Community testing in Wolverhampton

Wolverhampton opened its first rapid testing centre in November and now has a network of seven across the city, using a hub and spoke approach.

This is part of a series of case-studies published on 18 February 2021

  • Wolverhampton has seven rapid testing centres, adopting a hub and spoke model
  • The spokes are run by community volunteers with support from council staff
  • Council may now use centres to run pop-up vaccination clinics

What was done?

Wolverhampton opened its first rapid testing centre in November and now has a network of seven across the city, using a hub and spoke approach. Its main centre is hosted at the civic centre with six “spokes” in the community. The sites used include a church, mosque and library.

But what really marks out Wolverhampton’s approach is that the community centres are run by volunteers drawn from faith groups and community organisations.

Wolverhampton Director of Public Health John Denley said: “We have been working closely with the community and faith sectors throughout the pandemic – and immediately thought they would be perfect partners for this.

“They are trusted in the community, so they are perfectly placed to engage with people on this asymptomatic testing. We knew from the PCR testing that certain communities were not coming forward for testing. Black and Asian ethnic groups in particular.

“So this sort of testing provided us with an opportunity to try something different. There is plenty of good will in these communities. Infection rates have been high, and the volunteers have really wanted to make a difference. The approach allows peer to peer conversation, which helps make testing acceptable and accessible within our local communities.

“We train the volunteers at the civic centre, which allows them to gain practical experience of the testing journey. We then support them to run their centres. The community-run venues receive funding to support their centres. This is paid to them from the grant the council receives to deliver community testing and the money they receive is provided to fund initiatives which can benefit the wider community.”

By mid-February more than 45,000 lateral flow tests had been carried out across the seven sites.

They all work on a drop-in basis, with some sites open seven days a week. The blue light rapid testing centre, which is open to any blue light service, is attached to a fire station. This site operates an appointment system which staff can access and is open Monday to Friday.

James Clarke, the Chairman of Ashmore Park Community Association, which runs one of the centres, said he and his members were delighted to help. "Being a local organisation, made up of local people, we have seen the disruption and devastation the pandemic has caused on our doorstep and we were keen to do anything we could to help.

"Our building has been closed since March in order to protect both our visitors and volunteers, so when we were approached by the council to use the hub as a rapid testing site we didn't hesitate. Rapid testing is one way of breaking the chain of transmission and protecting our loved ones.”

Lessons learned

Given Wolverhampton is using volunteers a lot of thought has gone into training them and providing support. More than 300 volunteers have been trained so far. All have been provided with a half-day training session.

Head of Communities Lynsey Kelly, who is in charge of the training and hub service at the civic centre, said: “There is an online course provided by the government, but we felt it was important to do face-to-face training given we are using members of the community.

“They get a chance to practice performing the lateral flow tests, don and doff the PPE and go through the infection control procedures.

“We then make sure there are staff with them for the first couple of weeks and as the centres have rolled out, we have brought in some of our experienced staff from other centres to buddy with them.

“Once they are ready, we withdraw the support, but we always make sure we have a council member of staff there to support them. I think that is important so that volunteers feel supported and so that we can provide a consistent point of contact.

While most of the community venues – with the exception of the blue light one – are open seven days a week, the council has given them the flexibility to open on the hours that suit them best.

“We run the sites at times that suit both the council and the community venue, the times can be adjusted depending on the footfall and how busy they are,” added Ms Kelly.

Next steps

Mr Denley said now the network of rapid testing centres is established, the council is looking at how it can support businesses. The government is offering all businesses with over 50 employees accessing to rapid tests, so Wolverhampton is focussing on its small businesses that do not meet that criteria.

“There are a lot of small businesses that would find rapid testing useful so we are looking to set up a system to they can secure a slot and fast-track their employees through. It would supplement the government offer.”

The council is also looking to run some pop-up vaccination clinics. “We want to take vaccination out in to the community to improve uptake even further.

“We will look to use some of our rapid testing sites. They are really trusted and well-known now so we think it could be effective. We would have to stop the testing for a day or two while we offer vaccinations.”