Cumbria's 4 NHS Community Recovery Centres once up and running will provide a bridge between hospital and home for patients recovering from treatment for Covid-19.
This is my own personal experience of what it's like to be part of the now vast local volunteering community.
Putting your name forward is a huge contribution in itself
The first words we heard at our training session at the Sands Centre in Carlisle, were: “Thanks for volunteering. Because enough of you have come forward, we now have NHS approval to open. You’ve already made a valuable contribution to Cumbria’s Coronavirus response.”
I’d never thought of this before. Simply offering to volunteer is a positive act. Signing up pushes the project forward, it makes it viable and demonstrates capability. NHS recovery centres can’t help anyone if they don’t get approval to open. And to get that approval they need a list of committed volunteers.
You’ll be apprehensive before you go. It quickly disappears
I spent the entire drive to Carlisle wanting to turn around and go home. I hadn’t been further than a mile from my front door for 6 weeks.
Going to work was a memory from a previous life. So, jump-starting my brain to tackle a training course was painful. I really didn’t want to do it. But once you’re there and settled in your seat, the ice broken, your anxiety subsiding, it’s great. I always find learning rewarding. And learning with other people, going through the journey together, is a lovely feeling. You’ll have forgotten how good it is. It’s nice to be reminded.
Everyone’s there for the same reason. And it’s not what you think
“So, we’re going to go around the room and I want you to introduce yourself and tell us why you’re here,” said our trainer, Sheena.
“Oh, God”, I thought. “Even in the volunteering world there’s no escape from the creeping death.”
Relieved to be about eighth in line, I had time to hone my volunteering story: “I want to give something back… I’ve always been community-minded… I have a unique set of skills that I think can benefit the NHS.”
Thank God I got to hear everyone else first. They all said the same thing: “I volunteered because I wanted to learn new things… I was bored at home… I felt useless and I want to be involved.” Volunteering isn’t just about sacrifice. It’s also about seeking new opportunities, learning new skills, and even polishing your CV. And no-one’s ashamed to admit it.
All volunteers are novices. No-one expects you to know anything
I went preparing to be embarrassed. I dropped biology as soon as I could at school and didn’t know there was a difference between a bacteria and a virus until I helped my son with his homework last year. It didn’t matter. They explained the different types of germs. What they look like and how they behave. I didn’t understand it then, I don’t understand it now. It doesn’t matter. They make sure you know what you need to know. And most of it is common sense.
The NHS is brilliant at training people
In the space of about 6 hours we learned about:
- hand hygiene
- basic infection control
- 'donning and doffing' PPE
- making a hospital bed
- moving and handling
- helping people with mobility issues
- dignity and privacy
- spotting signs of deterioration
- and a Bristol stool chart (hint: it's not about seating options in south-west England)
The recovery centres are amazing
Yes, the Sands Centre still looks like a sports hall. But it feels like a proper hospital ward. The beds are brand new, recognisably hospital-ish, and look pretty comfortable. Each bay has a chair, adjustable table, storage, and an emergency buzzer. There are portable wash stations, individual lighting for each bay, and clocks on the partition walls. What an amazing effort to pull it all together in the space of a couple of weeks. It really makes you proud of our community.
There are jobs to suit everyone
Sorting out meals is a major task. Food will be cooked off-site but then needs separating, parcelling up, delivering to patients, and collecting in again. Times that by 3 (breakfast, dinner, and tea) and with up to 72 patients, you’ve got a good number of full-time jobs.
If you don’t fancy that there are plenty of store room and portering duties: fetching and carrying, taking deliveries, stocktaking, dealing with waste.
And of course, there are patient facing roles. You won’t be administering any medical treatment (there’ll always be a nurse around to deal with that stuff) but the patients are preparing to go home so will need help building their strength and confidence. That might mean practice getting up and sitting down, assisted walking, taking them to the toilet, helping them get in touch with family and friends, or just having a chat.
The patients will be well enough to have left hospital, so definitely on the mend, but not quite well enough to go home. So, it’s about recuperation and recovery. And volunteers will play a huge role in the process.
You’ll be given everything you need
Despite the national headlines, there’s no lack of PPE in Cumbria. You’ll get access to the gloves, gowns, and masks you need to carry out your tasks. And you get a uniform: a polo shirt and trousers I believe, although they didn’t have any to show us.
It’s great to feel part of a team again
Home-working’s ok. Telecons and Zooms calls are better than nothing. But there’s nothing to beat the feeling of being in a team, focused on the same goal, and achieving together. We’ve not yet put our learning into practice.
The recovery centres are not needed at the moment. But it’s nice to feel needed and I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of working there. We’ll be helping people recover from a traumatic experience, preparing them to return to their normal lives, and easing the pressure on our hospitals so more people can be treated.
It’s important work and I’m thrilled to be involved.