Vaccination volunteers making the difference

COVID-19 programme supported by special team



Thousands of people across west Essex have now had their COVID jab as part of the largest vaccination programme in NHS history.

Since December, our five GP-led Primary Care Networks (PCNs) and two large centres at Harlow’s Leisurezone and the Murray Hall in Loughton, have worked tirelessly to give the jabs to those who need it most.

More than 200,000 doses of the covid vaccine have been administered in West Essex up to the 18 April 2021, with people aged 42 and over beginning to be invited to book their COVID-19 jab from today (27 April 2021).

None of this would have been possible without the teams of dedicated volunteers who have been giving up their time to support the smooth running of the programme.

From phoning patients individually to make their appointment, booking patients in, marshalling at vaccination sites in all weathers or simply providing a friendly face to those who may be nervous, the volunteers have filled a variety of roles.

We have been talking to a number of volunteers about their experiences helping with the vaccination programme.

Camilla Butterworth, a freelance marketing officer who lives in Wimbish, has been supporting the vaccination programme at the Lord Butler Community Centre in Saffron Walden.

The mum-of-three, who is 50, says she had previously been involved in the PTFA (Parent, Teacher and Friends Association) at her children’s schools but in recent years had been too busy with work to do anything else.

But during the first lockdown Camilla spotted an appeal for help on the Uttlesford Volunteers page and signed up to be a town ambassador.

“It involved being in town when the shops were closed, just to help those moving through town and to explain to them about social distancing and things like that.

“I really enjoyed that, chatting to people and being out in Saffron Walden, so when news of the vaccine started coming through and they were asking for people to be stewards I offered to help.”

Able to fit in the duties around her teenage children and work, Camilla says she “really, really enjoyed” volunteering at Lord Butler Community Centre.

“People having the jab were just so excited and grateful and I wanted to be a part of that.

“It is really uplifting and positive and you make friends at the same time.”

Camilla says it has made her realise you can fit volunteering around your life – even giving up a few hours a week can make a huge difference.

Many volunteers supporting the west Essex COVID-19 vaccination programme, like Camilla, also work.

Emma Toal, who has been helping at Lister House in Harlow since it began vaccinating in December, has a full-time job as an events organiser.

Over Christmas she took advantage of some of her leave and has since fitted in hours around her shifts.

“I have not done lots of hours, but it might be a half day here and another half day there.

“I think this year has been really, really difficult for everyone.

“I was struggling, working from home having never done that before, but there are people who have been through so much worse.

“I have got so much out of volunteering on a personal level.

“It has helped my mental health and it has just been so nice to see people come through and they are so happy.

“For many it was the first time they had been out of the house in a long while,” says Emma, 31, who lives in Old Harlow.

She is not alone in being determined to carry on volunteering in the future.

Kevin McGlinchey, 45, decided to use the time to volunteer while he looked for full-time employment. He had seen an appeal for help on a Facebook community page he belongs to.

He now regularly helps out at Lister House Surgery in Harlow and is hoping to continue in the future even once he begins working again.

“I see it as doing my bit for my community,” he said.

“I might not always be able to do it as much as I have been, but if you only have a few hours to spare then that is okay too.

“There is always a really great atmosphere at the vaccination centre, people are really pleased to be there and to be getting their jab.”

Martin Minihane also volunteers at Lister House Surgery.

Martin, who is retired, said his daughter works for the NHS and suggested he might like to volunteer.

“I hadn’t done any volunteering before that to be honest, but I really loved it.

“Meeting people and helping out has been great.”

Martin, who lives in Harlow, says he had enjoyed helping people but also the social side of volunteering and the opportunity to make new friends.

If you are interested in volunteering opportunities, contact Della Nash at the Volunteer Centre, Harlow, on 07910 075101.

You can also contact Volunteer Uttlesford on 01799 510525 or Voluntary Action Epping Forest (VAEF) on 01992 910701.