A dedicated team of friendly volunteers has been recruited by NHS Grampian to help patients heading to hospital feel more comfortable during their stay.
Previously they could be found behind the tills of John Lewis, but the team of 13 furloughed colleagues will now be helping man the doors at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the maternity hospital.
The team was selected for its members’ excellent customer service skills, and will help patients navigate the hospitals – which have strict one-way polices in place – and reassure their loved ones, who are not allowed to enter the building with them.
Alison Bandeen was one of those who answered the call for help when it was made around six weeks ago.
She said: “John Lewis have a redeployment scheme in place to help find volunteers, and we’ve been getting weekly phone calls just to make sure people are OK and coping with everything.
“They’ve been giving us updates and they sent an email asking if anyone wanted to help with the security team at ARI.
“Most of us are already doing what we can to help family and friends at this time but, personally, I wanted to do a little more to help in the wider community.
“It’s given me a new level of appreciation for what people in hospital are dealing with at this time, as well as the work of all the staff.”
In March the centralised Grampian Coronavirus Assistance Hub (GCAH) was set up to co-ordinate the response to the pandemic, bringing together information from local government, the NHS, emergency services and charities.
It also offers a way for people to request help or sign up and lend their support.
More than 4,000 have applied to volunteer where they are needed, either at hospital sites or on projects at a more local level across the region.
In line with current guidelines, NHS Grampian is only using volunteers as a “last resort” for roles it cannot fill with current staff members.
Patient services manager Louise Ballantyne said: “We’ve been really delighted with the number of people who have got in touch offering to help in lots of different ways.
“We’ve also had a lot of businesses offering things including transportation and accommodation, as well as donations and a lot of well-wishes.
“At the start we had so many people getting in contact and we were still getting everything set up and that took some time.
“But once we saw we were coping, because people were staying at home, it all became easier to manage.
“It was really reassuring that we didn’t need to use all the potential volunteers who came forward.”
She added: “For this role we needed people with lots of good people skills as the job can get quite emotional – and we have a group who have had excellent training, which John Lewis is famous for.
“They are all coming together as a group and will be able to support each other.
“We know we’re in safe hands – they are all friendly and approachable and that’s really important.
“They are just the right type of people we need, and it’s a real gift to be helped out in this way.”
The GCAH can be found at gcah.org.uk or by calling 0808 196 3384.