The Valley
The Valley is already being used for coronavirus testing

Charlton Athletic’s ground is in line to become a mass vaccination centre as the push to inoculate the public from coronavirus goes on.

The Valley has been used as a Covid-19 testing centre since the beginning of the pandemic and is also hosting fast lateral flow tests for critical workers.

There are currently just a handful of mass vaccination centres across the country, including the Excel centre across the Thames in the Royal Docks.

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said he was making plans for The Valley to be used in the inoculation programme.

“We are pushing hard to open a mass vaccination centre at Charlton Athletic in the coming weeks,” he told a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday evening, adding that council staff would be taken from other roles to run the operation.

“We will need to do our bit to staff that centre to make sure it has the best impact possible, which means we’ll be taking staff out of other areas and volunteers to redeploy them into those areas to deal with that.”

Vaccinations are currently being offered from local hubs and GP clinics, with those in line for priority jabs being asked to wait until they are contacted by the NHS.

But preparations are being made for a broader roll-out – across south-east London, a vaccination centre is also being set up at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park ground in South Norwood, while Millwall has also offered The Den for use in the programme.

Greenwich has now received government funding – “a bloody huge number in comparison to everyone else – you have to take your wins where you can get them”, according to Thorpe – to help support black and ethnic minority communities in the borough, including helping persuade people to take up the vaccines, building on work already being done in specific areas of the borough.

“It demonstrates the confidence the government has in the [council’s] testing strategy and the deep engagement you see taking place in our communities. The other day the Cabinet Office were on with our team, talking to us about how we do it, what examples we can use for best practice in other areas,” he said.

“We need to make sure that every pound we spend counts. This is not business as usual, it’s a large-scale community development project. What we’re hearing is that [councillors] are not the trusted voices to get people through the door – it’s about the impact of faith leaders and other trusted figures.”

Despite the new round of government funding, Greenwich still has a £57m hole in its budget caused by the pandemic, according to a report to councillors.

Asked about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and ethnic minority groups, Thorpe quoted Public Health England’s London director, Kevin Fenton, who said the most dangerous time was when case rates were coming down, as they are now.

“That’s when the people who need to be able to protect themselves the most simply don’t have the resources to be able to do so,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital
The pandemic has proved Queen Elizabeth Hospital is too small, Thorpe said

“I understand that anecdotally, we have a lower number of black African residents accessing the vaccination programme. There’s a whole wealth of indicators that say to me that disproportionality is even more of an issue at this point of the pandemic than it was 10 months ago, so we need to delve into the work that needs to be done.

“From my volunteering sessions at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the workforce is very significantly made up of black and ethnic minority workers, so the level of risk and exposure in those settings is higher.”

Thorpe said the pandemic had proved that Queen Elizabeth Hospital – which serves much of Bexley borough as well as Greenwich – was too small to serve the area properly, despite the efforts of its staff. “It’s been under more pressure than any other hospital in the region,” he said. The council has recently appealed for help or donations to ease the pressure on staff there.

Both Thorpe and Conservative councillor Matt Hartley have been volunteering as stewards at vaccination centres, and both paid tribute to the work for Volunteer Centre Greenwich, which has been co-ordinating efforts to get people helping out at the centres.

“WIthin an hour or two, all the volunteer slots are snapped up,” Hartley said.

Thorpe is taking his work one step further by training to deliver the vaccine himself, under a scheme organised by St John Ambulance.

“We’re all meeting in Canary Wharf on Saturday for a full day’s training,” he said. “Roll up, roll up, is the message from me.”

Figures released by Public Health England on Wednesday reveal that Greenwich’s case rate has fallen to 595 per 100,000 in the seven days to 21 January – down by a quarter on the previous week; although cases remain higher than they were before Christmas. Local breakdowns show stubbornly high case rates in parts of Plumstead and Thamesmead. Lewisham’s figures are down to 496, Bexley’s rate is now 513 cases per 100,000 people.


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