Laughter and tears as Newtown vaccine centre prepares to close after 120,000 jabs

Emotional scenes are expected when a mass vaccination centre closes its doors next month.

Maldwyn Leisure Centre, Newtown, is winding down L-R: Pharmacist: Emma Gwalchmai, Adrian Osborne (Programme Director) from Newtown and Health Care Assistant: Beckham Oldham. The knitted rainbow hangs off the basketball hoop.
Maldwyn Leisure Centre, Newtown, is winding down L-R: Pharmacist: Emma Gwalchmai, Adrian Osborne (Programme Director) from Newtown and Health Care Assistant: Beckham Oldham. The knitted rainbow hangs off the basketball hoop.

The historic vaccination effort at the Maldwyn Leisure Centre, in Newtown, is being wound down and moved back to the town’s Park Street Day Centre, reflecting changes taking place across the region.

At Maldwyn Leisure Centre the 50-strong team of clinicians, vaccinators, administrators, security staff and support staff has built up strong bonds of friendship after administering 120,000 jabs since January 21, 2021.

After peaking at 1,200 jabs in one day, they are now down to about 100 and the huge space cannot be justified. But staff are being kept on the books as the vaccination programme moves down a couple of gears.

“I thing it is going to be an emotional last day,” said Adrian Osborne, Powys Teaching Heath Board’s programme director for the Covid vaccination and test, trace, protect programme.

“We had an idea of what it will be like because we experienced temporarily returning the vaccination centre at Builth Wells to the Royal Welsh Showground. Even that was an emotional experience.

“I feel totally humbled and privileged to have been a part of this and thankful for everybody including the staff at Freedom Leisure.”

Amanda Willday, 55, the business support manager, said: “There is part of me that doesn’t want to think about that last day. We have been on the right side of history and to have been a part of that. We have seen a lot of emotion and laughter and we have had to keep going.”

Amanda Willday (Business Support Manager) from Guilsford and Clare Roberts (Clinical manager) from Castle Caereinon.

Clinical manager Clare Roberts, 38, recalls some of the laughs, including when a lady in her 80s said the experience could have been improved with a “glass of Champagne”.

The team has also seen its fair share of people – usually muscular men – who have fainted at the sight of a needle. For the super-anxious they have even closed the busy centre to give them the time needed to reassure them.

“We have had older people in meeting up with friends who they haven’t seen for 60 years,” she added. “And with the younger people it has been more like a young farmers’ meeting.”

One of the crucially important volunteers, Jo Evans, 57, a Chelsea fan and a Rotarian from Newtown, says she will deeply miss all her colleagues. She has been a volunteer since December 2020, doing at least one shift each week as part of a team of “hundreds.”

“Without volunteers it would have struggled and I wanted to give back to my community,” said Jo, who is a team manager for a meter reading company. “It is a vital job that needed doing and I will keep doing it if they want me.”

“I am proud of everything I have done here. Newtown and Wales should be proud of it. Everybody should be proud of it.”

For some it has given a vital income at a time when other opportunities have been restricted.

Door supervisor Nia Passmore, 25, from Swansea, who has been part of the security team for a few weeks, said: “It is a very nice job for the winter, it has been a very difficult few years.”

But Nia’s dream is to work with horses and she is looking forward to getting back to that.

Jo Evans from Newtown

Looking forward to going back to more like normal is Nefen Savage, the operations manager at the Freedom Leisure operated centre in Plantation Lane.

They are planning a Freedom Week of activities from February 14 after they get their big sports hall back. Their swimming pool and other facilities have remained available.

“It has been really good to be involved,” said Mr Savage. “But I am looking forward to getting the sports hall back – and judging by the excitement on social media Newtown is too.”

The hall is used for activities including five a side football and the centre is busy contacting local clubs to get them back into the hall.

One teenager looking forward to being able to play basketball again is Kane Andrews, aged 15, from Newtown, who received his second vaccine on Wednesday.

Kane said: “I’m doing my part to stop others getting it. I had a really nice welcome. Sometimes at basketball I am in front shooting and sometimes defending. It gives us something else to do.”

Adrian Osborne (Programme Director) from Newtown

It is expected to close for vaccinations on February 2 and to take about a week for everything to be dismantled, including the sinks that were especially plumbed in, not to mention the electrical cabling.

The vaccination effort has resulted in thousands of people now knowing where the leisure centre is.

“We won’t have to explain to people how to get to us now,” joked Mr Savage.

Mr Osborne, who was seconded to his role, will also be able to step back to his role as assistant director for engagement and communications for the health board.

He said: “The population of Powys is 130,000 but spread over 2,000 square miles making us the least populated county in England and Wales. We have had three vaccination centres in Newtown, which is the biggest town with 10,000 people, Builth Wells and at Bronllys Hospital.

“We have the highest uptake of the health boards in Wales – an effort which has saved lives.”

Leisure Centre Operations Manager: Nefen Savage from Llandiloes

Now as the vaccination effort winds down, the town’s Park Street Day Centre will take on the next stages of the effort, which includes clinically vulnerable 5 to 11 year olds. Vaccinations will also still be available for first, second, third and booster jabs.

In Shropshire too the vaccination effort has been scaled back with walk in and pop up clinics, including at Shrewsbury’s Darwin shopping centre taking the strain.

For details of the Powys programme visit https://pthb.nhs.wales/covid-vaccine

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