St Albans city and district council: 'We helped the NHS set up a vaccination centre in a disused nightclub'

St Albans city and district council helped the NHS set up a much-needed vaccination centre in a building which until December, was operating as a nightclub.

View allPublic health articles

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

  • Helped the NHS set up a vaccination centre at 'Batchwood Hall' - a building which until December 2020 was operating as a nightclub.
  • Set up an innovative drive-thru service offering those considered to be 'clinically extremely vulnerable’ the opportunity to get vaccinated.
  • Over 12,000 people have already received their first dose of vaccine through the service.

Like many local authorities, St Albans City and District Council owns and leases out a portfolio of properties. One of them, Batchwood Hall, was until December 2020 leased to an entertainment company, and operated successfully as a nightclub.

Located in a beautiful countryside location, just minutes from the city centre, Batchwood Hall has the benefit of proximity to a large centre of population, but also quiet isolation and space, suitable for a quirky night club, and, it turns out, a massive Covid-19 vaccination operation.

Batchwood Hall was designed in the Queen Anne style and built for Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe in the 1874. It reputedly contains the prototype of the Great Clock in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster. The Council acquired the site in the 1930s when an 18-hole golf course was built in the grounds.

Initially the NHS (St Albans and Harpenden GP Federation in partnership with 3 Primary Care Networks) was in discussion with the nightclub, about using Batchwood Hall as a vaccination centre.

Under the terms of the Council’s lease with the company, such an arrangement would constitute a sublease with the NHS, and the Council’s role would have been simply to provide landlord’s consent.

But the nightclub company’s business was under threat from Covid, and financial trouble beckoned. Much to their credit they were upfront with the Council about their plight and the potential need to call in the administrators*.

They were concerned about what that might mean for the vaccination centre if they entered into an agreement with the NHS and administrators pulled the plug. So, eventually they agreed to surrender the lease back to the Council, as the best way forward for the NHS.

The NHS was extremely keen on the location for their vaccination site not least because of the location, the parking, the disabled drop off zone, and the helpful one-way drive in and out arrangements. Also, alternative locations were proving hard to find.

Mobilising the venue for use

Tom Hardy, the Council’s Estate Services Manager said: “I went to meet the nightclub operators on site on the Thursday. They handed me the keys and I pretty much handed them straight over to Zoe Matthews the Chief Executive of the GP Federation. It was a mad rush. She wanted it open for vaccinations to start on the Tuesday. That gave us the weekend to transform a nightclub into a vaccination centre”

The building was in quite a state. It has been used as a nightclub for decades and hardly anyone had been inside since the start of lockdown, nine months earlier. Tom Hardy said: “I think it’s fair to say the realisation of the task ahead of us soon sunk in there was a great deal of work to do to get the building into a fit state for anything, let alone a vaccination centre. Our two teams got cracking straight away.

Our Council facilities team worked with the NHS right over the weekend, calling in favours from contractors, working around the clock. We got the heating back up and running, eventually. The locks were changed, the fire alarm and access control systems were upgraded, the water system chlorinated, electrical and fire extinguisher testing done, CCTV reinstated, and lease matters resolved.

Meanwhile the NHS team got to work bringing in cleaners, deliveries, fridges, furniture, consumables and the vaccinations. We rolled up our sleeves and worked together so that by the Tuesday they were ready to go. It was a mammoth operation.”

Every nightclub has a vast collection of lost property, and Batchwood Hall was no exception. Dr Mike Walton, Clinical Director of HLH Primary Care Network made good use of it and arranged for the best items to go to Herts for Refugees.

Partnership working

Tom Hardy said: “That experience brought us all closer together.  My team was able to call in favours from their contacts. We got the locksmith over within half an hour, and the security people soon after, and it all went from there.”

Dr Walton said: “It was very hard work and exciting too. I WhatsApp’ed Tom and his colleague late in the evening, on the day after we had given our first lot of successful vaccinations, to say how full of excitement and enormous appreciation all of us were for what they and the Council had done to help make the Batchwood STAVAX Covid Vaccination service come off with such success.

To my mind it was the most amazing illustration of collaboration between health and local government.

Support for the centre

The Council is the landlord and has that formal role. But the collaboration means the Council is more hands on than might be the case in normal landlord/leaseholder relationships.

For example, when the NHS wifi failed in the early days of the operation, leading to queues building up, the Council’s Principal Community Protection Officer drove straight up there and lent the centre manager his mobile phone dongle allowing them to get started again without delay. It’s those sorts of flexible, practical fixes that can make all the difference.

Cllr Chris White, Leader of St Albans City and District Council said: “We are proud of how the various public sector teams have worked together to get Batchwood, and all the other testing and vaccination operations, up and running, both here in St Albans District, but also right across Hertfordshire. It’s quite extraordinary how everyone has pulled together to do what is necessary.”

Zoe Matthews, Chief Executive of the GP Federation said:

Over 12,000 of our most vulnerable local people, have already received their first dose of vaccine through the service.

The benefit of the layout, space and geography at 'Batchwood Hall' has enabled the team leading the St Albans Local Vaccination Service, to develop an at scale model, meaning they can vaccinate in excess of 1,500 people per day (vaccine supply permitting). All care home residents and staff have been offered the vaccination, along with all housebound residents and anyone aged 73 and above.

There is an innovative drive-thru service to offer those considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable patients, who are not already vaccinated, the opportunity to receive their vaccination through the drive-thru system.

The service has offered vaccination to local front-line health and care workers. The team continue to work down the priority cohorts and will start inviting in 72-year olds next, in accordance with national guidance.”