The day I signed up with the NHS in the fight against covid

Extraordinary: Centrale’s upper mall has been an NHS covid vaccination centre since earlier this year, delivering more than 1,000 jabs per day for most of December

What’s it like on the frontline of the pandemic battle? ROBERT WARD found out yesterday, when he volunteered for duties at one of the borough’s largest vaccination centres

It’s been a while since I set a 6.30am alarm, but needs must when your shift at the Centrale covid-19 vaccination centre starts at 7.30am.

I signed up four days before to help out as an NHS Volunteer Responder. An online application, including sending in a photo ID, and a couple of days later I had been accepted.

The system works via an app (doesn’t everything?). This app works rather well – look for shifts that need people, one click and you are signed up. Most of the available shifts were earlies. The vaccination centre in Centrale seemed a good place to start – need six volunteers, already have five, I am No6.

No traffic, so time to spare, I drive into a deserted Centrale car park – a first time ever. It’s still dark on these shortest days of the year, but Croydon’s people are starting their day. Street cleaning clanks down North End. Croydonites are hurrying to work, wrapped up against the cold. I grab a coffee shop breakfast, bacon buttie with a coffee, and I’m still five minutes early to sign in.

Forms filled, lateral flow test if you haven’t had one recently, yellow jacket issued, Croydon’s newest volunteer steward is ready to go.

The team of 30 or so were mostly medical and administration professionals, with perhaps half a dozen volunteers, like me, mostly experienced, unlike me. Roll call, task assignment for the professionals, 1,600 vaccinations booked in today, volunteers spread around to keep the process flowing, a queue is already forming before we open at 8am.

For the first hour or so I wasn’t much help. There were more than enough of us to manage the flow. People arrive, are given a mask to wear, hands are sanitised and on to the first set of desks. Details checked and on to the next line, one for those with an appointment and another for walk-ins.

More details to be checked, questions answered, information exchanged, and it’s on to the vaccination area.

Positive and cheerful: Robert Ward tweets his response after his first day on the covid frontline

All through the process volunteers oil the wheels – make sure people go to the right line, answer simple questions, fold the papers to be handed out. As a volunteer steward you just fit in, plugging any gap that might appear, gaining confidence as you go.

Everyone is so helpful. It just happens.

The people keep coming. The occasional person I think I recognise passes through. Face masks make for uncertainty. A “thanks Robert” causes me consternation, till I remember I have my name on my jacket.

Sometimes there is only a very short queue, especially early on (“less busy than yesterday”, according to those who were there). Towards 10.30 things get busier. The queues need more management.

All of a sudden the next shift arrives, four hours have flown by.

On reflection, it was extraordinary. Hundreds passed through in the course of my shift. Just one person not wearing the mask properly, just one grumble about the queueing.

The rest were patient, cheerful, grateful, helpful. You come away after your shift tired but uplifted. People are nice, they really are.

Isn’t that a good thought for Christmas and to take into the New Year?

  • Robert Ward, pictured left, is a Conservative councillor for Selsdon and Addington Village

All adults over 18 are able to book in for a vaccination appointment through the National Booking System. The NHS advises everyone to book in for an appointment to reduce waiting times. You may need to queue for longer if you choose walk in, as sites may be busy. Appointments can be made using the National Booking Service.

Those aged 12 to 15 can now book in for their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccination on the National Booking System.

Please remember to wear a mask or face covering when you visit a vaccination clinic.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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