Selfless volunteers at St James' vaccine hub in Portsmouth thanked

SELFLESS volunteers who helped ensure more than 114,000 people in Portsmouth have had at least one Covid vaccine have been thanked for their efforts.

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 4:31 pm

In line with National Volunteers’ Week, Good Samaritans at the St James’ Hospital vaccine hub in Milton received a visit from the city’s Lord Mayor - and were treated to an offering of 60 cupcakes from Portsmouth’s voluntary network, the Hive.

Around 600 volunteers work shifts at the centre every single week helping to guide people in and out of the centre, which was set up in February, and making sure people are well after their jabs.

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Pictured: Volunteers Cherie Thurston, Ken Ebbens, Toni Steed, Debbie Walker and Patrick Hill at St James Hospital, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

The mammoth operation is achieved with volunteers provided from the Hive, St John’s Ambulance, Solent NHS, the Royal Voluntary Service and community service volunteers

On his visit today Lord Mayor Frank Jonas thanked all involved. He said: ‘The effort from the volunteers and the organisation is amazing.

‘My wife came here for her vaccine and it was so simple. She came with some trepidation but everyone made it so easy.

‘I can’t thank the volunteers enough - that’s from me and on behalf of the council and all the councillors as well.’

Pictured: Lord Mayor Frank Jonas with the volunteers at St James Hospital, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

For volunteer Cherie Thurston, her role at the centre has improved her own wellbeing since she started in February. The 52-year-old from Widley said: ‘I am not working at the moment due to my mental health. I wanted to do something to help out and it’s actually helping me with my mental health - mainly through talking to people. Otherwise I wouldn’t go out.

‘I come here once or twice a week and unfortunately on the other days I don’t do anything. It takes a lot to push myself to come out but I want to do something to help.’

Fareham resident Tori Steed, 68, has also volunteered there since February.

‘I just wanted to make a difference and give something back,’ she said.

Pictured: Volunteer Cherie Thurston at St James Hospital, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Everybody here is working to try to get the country back together and safe, they need volunteers to make this happen.

‘I love coming here, people are so happy to be getting their vaccines, it’s been such an eye-opener about how nice people can be.’

St John’s Ambulance volunteer Debbie Walker observes people after their Moderna vaccine to make sure they are well enough to go home.

The 64-year-old from Bishop’s Waltham said: ‘I wanted to feel like I was doing something. From the early days it was to see something positive happening as opposed to all the negatives.

Pictured: Volunteer Debbie Walker at St James Hospital, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Everyone I work with here is lovely and the people who come for their vaccines are relieved and pleased to be here.’

Ken Ebbens, 66, from Hilsea, manages to volunteer while working a full-time job as a proofreader. ‘It’s amazing how disorientated people can be when they come here. People don’t know where the car park is and they’re so grateful when you can point them in the right direction.

‘I also volunteer with the vaccines at Lake Road Practice once a week and being a part of both has really put things into perspective. For example, I speak to a lot of people who weren’t able to leave the house for a year.’

And former Royal Marines musician Patrick Hill, 69, from Hilsea added: ‘I wanted to do anything I could to help, I would’ve done whatever they asked - why wouldn’t I? Portsmouth asked and I responded.

‘I’m retired so I have the time but I would also say we’ve had lots of young people volunteering as well, which is really great to see.’

Pictured: Volunteer Ken Ebbens at St James Hospital, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

According to government statistics released on June 1, a total of 114,235 people in Portsmouth had their first vaccine by May 30.

However, Sarah Williams, volunteer lead at Solent NHS, said new volunteers were needed all the time to keep the centre running.

‘We still need volunteers for lots of different shifts,’ she said.

‘Almost everybody comes back two or three times a week and is giving a lot of hours.

‘We’re expecting to be open until September which is later than originally thought so the more volunteers we can have the better.’

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Pictured: Volunteer Toni Steed at St James Hospital, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman
Pictured: Volunteer Patrick Hill at St James Hospital, Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman