

This was the case for Stacey Barsby from Randlay. The 31-year-old has five children at home, who she was home schooling when schools were closed, and suffered from bad anxiety – which she hadn't had before the pandemic.

"When we went into the third lockdown I really struggled," Stacey said.

"I had never really had anxiety before but I got it really bad and had panic attacks. I just needed to do something and snap myself out of it.

"Then I saw this opportunity to volunteer come up. It's about being my own person – having all the children at home, and not being around other adults was hard.

"Since starting here, I have made a lot of friends, it has been so beneficial to my mental health. You don't realise how much a difference just getting out the house actually does make."

She said being in lockdown became a scary thing for her, and now she goes home with a real buzz.

Simon Broad, 58, from Aston and Phil Groves, 68, from Shifnal

Mental wellbeing was also a big pull for Phil Groves from Shifnal.

The 68-year-old lives by himself and ended up feeling isolated during lockdown and needed to help improve his mental health, so he started volunteering.

"My mental health was being chipped away at, and I didn't notice it until one day," he said.

"Becoming a volunteer has really improved my mental well-being. I thought, I could either be sat at home doing nothing, or come out and help do my bit. Be a part of the solution, not the problem."

Friendship has been a huge beneficial outcome of volunteering for many people helping out at the vaccination centres in Shropshire.

Another person who has seen these benefits is Simon Broad, 58, from Aston, whom Phil has found a new golf partner in.

Volunteer Pam McPhillips guides Abby Winchester from RAF Cosford at the International Centre, Telford

"It was the advertisement that said 'be part of history', it sounds cheesy but I remember thinking we will look back on Covid as a significant event in our lives," Simon said.

"Some people took up new hobbies and things and I thought, what am I going to say about what I did during this time.

"There has also been a personal investment I wasn't expecting – I have met some fabulous people. I have made some really great friends, and met people I wouldn't normally come across from all walks of life.

"Early on we had a lot of younger volunteers, and people who were on furlough as well as students and young parents. Over the lockdown I had spent a year not really seeing anybody apart from my wife and daughter at home.

"Then in my first day on site I was stood in the doorway and must have greeted around 400 people. It was quite a shock really, but has been such a positive experience."

Jane Thomas, 53, from High Ercall, was on furlough for many months, and Jill Skidmore, 65, from Bridgnorth, retired in February, and both wanted something to fill their time.

Jill used to do reception work for the NHS so missed interacting with people, and Jane said she loves to help others so volunteering was the perfect solution.

Jill said: "We are doing our bit for history I think. It really became fun some days, especially when it got to the 50s age group and below. On Friday nights we had couples coming in, and the wife would say she got dressed up to come and get her vaccine.

"People were dancing in the queues, it was so fun and so exciting for people to have their vaccine."

Jane added: "I think part of what's so special about being a volunteer is supporting people when they come through the front door and re-assuring them all the way through."

Business owner Karen Turner-Atkinson from Madeley hasn't stopped for the past 18 months – from sourcing face visors for care homes, and training NHS staff on Microsoft Teams, Karen has kept busy by helping others.

While she wasn't training people through her business, Imagine Training, Karen worked with local suppliers to source visors for care home staff, and even helped NHS Glasgow find decalthon diving masks which they then engineered into a device to share oxygen.

She said: "Then there was a bit of quiet and I thought, I need to volunteer here. These people here are fantastic.

"Until we all get vaccinated, we won't be able to get back to normal. So I thought if everyone does a bit, the job will get done."

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