Louise Minchin volunteers at a Covid vaccination centre in Chester

Louise Minchin working at the Chester Racecourse vaccination centre

Louise Minchin working as a volunteer at the Covid vaccination centre at Chester Racecourse - Credit: Louise Minchin

The last time I went to Chester Racecourse was for my daughter’s speech day back in those pre-pandemic days when celebrations were big affairs. It was one of the hottest days of the year and we were glad to get out of the sunshine and take shelter in the Pavilion and toast the end of our children’s school careers. 

Since I have lived in Cheshire, I have visited the Racecourse dozens of times, for many different kinds of events: food festivals, concerts, award ceremonies, black-tie dinners, charity fundraisers, Christmas lunches and five-kilometre runs, and of course, going to the races.

It is the kind of place where memories are made, and there couldn’t be a starker contrast between my previous excursions and my visit this month. Instead of getting dressed up to the nines and wearing heels and make-up, I turned up on a chilly Saturday afternoon armed with a high-vis jacket, gloves, woolly hat, and a mask. I was one of the many thousands of volunteers helping the UK’s mass vaccination programme. 

About 40 of us reported for duty at the same time, socially distanced, in a narrow room where back in the day I had watched a cookery demonstration, and beside the empty parade ring where I had seen racehorses dancing nervously, their jockeys precariously perched on top of tiny saddles. I felt jittery too, not knowing what kind of day lay ahead.

The Covid vaccination team at Chester Racecourse

The Covid vaccination team at Chester Racecourse - Credit: Louise Minchin

We were a hotchpotch of people, of all ages, from all walks of life and were quickly separated into those who were medically qualified and in charge of the onerous task of vaccinating, and others like me, who were helping out. The efficiency of the operation was staggering. We were already on a rota and quickly given our jobs. The pressure was on to get it right, and at speed, so each patient could be through the whole process from start to finish including their jab, in as close to five minutes as possible.

I was assigned the task of checking people in, and after a brief handover from the previous shift of volunteers, myself and Kathy, a bubbly civil servant from the Wirral were left in charge of making sure all arrivals had an appointment, had filled out and signed their form, were wearing a new mask, and had used hand sanitiser.

Once we were happy, we sent them on into the Pavilion where a vaccination army made up of nurses, doctors, firefighters, teachers and St John’s Ambulance volunteers, asked more questions, checked their medical records and then did the honours and gave them their vaccine. 

The atmosphere was incredibly calm. Everyone knew what part they had to play and quietly got on with it, with the occasional break to get tea or coffee from giant urns on the end of the bar where so many times before I had stood, chatting with friends and enjoying a different kind of drink.

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By the end of the day 1,500 people had gone through the doors, and even those who had turned up shaking with nerves had been looked after by kind medics and had their injection.

It was surreal to see the building, which is so full of fond memories, transformed, but I left with a warm sense of optimism that one day, because of the transformation and the hard work being done there, we will be allowed to return.

As I walked in the dark back to the car park my thoughts echoed the words of one of the other volunteers on the day, that it had been an honour and a  privilege to be part of it, and I would also like to say a huge thank you to everyone who is involved in the amazing joint community effort.