The COVID-19 vaccination programme is the biggest in the history of the NHS. In less than 6 months, the NHS in Sussex have launched more than 45 vaccination sites including hospital hubs, vaccination centres, GP-led local services and pharmacy-led services, and over one million people have had at least one dose of this life-saving protection.
None of this would have been possible however, without the hard work and dedication of hundreds of incredible volunteers, who have provided support in a huge variety of roles to help as many people as possible feel empowered and enabled to receive their jab.
Here are some of their stories.
Fay and her dad Alan have both been volunteering as Vaccination Champions for Sussex Health and Care Partnership as they were passionate about spreading reliable information and helping to boost local confidence around the vaccination roll-out and the vaccines themselves.
In their time as Vaccination Champions, they have created a Facebook page which they update regularly with information about local clinics, myth busting and other important vaccination information from the government and local NHS. The page has over 600 subscribers and a reach of over 2000 people on the average post, with a focus in the Greater Wealden area.
The father and daughter team also have a weekly column in a local newspaper where they supply updated information and have even been interviewed for a local community publication which went out to over 8000 homes in the area.
Fay was fortunate enough to be able to assist at their local GP surgery back in the early weeks of the vaccination programme.
“I was so impressed by the hard work and dedication which went on behind the scenes. Seeing the faces of the over 80’s who had been shielding for so long, beaming with excitement once they had received their jab, is an image I’ll never forget!”
The pair say their proudest moments from their time as vaccine volunteers include helping someone with severe needle phobia gain the courage to have their vaccination, helping others overcome anxieties about the risk of clots and side effects and support a person with a learning disability to get transport to their appointment and a slot at a quieter vaccination session.
“We are both really proud to be able to work with such a fantastic team of people and volunteers and are even more excited to hear that Sussex has now hit 1 million people vaccinated! What an amazing achievement by all involved.”
Watch Fay talk in a bit more detail about her experience of being a Vaccination Champion in the video below.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Enquiry Line was set up in February 2021 in response to the high number of email and telephone enquiries received by the NHS relating to the vaccination programme from members of the public, health and care professionals, key stakeholders and various local organisations. 14 volunteers from Healthwatch stepped in to support this very much needed service and the telephone enquiry line has been heavily reliant on their help ever since.
Some of the volunteers have shared their experiences:
Fran O: “Working on the Vaccination Helpline has been both a fab experience and a challenge! But working with a fun and supportive team has been great and I would do it again.
My best achievement was getting a couple who were eligible for the vaccine but being turned away at the door sorted. They stayed put and we pushed on and they were done within about an hour”
The couple sent Fran a message of thanks:
“On behalf of XXX and I, and all unpaid carers in Rother – I wanted to say a huge THANK-YOU for sorting out the misunderstanding at XXX Vaccination Centre yesterday.
Fran went above and beyond to help us, and make sure that pre-booked vaccination appointments (and vaccines) weren’t going to waste.
Thank-you again for everything you’re doing to help everyone in Sussex. You’re doing a phenomenal job.”
Chris: “I have really enjoyed working on the helpline as a volunteer and find it very rewarding when you can actually help so many people who are worried about all aspects of the vaccines. Clients are so grateful for the help we give and also for their peace of kind. An excellent and much needed service for the community.”
Cindy: “I have only been working on this for a month but during that time I realised the selfless work done by the NHS staff to alleviate the anxiety and concerns with issues acquiring some appointments. Most of the callers are so appreciative of the listening ear, help, advice and reassurance that the service gives. Some send messages back giving their thanks. Many situations, I had not foreseen with this vaccination rollout, make life quite difficult for people. It’s so good to help and be a part of it! I’ve learnt a lot!”
We would like to thank each and every volunteer who has helped us with the Vaccine Enquiry Line. They have been pivotal to the COVID-19 vaccination effort here in Sussex and we could not have done without their support.
Supporting the COVID-19 vaccination programme across Sussex has been one of the greatest challenges in Sussex Community Foundation Trust’s history.
Since the start of the year, the Trust has recruited more than 1,000 staff and volunteers to help deliver the Sussex vaccination programme and ensure thousands of people receive potentially life-saving jabs.
You can read more about their COVID-19 vaccination heroes on their website. We’ve repeated two of their stories below.
An Australian who worked as a drag performer in Sydney for 22 years before moving to the UK in 2010, Graeme lives with his husband in Brighton and works as a manager at The Duke’s at Komedia, in North Laine.
However, when the UK entered its first lockdown in March 2020, the cinema closed, re-opening briefly in October only to shut again, leaving the 55-year-old on furlough.
“I was keen to help out somewhere, and when I heard about the need for volunteers for the vaccine hubs, I signed up immediately,” says Graeme. “I’m a volunteer co-ordinator at The Brighton Centre, helping guide the public through the vaccination process.
“I’ve only been volunteering with the Trust since the centre opened, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Since moving to the UK I have grown to appreciate and love the NHS, so I am happy I could be a part of this historic rollout.”
Sheila, who lives in Crawley, previously worked for Foreign Exchange at Gatwick Airport for more than 20 years.
“After choosing redundancy due to COVID-19, I felt I had to do something different, where I could utilise my skills and my spare time,” she says. “As my husband was already working for the NHS, he suggested that I should volunteer at Crawley Hospital. I really didn’t think this was possible. I investigated further online and found out how I could go about doing this, and in no time I started volunteering.”
Sheila volunteers as a steward for two days a week, and says:
“The most satisfying part of my role at the vaccination centre is when I get to see the joy and the sense of relief on people’s faces as they walk through the door for their vaccines. It’s priceless!”
Volunteers have also support the vaccination programme through other organisations, such as Healthwatch and our local GP Federations such as Alliance for Better Care.
“I joined Healthwatch East Sussex as a volunteer at the end of last year and the first job I was offered was that of vaccination steward at the Welcome building in Eastbourne.
“This is not difficult work, but at first I thought I would never get to know the ropes. Of course I did and then really enjoyed what I was doing.
“As a steward, I came face to face with hundreds of people, which I found particularly interesting.
“Most people told me I was doing an excellent job and thanked me for volunteering. This surprised me, and was extremely gratifying.
“Quite a few people needed reassuring that the vaccine was safe. Others hated needles. If I had a pound for every time I heard people say: “Follow the yellow brick road” I would be a wealthy woman.
“I have really enjoyed doing this work and I like to imagine that I have been a tiny cog helping to turn the wheel of the vaccination program.”
Volunteers from East Grinstead Lions have been supporting the vaccination service at Meridian Hall. You can read a day in the life of one of their volunteers and watch a short video here.