One Year of Vaccines at Home Park
Wednesday marks one year since Home Park saw its first Covid-19 vaccine administered to the public – and the phenomenal efforts of NHS staff and volunteers at the site continues to make us extremely proud to be involved in the project.
Since that first day on 26 January 2021, an incredible 425,000 vaccinations have been delivered at the stadium, with Home Park playing a significant role in the region’s fight for protection against the ongoing pandemic.
Reflecting on a seismic 12 months in his role as Head of Venue at Home Park, Christian Kent said: “What started as a few months has turned into a year, which is unbelievable. It’s been a great success for us and for the community.
“When we started [vaccinations at Home Park] we were behind closed doors and it was quite straight-forward. The NHS could vaccinate, and we would play games without fans.The partnership has developed over time to ensure that both the club’s objectives and those of the NHS are met with as little impact on the other as possible.”
Sam Rafferty has overseen the vast majority of the vaccinations on site in her role as Operations Manager on behalf of the NHS.
She said: “Unbelievably proud, it’s a monumental achievement, it’s a fantastic team who really rise to the challenge. We’ve stayed open until 2am to try and get as many people vaccinated as possible. We know that’s the right thing to do, and that protects people against Covid.
“Our biggest month was December, when we were given the mandate to get everybody boosted by the end of January, and we actually did 76,432 in one month. We were recognised nationally, and that figure was the best for any site within the South West.”
Argyle was one of the first professional sports clubs in the country to offer up use of stadium facilities to alleviate the burden on NHS services, and the Theatre of Greens was first used as an antenatal and phlebotomy centre during the initial lockdown in early 2020, before being converted into a Mass Vaccination centre as part of a national roll-out.
As such, while 26 January marks a year of vaccines, the NHS has occupied the stadium in some form for the best part of two years, and the relationship between the two parties has been pivotal to the project’s overall success.
Sam said: “I think that we have all worked together really well, anything that the NHS needs for the programme has been accommodated. There’s an example, last weekend we were vaccinating in the tent, the tent was about to go down the river in a torrent of rain, and the club very quickly allowed us to use the Players’ Lounge.
“Whatever we have needed, the club and the team here have accommodated. It’s been an unbelievable partnership.”
While both Argyle and the local community will forever be indebted to the work of front-line NHS staff and key workers throughout the pandemic, the club showed its gratitude for our healthcare heroes with a dedicated NHS fixture against Crewe Alexandra in September.
Over 1,000 tickets were generated for NHS staff and volunteers for the visit of the Railwaymen, with the stadium lit up blue in honour of the health service. Chairman Simon Hallett gave a heartfelt speech of thanks to those in attendance just before kick off – while gifts were exchanged between club and NHS Trust personnel in the Jack Leslie boardroom.
Christian said: “It’s been really special to be a part of, and to see the work that the NHS do and be part of it has absolutely been one of the highlights of my career so far.
“Having that as a dedicated NHS game, and to have everybody involved across all departments – from the players, right through our departments and the Community Trust as well – was really special.”
Of course, the vaccination centre would not have been such a success without the committed and selfless contribution of hordes of volunteers, like Roy Warnes, who has been with the Home Park team since the beginning.
Roy said: “I had a call asking if I could help down at Plympton, and they wanted volunteers here, and I’ve moved here ever since.”
Like Sam and the NHS team, Roy’s work as a volunteer also saw him recognised nationally, with an invitation to meet royalty at a special NHS anniversary event in London.
He explained: “I had a phone call one morning inviting me to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the 73rd anniversary of the formation of the Health Service. 7.30 the next morning, I get a phone call – you’ve been chosen with four other people to be presented to His Royal Highness Prince William, the Prime Minister, and all these other dignitaries. It was an amazing experience.
“It’s been a heartwarming experience, it really has. I’ve met so many lovely people, and I’ve made so many friends.”