What's it like to be a Covid-19 vaccination volunteer in Norwich?

St John Ambulance volunteer Belinda Buxton as the Castle Quarter vaccination centre

St John Ambulance volunteer Belinda Buxton at the Castle Quarter vaccination centre - Credit: St John Ambulance

If you've had your Covid-19 vaccination jab in Norwich, you may have had it at Castle Quarter. Nick Richards spoke to two brilliant women injecting their own time, humility and dedication into this incredible UK-wide operation.

Given the huge responsibility of administering the Covid-19 vaccine, you'd understandably expect the team at Norwich's Castle Quarter to be a group of dedicated workers.

That a proportion of them are made up of St John Ambulance volunteers giving their own time to perform such an important job may be overlooked, for they are going about their business in an understated and workmanlike fashion.

Katie Noble, 24, is St John Ambulance's site lead at Castle Quarter and is also head of the first aid unit at the UEA where she is studying for a research PHD.

The St John volunteer explained how she got to be on the frontline of delivering such an important vaccination.

She said: "They put a call out to sign up at the end of October and I jumped at the chance. After some online training we had one day of actual training in mid-December to make sure we had the confidence to do the job.

"I started on January 18 at Castle Quarter. My feelings on the first day were a mix of nerves and excitement. I was excited as it felt great to be part of something that could be the beginning of the end (of the pandemic).

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"I'd trained on a plastic arm but still it was a bit nervy doing the first injections."

Katie said St John have six volunteers per shift working at Castle Quarter, with a total of 12 volunteers per day taken from a pool of several hundred. They are giving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Site lead Katie Noble at the Castle Quarter vaccination centre

Site lead Katie Noble at the Castle Quarter vaccination centre - Credit: St John Ambulance

"We work with a nurse who draws up the vaccines and hands us the syringe, so we just put the injection in the arm," she said.

"We've had all sorts of reactions, from tears of joy at having it done and people sensing that this is the start of the end, to people being extremely excited to the people that don't like needles who are nervous but who recognise it's an important thing to have done.

"It is lovely to be doing it and to see the happy smiles on people's faces when they've had the jab.

"We are here on a week-by-week basis but I assume it will be the foreseeable future. It's great doing my little bit to be able to help. We're now past the 20 million vaccines and I personally have done more than 1,000."

More: Where are Norfolk's Covid-19 vaccination centres?

Belinda Buxton, 54, from Swardeston has also been working twice a week at Castle Quarter since January.

She said: "I've been a St John volunteer for 26 years and I'm also a trainer. 

"I got involved with the training side initially so I train people who go out and do the volunteering whether it's the meet and greet people, the vaccinator role or the post-recovery area. 

"And because I was teaching it, I thought I'd really like to do the vaccinations too. Because I'm self employed and I didn't have much else to do I thought I might as well do this and help get us back to some sort or normality."

St John Ambulance volunteer Belinda Buxton delivers a vaccination

St John Ambulance volunteer Belinda Buxton delivers a vaccination - Credit: St John Ambulance

Belinda has worked as a photographer for the last 15 years and since 2013 she's had a studio in Wymondham. Later this spring she'll be able to re-open her business, but she is still committed to vaccinating people at Castle Quarter.

She said: "I'm hoping to try and do my bit. I know I can re-open my business from April but I want to make time to still do this. At the moment I do two shifts a week, but I will still volunteer once my business is open again. It will happen.

"It's been nice to have all this free time to put myself forward and help. It started back in April with training people to help in the hospitals and then the vaccination programme came on board and by the end of this month St John will have trained 30,000 people in the UK which is amazing.

"I originally started as a volunteer at St John after doing a first aid course and I thought that after four days of training I may as well do something else rather than just deal with paper cuts in the office.

"I started volunteering at Castle Quarter in January. It was very exciting when it came through that we were being asked to help, we felt very welcome to be there and we feel part of a huge team and I'm really proud to have been part of it. You do feel part of a massive team, not just the team at Castle Quarter, but part of the whole UK team."

Belinda also said that the atmosphere at the vaccination centre was hard to sum up, admitting there is plenty of emotion from all sides.

She said: "Emotions can go from sadness to happiness to immense pride. People are so grateful to be there having their injection and most of the emotions are happy.

"Then you hear some of the stories from people who perhaps haven't seen their families for a while, but you do feel pride because you know you are helping them get back to that. 

"It's not great the reason why we are doing this but it's great from a volunteering point of view that people have stepped up and I do feel privileged in a nice way to be involved in something like this. 

"The gratitude is overwhelming sometimes. I love doing it, it's great thing to do."

Visitors to the vaccination centre are given plenty of information following their jab

Visitors to the vaccination centre are given plenty of information following their jab - Credit: St John Ambulance

What happens at a vaccination centre?

1 You are checked in - vaccines are by appointment only, so your details will be checked.

2 You are pre-screened by a nurse to check you are suitable to have the vaccine and to flag up any issues you may have with having the injection.

3 Your name is checked again and the nurse will make sure you are happy and comfortable.

4 You are given the vaccine and you are free to leave.