Local leaders have praised the amazing community response to developing Cumbria’s four Community Recovery Centres – from the teams that built the centres to the generous volunteers willing and trained to staff them.
Work on the centres took place in early April at a time when hospital admissions were rising rapidly and Cumbria’s Local Resilience Forum partners made a commitment to be ready in case they were needed.
The centres were transformed from sports halls into wards with privacy screening, hospital standard beds with bedside lockers with arrangements for appropriate catering and sanitation facilities. The centres were planned for use by patients medically fit to leave hospital, but needing a little extra time and care before going back to their homes.
Due to the overwhelming response from people living in Cumbria respecting guidance around social distancing and handwashing, our local hospitals have been able to maintain enough capacity to care for all COVID-19 positive patients requiring a hospital admission.
When the centres were built we could not be sure that the number of people becoming ill with covid-19 would come down the way it has, and we are now in the very fortunate position of not needing to use the centres.
Peter Rooney, chief operating officer for NHS North Cumbria CCG, said: “The NHS is very grateful to the many members of the public who volunteered to work in the centres, and to the local organisations which helped with the development work.
“At the time we were seeing high numbers of hospital admissions and the volunteers who came forward did so selflessly. There was no doubt lots of nervousness at our volunteer training sessions, but also incredible generosity and commitment.
“We are also grateful to people across Cumbria who have been following the social-distancing and hand-washing guidance – there is no doubt that this has helped prevent our hospitals being overwhelmed and we’ll need everyone’s support to carry on with that as lockdown eases.”
Hilary Fordham, chief operating officer for NHS Morecambe Bay CCG, said: “We are very grateful to the teams who built high quality facilities at short notice, from the NHS and from local businesses and the collaboration of our local authority partners, as well as the owners of the venues including GLL and Furness Academy and the local authorities.
“This has been a real team effort from all involved and we have been fortunate not to need to use the centres. We are now looking at ways to ensure that we have sufficient capacity to support patients over the next phase of the pandemic.”
In April, 160 volunteers were recruited in a couple of weeks and trained to provide patient support, with supervision from nursing and other health professionals.
Four centres were developed in March and early April in:
- Furness Academy, Barrow
- Sands Centre, Carlisle
- Kendal Leisure Centre
- Leisure Centre, Whitehaven
Penrith Leisure Centre was held in reserve in case it was needed.
The centres have been ready to go if we needed them but now the Community Recovery Centres at the Sands Centre in Carlisle and the Furness Academy in Barrow will be stood down. All the resources and equipment will be put into storage and able to be stood up in other facilities at short notice.
The Sands Centre is due to be redeveloped as part of a Carlisle City Council investment project to upgrade the leisure facilities for the community. Furness Academy is re-opening as a school and needs its sports hall back.
Kendal and Whitehaven will continue to be held for the time being while conversations about their future continue. Both can be taken down and reconstructed at short notice. We are keen to keep these facilities at hand in case of a second spike now or in the winter.
There was also the possibility of using Penrith Leisure Centre which was held in reserve and never fully developed. There is also now increased capacity for Cumbrian patients needing intensive care with the development of NHS Nightingales in Manchester and the north east.
Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Slattery, Chair of the Strategic Co-ordinating Group for Cumbria, said: “It is really good news that we can begin to return the Recovery Centres back to their normal use for the communities in Cumbria.
“We were faced with a serious challenge in March, when Government predictions indicated that the number of cases in Cumbria was expected to overwhelm the resources of our local NHS hospitals.
“As a contingency, the Strategic Coordinating Group worked urgently with military planners and local businesses to establish the Recovery Centres and provide additional bed capacity, whilst hoping that it would never be needed.
“Through the fantastic efforts of the two hospital Trusts in building capacity, combined with the effects of the lockdown measures, the numbers of cases were contained within hospital premises – but at times it was very close.
“We were extremely relieved that the Recovery Centres were not occupied but the potential for a ‘second spike’ of Coronavirus cases is very real and it would be unwise to dispose of these facilities in their entirety. Instead they will be mothballed and the resources kept in reserve so they can be swiftly reinstated if required.
“The creation of the Recovery Centres was a terrific example of local authorities, with the support of the military, coming together to achieve a common goal and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who continue to work locally to tackle Covid-19 in Cumbria.”
Judith Smale, volunteer support officer for Cumbria CVS, said: “We have been closely involved in Support Cumbria to recruit volunteers to support our communities through Covid-19. This included the Community Recovery Centres, and Cumbria CVS would like to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers that stepped forward in such a short space of time. Support Cumbria now has a bank of volunteers so that if there is a second wave of Covid-19 or if there are any other future emergencies we are ready.”
David Taylor, who is the Senior Emergency Response Officer for the British Red Cross in Cumbria, and who supported volunteer recruitment, said: “Hundreds of people volunteered to look after people recovering from coronavirus in their communities and we would like to thank them for their selflessness. Their generosity has been overwhelming.”
Mike Starkie, Mayor of Copeland, said: “I’d like to pay tribute to all those in Copeland who have worked so hard to create the Recovery Centre in Whitehaven. It is yet another example throughout this crisis of partnership and community working at its best.”
Councillor Ann Thomson, leader of Barrow Borough Council, said: “That so many people stepped forward to help create these recovery centres in such a short space of time is testament to the incredible spirit and strength that sits at the heart of our communities. We are proud and extremely grateful to all of the volunteers, NHS staff, business owners and tradespeople, not to mention our own borough council teams, who made sure this incredible resource was in place should it be needed.”
Cliff Robson, BAE Systems Submarines Managing Director, said: “The response from everyone in the NHS to this national emergency has been remarkable and truly inspiring, so on behalf of BAE Systems Submarines, I’d like to say thank you and pay tribute to their phenomenal support. Our community is at the heart of what we do, so to be able to play a small part in supporting these efforts was something we did without hesitation.”
The latest government advice on social-distancing can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing