WHEN most of Guernsey is sleeping, a group of volunteers have left their beds, donned overalls, aprons and gloves and are decontaminating an ambulance that has been used to transport a patient with Covid symptoms.
The next day an elderly lady who urgently needs prescription medication waves through the window to a volunteer driver who has just dropped off medicine and at the Rohais headquarters of St John Ambulance Guernsey calls are coming in from a couple isolating at home who need some food collecting from a local supermarket.
St John Ambulance Guernsey has been one of the charities at the forefront of the island’s response to the latest lockdown. Many of the organisation’s existing volunteers have changed roles to become part of the Covid response team, which has also been boosted by members of the public who have never volunteered before.
Paul Watts is a chartered building surveyor and associate director at estate agents Savills. He first volunteered for St John on the inshore rescue boats before training as an event first aider, but with no events being held at the moment Paul is an active member of the ambulance decontamination team which deep cleans vehicles, freeing up ambulance crews to respond to the next life-threatening case.
‘We’re on call 24/7 and I’ve had calls at 1am and 2am to come in and help. Being woken up by the phone ringing is the easy bit, but getting back to sleep again at 4 or 5 in the morning once we’ve finished can be a bit of a challenge. There have been times when the crews have literally dropped their ambulance into the cleaning bay and almost immediately jumped into another ambulance to go on the next call.
‘My employer really values corporate social responsibility and is very supportive of staff volunteering in the community and allows me to respond during my working day. Volunteering has given me a way to pause the lockdown for a couple of hours and I can have normal mundane conversations with people, even if we are all dressed from head to toe in PPE. So I feel like I am able to assist the community and do something positive for me too.’
Rob Steen works in the hospitality trade and is the tenant at Patois Brasserie at Bruce Russell’s. He joined St John during the first lockdown last March and is currently volunteering as a delivery driver.
‘I initially signed up because I wanted to keep myself busy and assist others. I really enjoy it, as I have become part of a team that is dedicated and respected. I also know that some of the people I have delivered prescriptions to will have had no other contact with anyone all week and they also benefit from a socially distanced chat.
‘Volunteering is a great experience – we should all do it at some point in our lives, at least for a short spell. It’s difficult to find the time when we all work so much, but during lockdown one thing we’ve had is time. If I could, in the future I would dedicate one day a week to give back to the community.’
Vikki Zabel is one of the newest members of the St John decontamination team. She is in her second year as a student nurse, but wanted to use her spare time between her studying to help out.
‘Calls come in day and night because the paramedics are working hard around the clock. Everyone who works and volunteers for St John is lovely and hardworking and I am very happy to be part of the team.’
Decontaminating an ambulance can take a team of four people an hour and a half to complete and the volunteers free up the front line ambulance crews to allow them to respond to another call.
‘I have not done anything close to this before, but I wish to carry on after Covid. To anyone who is thinking of volunteering, I would say 100% go for it. It brings new opportunities, experiences and you know you are doing something good for the people around you.’
Darryl Bye would normally spend his evenings running a St John Cadet unit and his weekends volunteering as an event first aider or member of the Cycle Response Unit, but during the Covid pandemic he is volunteering for the Patient Transfer Service as a non-emergency driver and has also been on the decontamination team.
‘With the youth sections of St John not meeting during the Covid lockdown, I wanted to help the emergency ambulance service and give something more back to the community. In the first few weeks I gave about 25 hours in both roles, coming in when I was needed both day and night.’
Volunteers have been working alongside full-time staff on non-emergency patient transfers, including hospital discharges.
Darryl, who normally works as a painter and decorator, has been a St John member for about 11 years, having first joined as a Cadet himself.
‘Volunteering during Covid is very different to the work I normally do as youth leader, teaching first aid skills and thinking of new and interesting topics for the Cadet programme, but is equally rewarding. I’ve never looked back since joining St John and I still enjoy all aspects of volunteering.’
Annette Harding is one of St John’s volunteer delivery drivers. She initially joined the team during the first lockdown last year and has returned to help during the current one.
Annette would normally be working as a fitness instructor at King’s Premier Health Club, but the restrictions meant she could do only a live-stream class once a week through Facebook.
‘I started volunteering for St John last March because I just wanted to do something to help our local community and to have a sense of purpose. I was nervous about putting my name down at first, as I have never done anything like this before and quite honestly I was a little worried about Covid and being out there, but I just wanted to do what I could and it feels good.’
Annette is called out around once a week to do a little bit of shopping for people who are unable to get out for themselves. The team at St John call to check if she is available, then email her all the details. Annette collects the shopping from the supermarket and delivers the groceries to the client.
‘The system seems to work really well,’ she added. ‘I’m really happy I volunteered as I feel I am playing just a little part in helping the community stay safe. To anyone else thinking of volunteering, I’d say “go for it”, even if you don’t think you have any worthwhile skills – every little helps and helps share the load.’
St John Ambulance Guernsey launched a £100,000 charity appeal in February to raise funds for its community services. Anyone wishing to support the St John Ambulance Guernsey charity can email firstname.lastname@example.org or donate directly here.
The St John Covid-19 response services were first introduced during the first wave of the pandemic last year and have been carrying on quietly in the background ever since, but when the latest lockdown was announced the demand for the services shot up.
Since 23 January St John volunteers have collected and delivered 182 prescriptions for people who were isolating or unable to get out. St John has also delivered 96 lots of essential shopping supplies for people who couldn’t get to the shops and didn’t have family to help.
In addition, volunteer drivers have made 73 journeys transporting people to and from the Community Vaccination Centre at Beau Sejour.
While many of the volunteers are existing St John members who would normally act as event first aiders or youth leaders, a significant number of new volunteers have come forward to help the charity provide support to the community during the pandemic.
Meanwhile the decontamination team, which is also made up of volunteers, has done 80 deep cleans of front line emergency ambulances, which is about double that in the whole of the last lockdown in 2020. The cleaning process, which involves all the equipment being removed and cleaned, as well as all the surfaces being wiped down and mopped, is required after every case involving a patient with potential Covid-19 symptoms. Each cleaning team consists of between two and four people and in total nearly 300 hours has been spent cleaning vehicles.
On one particularly busy day volunteers did 15 ambulance cleans in a 24-hour period.