'You can't hold their hand, but you can walk with them and let them know they're not alone'- Bassetlaw Covid vaccination volunteers share their experiences
Kind-hearted Bassetlaw volunteers have turned out in their dozens to help the district roll out its mass vaccination programme since a call went out to the public in January.
Directing visitors in and out of centres as well as being on hand for a reassuring chat if needed, they are equally important as those administering the vaccine, playing an essential role in ensuring patients get their Covid jab as safely and quickly as possible.
Here, we speak to volunteers with Bassetlaw Community and Voluntary Service who say their experiences have been nothing but positive, allowing them to make a difference in their communities, form lasting friendships and stay hopeful throughout the third- and what is hoped will be the final- lockdown.
Husband and wife team Jim and Ruth Van Ham have been volunteering at vaccination centres at Larwood Surgery in Worksop and Retford Hospital since January.
Ruth, a former regional sales director, is retired along with her husband, a former project manager, and was looking for a way to ‘do a little good’ when she saw an advertisement for volunteers.
She said: “My first day was back in January when people over 70 were getting the vaccine, and everyone was so happy and grateful to have been invited along to get their jab.
"Jim tends to be outside making sure everyone gets parked safely before directing them to the entrance, whereas I’m usually on the door greeting people and checking they’re ok to have the vaccine.
"You come away from it all feeling very positive and Jim and I have made lasting friendships with other volunteers.
"What I’d say to anyone feeling reluctant is- nobody wants to have a vaccination in the first place, but this is a huge step forward that will hopefully bring us out of lockdown soon.
"In fact, I just had my second jab today. It’s a very smoothly run operation and everything went really well.
"Volunteering has definitely got me through lockdown, along with the prospect of seeing my son, daughter and grandchildren again.
"My daughter and husband share the same birthday so I’m hoping we can all get together for a small celebration in the garden in April.”
The district may be looking a little different to some since the pandemic hit- not the least to volunteer Gio DiCabria, who arrived back in his home county of Nottinghamshire in September last year after living in New Zealand and Japan for 25 years.
Gio teaches online at a Japanese University, and his flexible working hours meant he had a little more time on his hands.
It turns out that while volunteering is rewarding on its own, it’s been a great way for him to integrate back into British culture after being away for a quarter of a century.
"Myself, my Japanese wife and two children are starting to pick up something of a Nottinghamshire accent,” said Gio, who was ‘very surprised’ to see a cinema had been built in Worksop’s Old Market Square.
Describing his first day marshalling at the Larwood vaccination centre, he said: "This was earlier on in the year and I was in the car park, so it was very cold and we had to wrap up warm.
“I wouldn’t say there was a war-time atmosphere but definitely a strong sense of people pulling together.
"What I did notice were people seemed starved of conversation and were just grateful for a chat, never mind the vaccine.
"A few had a bit of anxiety, whether that be about the vaccine or the virus itself, but I think our presence was reassuring as we’re residents just like them.
"You can’t hold their hand, but you can talk and walk with them and make them realise they’re not alone.”
Gio said the first thing he’s looking forward to doing when lockdown lifts is taking his family for a traditional English picnic with cucumber sandwiches by the river.
"It’s strange to come back to a country you feel you know so well and find everything is changed,” he added. “But I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to look back.
“Friendships are beginning to blossom here for me, which is lovely, not just at the vaccination centre but when I’m out and about.
“I’d describe the people of Worksop as a little bit grumbly, but very polite about it- and at their core incredibly friendly, kind people who just get on with things.
"I have no doubt we’ll all get through this together.”