Meet Portsmouth's volunteers who are helping roll-out the Covid-19 vaccine

‘I just wanted to do my bit,’ says Dr Wendy Peters, as she explains why she has come out of retirement to offer her skills to the national mass vaccination programme.

Saturday, 20th February 2021, 12:00 am

Her statement is one that resonates with hundreds of volunteers who have given up their time to enable life to slowly get back to normal, whether that’s through delivering essential food parcels, Covid marshalling or administering the vaccine.

Without them the NHS would simply not be meeting its impressive vaccination targets because with voluntary help, the process is more efficient.

At 68, Wendy spends eight hours, three days a week, at St James’s Hospital, Milton, Portsmouth, administering the precious jab because she wants life to get back to normal – and to keep travelling the world on her motorbike.

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Top row, from left: Connor Turner from PITC, Jane Tume and Katie Aris and another volunteer from PITC. Middle row, from left: Wendy Peters and Asghar Shah. Bottom row, from left: Steve Greenway, Simon Chamberlain from PITC and Mel Saxbee from GoodGym, Portsmouth.

‘I was a registered GP for 29 years but started working in the medical profession 50 years ago. When I retired in 2010, I felt burnt out and had had enough of general practice if I am honest,’ explains Wendy, who lives at Gosport. ‘When I retired, I went out to India and Nepal as a medic on motorbike tours. I am a biker and I have ridden from Portsmouth to Cape Town, across Thailand and around the Black Sea by myself.’

When Wendy returned from riding around Thailand in January 2020, the pandemic was unfolding. ‘We had had scares before with SARs, Ebola and Green Monkey Disease, but nothing quite on this scale,’ says Wendy. ‘With Covid, anyone can be affected at any age.’

‘The BAME community have really suffered and our NHS relies on so many people in those communities.’

When Wendy was on her motorbike in sunnier climes, she could not have imagined a year later she would be back in her scrubs with a life-saving vaccine in hand. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. She explains: ‘I felt as though my skills were being wasted. We have to get out of this and the only way I can see that happening is through mass vaccination

Wendy Peters giving Jackie Blake a vaccination jab at St James' Hospital, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘I have two grandsons who I haven’t seen since last summer. My daughter had a little girl in the summer too and I haven’t properly met her, only through windows.’

At 68 Wendy naturally follows the Covid rules scrupulously and going back to fight a virus at her age doesn't seem to have phased her. She adds: ‘I think it’s about balancing the risks. I have worked in the medical profession since 1970 and the worst thing I ever caught was mumps. Going on the frontline is what workers in the NHS do every day.’

Although our volunteer vaccinators are vital, it is important not to forget the cheery chaperones and Covid marshals who are ensuring patients follow the rules and know where they are going when they arrive at vaccination hubs.

‘I am a Covid marshal so I assist in directing people and cars, ensuring everyone is sanitising and reminding them to wear their masks,’ says Steve Greenway, from Southsea, who volunteers at St James’s vaccination hub.

Vaccination lead, Stephanie Clark with fellow volunteers, Nick Leaver and Linda Swinburne, outside St James's Hospital, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Steve, 52, was working as a sales manager before he became unemployed. ‘I have got the time and the inclination to help so I got in touch with HIVE. I am definitely proud to be involved.

‘It’s great helping vulnerable people who might not have been out of the house in a year and see them come out with a smile on their face,’ adds Steve.

Portsmouth-based charity, Forgotten Veterans UK (FVUK), have been offering an invaluable service. Providing eight volunteers per day, for 14 days, for eight hours at a time, FVUK volunteers have been Covid marshalling at Laly's Pharmacy, Guildhall Square.

Gary Weaving, the CEO and founder of FVUK, explains: ‘I knew this was something that I –and the charity – needed to get involved with. In five years’ time I want to look back and say that I didn't stay at home and do nothing – I want to be part of the solution.’

Vounteers from Pompey in the Community.

At 69, Royal Navy veteran Gary Sprakes has been volunteering with marshalling saying it has given him a ‘great sense of satisfaction to do something positive for the community’.

‘It has helped me by chatting to people,’ says Gary. ‘I think that seeing people of their own age group enabled me to engage with those coming in for their vaccinations, putting them at ease.’

Like those volunteering to deliver food parcels with Pompey In The Community (see grey panel), two individuals especially have gone above and beyond to help in whatever way they can.

Jane Tume is passionate about her work. She says: ‘Volunteering in the pandemic has been very rewarding. I’ve been involved in food parcel deliveries and am currently delivering oximeters so patients can be monitored at home.’

Asghar Shah – known as Shah – has been a community activist for years, running his own foodbank at The Peace Centre, Havant, and organising his own volunteer networks to reach deprived areas at Leigh Park.

In addition, British Gas surveyor Shah, 51, has been working as a volunteer coordinator for Portsmouth Coronavirus Support Group (PCSG) and HIVE. ‘I deliver food parcels, pick up and drop off prescriptions, walk dogs, grocery click and collect and compassionate calls,’ says Shah, from Cosham.

He says he could not dedicate so much of his time without the support of his family. ‘My wife is a role model. On Christmas Eve I was delivering food parcels while my wife and two kids were waiting for me to have a meal with them. The biggest reward is when I feed more families than the week before.’

Getting essentials from A to B

Since the pandemic began, Pompey In The Community (PITC) has been lending a helping hand to shielding and vulnerable residents.

As part of the HIVE Portsmouth campaign to support the area’s most vulnerable and while working in partnership with other local organisations, volunteers have been delivering vital food parcels and essential products to those who need it the most.

Katie Goater, who volunteers with PITC, says: ‘I volunteered with organising and sorting the food parcels being sent for delivery.

‘My most moving moment was when a lovely lady phoned up just to say how grateful she was for all the food and help we were providing. She started crying and then I started crying – it was very moving to know that what we were doing was having such an impact.’

Chris Plow, pictured in the right picture box below, has been volunteering since the first lockdown. He explains: ‘Covid-19 has been a leveller for people across all walks of life and it has affected us all. I just wanted to pay a little forward.

‘Seeing the generosity of people within the city has been amazing. The food donations from the many members of the public, Sainsburys, The Akash, McDonald’s, Le Creuset and Debenhams to name but a few, have been very humbling. I have loved seeing how we all pull together to support one another through these awful times.’

To find out more about PITC and how you could volunteer, go to pompeyitc.co.uk.

Thank you to our volunteers

Stephanie Clark, senior programme manager of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Portsmouth, wants to thank all of the vital volunteers for their dedication.

Stephanie, pictured above in red, says: ‘Our volunteers, including those from the Hive, have been with us since we opened our doors at the vaccination hub at St James’s, and it is fair to say that without their vital contribution our operations would have taken longer to get up and running. Together, we are ensuring that up to 1,000 vulnerable people can be vaccinated every day, safely, conveniently and quickly.

‘Solent NHS Trust thanks the people of Portsmouth and surrounding areas for stepping up when help was needed. If you have received a letter inviting you for your vaccination, you can either book online or call 119.’