Behind the scenes: Telford theatre steps into new role as rapid Covid test site

One of Telford's most popular entertainment venues has had perhaps its most dramatic change of scenery ever – stripped of audience and actors, it now houses a new rapid coronavirus testing facility.

At Telford & Wrekin Council's new test centre at the Place theatre in Oakengates 70 people were given new lateral flow tests over the weekend, with 60 more expected over the course of today. The tests are currently being trialled with council frontline and care staff.

Staff have been toiling over the past two weeks to transform the Place into a lateral flow testing centre, while workers from across the borough have been retraining to staff the centre and provide tests to those who are invited – it is not open to the general public.

Stuart Davidson, Councillor Andy Burford and Liz Noakes in the test area

Those who are invited for testing can provide contact details on the Government website within a few minutes, before being provided with a bag containing barcodes for identification as well as a swab test.

They then head into the theatre space itself, which is unrecognisable – the testing area in the centre surrounded by glass panels separating it from booths for people being tested.

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Those getting tests enter a booth, to be greeted by a council worker who can explain the next steps, though there are also handy information sheets detailing how to use the swab to test oneself.

Swabbing itself can be an uncomfortable procedure but lasts less than a minute. Then the swab is placed in a secure test tube and passed through the glass to the council employees, where within an hour the results are confirmed and texted or emailed to the recipient.

Shropshire Star reporter Rob Smith takes a test

The new lateral flow testing procedure is being used in Telford & Wrekin to try and detect cases of coronavirus that might otherwise go under the radar, as a proportion of people who catch the virus never show any symptoms - between one in four and one in three people, according to the Government.

This week the testing is being offered to the council's frontline and care staff, before some of the region's big employers are targeted from next week, said project lead Stuart Davidson, who oversaw the transformation at the Place.

Challenge

"It's been a huge job," he said. "We've gone from idea to completion in about two and a half weeks.

"It's been really good fun and a real challenge.

"We've got [staff] here from leisure, from the arts team, a member of the senior management's PA team, people from transport; people who have probably never worked together before, but they've all said they want to support the community effort. I would say 50 people put their names forward."

Telford's new rapid Covid testing centre at The Place Theatre in Oakengates

Once the trial this week is complete, the centre will run from 9am-7pm, Monday-Friday, then from the following Sunday between 10am and 2pm. There will be no tests on Saturdays because of the nearby market.

Liz Noakes, director of public health for Telford & Wrekin, was observing testing this morning.

She said: "This is about targeted testing – we're trying to find positive cases to catch that undetected spread.

Telford's new rapid Covid testing centre at The Place Theatre in Oakengates

"We know that about a third of people with Covid, they don't display symptoms.

"I think it's another tool in the armoury box. There's not one magic bullet, it's just another tool in the armoury.

"Certainly if rates go up in January, this will then come into its own."

Telford's new rapid Covid testing centre at The Place Theatre in Oakengates

Councillor Andy Burford, the cabinet member for health & social care, said: "I think my first impression is how hard the staff have worked in getting this set up.

"The thing I want to impress on people is that this is not a reassurance to anyone that comes that they're okay and they can do things that they wouldn't otherwise have done without a test.

"It's to identify positive cases, not to give that reassurance to people who get negative cases, especially with Christmas coming up.

A rapid Covid test is processed

"We're obviously really pleased that the infection rate is coming down in Telford and Wrekin, we're aware that we've still got Christmas to come and we really don't want to be back in a situation in January where we've got that escalating number of cases again.

"The message has got to be: please be careful and be sensible."

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