A college in Brighton has turned itself into coronavirus testing centre as it works to keep classrooms open for young people with special educational needs.
St John’s College, in Walpole Road, Brighton, close to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, caters for 84 young people with autism and other complex needs.
The college said: “We are excited to announce that we have now officially launched our covid-19 on-site testing centres for colleagues and children and young people.
“Our keyworker colleagues have worked throughout the pandemic and we are incredibly proud of them.”
St John’s School and College chief executive Simon Charleton said: “This has been a huge logistical enterprise starting from scratch … converting a classroom into a properly professional testing room and training up a team of staff to carry out the testing.
“We hope this will have a big impact on our staff and young people but also we are keen to play our part in the city and nation’s efforts to test and track the virus and bring it under control.”
St John’s, which has about 350 staff, set up the testing centre in a matter of weeks and has two sites – at the college in Kemp Town and the school in Seaford.
Mr Charleton said: “Our helpful estates team, director of operations and head of learner services have worked hard to ensure the sites are clean, appropriate, efficient and covid-19 safe.
“The pressure was on during the quick turnaround in setting these testing stations up so we could not be prouder of their hard work.
“We are delighted to welcome three new colleagues to join us to manage the covid-19 testing process within our education department and our social care provisions.
“We have also recruited two internal colleagues for the healthcare assistant covid-19 roles, which has certainly helped the launch go smoothly.”
Mr Charleton was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the most recent Queen’s birthday honours list for services to young people with special educational needs during the covid-19 pandemic.
He has also now been appointed as the “vaccination champ” for St John’s and has been undergoing training to help the NHS in Sussex communicate about the covid-19 vaccine within the charity.
Mr Charleton said that he was “very impressed by the professionalism of the testing stations and the professionalism of the staff”.
He added that colleagues across both sites had said that the process was “smooth and straightforward” and “efficient, easy and clean”.
One said: “The HCA (health care assistant) told me how to do it, calmed me down and put me at ease. I felt proud and not embarrassed afterwards.”
And another said: “I was a little nervous but staff were reassuring and friendly and the process much easier than I anticipated.”
From next month the college will be working with Team Domenica, a Brighton charity that trains and helps people with autism into work.
Team Domenica will run the café at the college, its fourth in the Brighton and Hove area.
The college, which has been based in Brighton and Sussex since the 1870s, includes three parliamentary figures among its supporters.
The Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, is a patron, as is the Conservative MP for Lewes, Maria Caulfield, and the first Green peer, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, also known as Jenny Jones.
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