Swindon council: ‘We’ve used our iconic steam museum to vaccinate’

The council-owned railway museum, Steam, has been turned into a mass vaccination centre for the town.


This is part of a series of case-studies published on 11 February 2021

  • The council-owned railway museum, Steam, has been turned into a mass vaccination centre for the town
  • Council and NHS staff are working side-by-side, while the community health and wellbeing team is helping to coordinate volunteers
  • The council is now looking to make follow-up calls to people who have not responded to vaccination invitations or who do not attend their appointments

Local context

Swindon is the biggest town in Wiltshire and is home to more than 220,000 people. The Great Western Hospital became a vaccination hub in early December.

But when it came to setting up local clinics, two of the three primary care networks in tandem with the council – a unitary authority – decided the Steam Museum would be the perfect location for a large vaccination centre. It got up-and-running just before Christmas.

‘The museum was the perfect location’

The Steam Museum is one of Swindon’s most well-known venues. It is easily accessible – located just outside the town centre – with ample parking. What is more, it is council owned. As such it was the perfect location for the town’s vaccination centre.

Healthy Communities Manager Kati Wood, who has been supporting the running of the vaccination centre for the council, said: “As soon as we started planning for vaccination we thought it would work. Everyone knows the museum and there is a large hall to the side.

“There wheelchair access, there are toilets in the building, plenty of room and different entrances and exits. We spoke to the primary care networks and they were more than happy to work together it set up. Colleagues from the Steam Museum itself worked closely with them to make it work and get the flow through right.

“It is our staff who work there so we could easily arrange everything that was needed from signs and chairs to some heaters to keep people warm. We have a close relationship with lots of partners in Swindon who can also lend a hand.

“For example, there is a local taxi firm that is offering free rides to the vaccination centre for anyone who needs them. The GPs can arrange that for them.”

Mark Hopkins, the Chief Operating Officer for one of the local PCNs, said the support from the council has been invaluable and the choice of venue proved to be ideal. “The museum is the perfect venue for vaccinations – it provides the necessary space required to maintain social distancing and avoid crowding. We have been able to manage the numbers coming in and giving the vaccines very effectively.”

Staffing the centre

The community health and wellbeing team has also been instrumental in helping staff the centre. Ms Wood manages a team of social prescribers who are providing support to vaccinators at the centre, helping assess patients beforehand and being available to answer any questions.

“People naturally want to ask questions and so with their knowledge they have been able to deal with a lot of that to allow the vaccinators to concentrate on giving the jabs.”

The service also has a volunteer coordinator who would normally help coordinate the activities for social prescriptions. But in recent weeks she has been devoted to building up an army of volunteers to help at the centre.

Ms Wood said: “They are helping out with marshalling and in the car park. Some are inside at reception to greet people and help them find their way round and ensuring social distancing is adhered to. Those who get the Pfizer jab have to be monitored for 15 minutes so there are chairs all spaced out that need to be wiped down after each use.”

More than 300 people have so far become volunteers, including around 90 council staff. Council employees are allowed to take 15 hours a year off work to volunteer.

“We have seen lots of staff do this at the vaccination centre, but they have not stopped there - they are doing extra on top. Ward councillors have also got involved.

“We’ve also had lots of people from the local community come forward to help too. The response has been fantastic. People have really pulled together to help.

“Last year they were helping with food deliveries and medicines collection. It was a difficult time, but people came forward. What is great now is that this feels much more positive. There is a really good atmosphere at the centre. People enjoy it.”

One of those that has volunteered is Graham Carter. He said it was “one of the most satisfying” things he has ever done.

“It has been a ringside view from which to marvel at the friendly efficiency of the operation and the impressive teamwork required - because it is a complex collaboration between admin and clinical staff from surgeries, council workers, Steam employees and various other groups as well as volunteers.

The council deserve praise for the success of the operation. Credit where it’s due.

New phone line to chase-up DNAs

Now the vaccination programme is well under way, the health and wellbeing team has started looking at how it can increase uptake.

After working with the local clinical commissioning group, it is about to start a new phone service to follow up those who have not turned up for their appointments.

Ms Wood said: “There could be a variety of reasons for this. They may have forgotten or could not get down for some reasons. We want to scoop them up and unblock some of the problems.

“We think we can make a real difference here. The vaccination programme is being done at such a pace that it is important we don’t leave people behind. We are just about to start working with a couple of surgeries – so will see how it goes. But if it works we will expand it out to the others.”