St John has helped supply the health service with people willing to help out as part of ambulance crews, hospital volunteers responsible for screening patients and providing first aid on patient arrival, as well as others who have been helping with a wide range of community projects.
Manager of the charity’s Haslemere and Liphook event services unit, Luke Simmonds has been one of many volunteer first aiders responding to the crisis, having volunteered with St John for over a decade.
Luke said: “The role has changed massively during the pandemic, so normally when I’m volunteering as ambulance crew it’s on large events.
“But during the colder months, we help the NHS with winter pressure.
“Because of the pandemic, our summer events are cancelled and all our resources are being thrown behind supporting the NHS, so we’re now doing 999 front-line support shifts.”
The volunteer, who also works as a full-time IT consultant, was inspired to become involved at St John Ambulance when he was a young student.
He said: “I originally took interest in St John Ambulance when I was at university. I went to the stand at freshers’ fair and it looked interesting. I got talking to the guys there and it just seemed like something quite interesting and enjoyable to do.
“And I got hooked on it after that. I joined the first-aid society at university and 11 years later I’m now running one of the units and responding in the front-line during a pandemic as one of the ambulance crews – and I don’t think I envisaged ever doing that when I was at university when I signed up.”
Luke has spent time volunteering in several parts of the UK during the pandemic, including London and Hampshire.
After being released from his work two days a week, he is able to complete three or four 12-hour shifts per week – while trying to juggle two full-time jobs.
He has also come across a few familiar faces while on duty.
“I’ve worked with people I have never worked with before, but I’ve also been volunteering with people I’m friends with, which has been really good because it meant I could see them during the lockdown,” Luke added.
“I live by myself so I would be quite isolated at home otherwise – so being able to get out and volunteer with my friends has been really good, knowing we have been able to help the NHS where they have needed it, getting to patients quickly and being able to see my friends.
“It has been good for my own well-being.”
Despite the long shifts, the IT consultant has drawn the positives out of volunteering for the ambulance service, especially at this time of crisis.
“I think I appreciate there is a little bit of good in everybody. We have seen people from all walks of life at events and it’s a really nice feeling when you’ve helped someone and they are really appreciative.
“People are also surprised we are volunteers and not getting paid for it. That’s from patients and our colleagues in the NHS ambulance service – some of them do not realise we are volunteers. I think that makes them appreciate our help even more because people are putting themselves out there to help when it’s needed most.”
St John Ambulance volunteers across the country have spent more than 100,000 hours on the frontline so far as they help to fight coronavirus.
Another St John volunteer in the local area on the frontline during the pandemic is Joanna Hart, an advanced medical first aider from Liphook whose fiancé Paul Evans also volunteers for the ambulance service.
Joanna said: “My wedding was supposed to be in April but unfortunately it was cancelled – so I tried my best to keep busy and at the start of that month, I volunteered to take numerous ambulances up to London as we prepared to open the Nightingale Hospital.
“Recently, I have provided another pair of hands as a clinical volunteer at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, helping hospital staff and being there for patients in the wards when they’ve needed me.
“Before the epidemic I would help out with local and national events such as summer fairs in the local area, the London Marathon and the Wimbledon Championships.”
Joanna is also a teacher in her other life – and that was one of the reasons why she decided to volunteer: “It seemed ridiculous that I was getting all this first-aid training as a teacher and not having the chance to use it effectively.
“I have had no regrets about joining the service – there is a real sense of community here.”
SJA’s chief operating officer Richard Lee said: “St John Ambulance volunteers have demonstrated their humanity, expertise, flexibility, scale and resilience to deliver – what our nation’s health needs – and we are ready should a second wave of the virus occur, or if there is any surge in demand on the NHS.
“We look forward to agreeing our contribution to the next phase of this pandemic and our country’s recovery.”
In April, the service launched an emergency fundraising appeal to ensure the likes of Luke, Joanna and Paul can continue serving as volunteers past this summer.
You can help by visiting sja.org.uk/COVID-19