The Thackray in Leeds is set to revert to a museum after playing its part in COVID fight by vaccinating 50,000 health staff in five months

More than 70 years ago the Thackray Medical Museum made its way into NHS history when it changed from a former Victorian warehouse into the original St James' Hospital.

Saturday, 8th May 2021, 4:45 am

This week sees The Thackray close another chapter on its remarkable history - in a way that very few would have predicted this time last year.

It was already closed a year before the first national lockdown as it was undergoing a £4m renovation programme, but has endured a government forced closure ever since.

However, for the last five months the former workhouse and infirmary has been the backdrop for 50,000 COVID vaccinations that have been administered to NHS and care staff from council staff, district nurses to mental health workers as well as Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust workers - which was around 16,000 people.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Lead Nurse Rhian Wheater and Director of Nursing Penny McSorley at the Thackray Museum of Medicine on Beckett Street as it prepares to close its as a vaccination hub.

Today (Saturday) sees it close as a temporary vaccination centre and it is planning to finally re-open as a museum from May 17.

Read More

Read More
New re-opening plans for Thackray Medical Museum after £4m renovation was halted...

She said: "It has been a really good use of the museum, I think they have been really pleased to contribute to the vaccination effort and feel they have played their part in getting out of COVID. That we have got the majority of staff vaccinated feels like the right thing to do, they are still working with the most vulnerable people in Leeds and we need them to be protected."

The location of the Thackray meant staff could attend before or after shifts, or even on their break times, and the demand for appointments was "instant", although, Ms McSorley admits when she saw it before conversion she wasn't sure it would work.

Nat Edwards the Chief Executive of the museum is pictured with Over the Rainbow Memory fighting Covid installation as the venue prepares to reopen as a museum.

She said: "We have done hundreds a day from what were basically two back rooms in a museum. When I first walked in, it was a museum and there were cabinets full of stuff and I couldn't see how we would turn it into a vaccination centre.

"When I started training in 1991 I did a placement there on an elderly ward and more than 20 years ago it became a museum. It has absolutely played its part and gone full circle."

Ms McSorley said that Leeds was only behind Birmingham when it came to cities rolling out the vaccine, and, that key to this was different settings, such as The Thackray, where the doses could be administered.

She said: "In order to be successful as a vaccination programme, you have to offer it in different ways. Some people will be happier at a GP within their locality, some are happier to go to the mass suite, and, we have based one in the mosque at Harehills and we have a vaccination bus to get to hard to reach areas that maybe can't get transport or are hesitant.

Lead Nurse Rhian Wheater and Director of Nursing Penny McSorley at the Thackray, pictured inside the Thackray Museum of Medicine's vaccination rooms.

"We have got a mixed model, that makes it work, and it has been a great team effort. I don't think any of us, last March, could have dreamed where we are now. I thought it would have taken much longer than it would."

When the Thackray reopens from Monday May 17, in line with the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, the public can expect brand new galleries, journeys through the history of medicine and of course, a nod taking into context the museum's celebrated role during the pandemic.

Project Curator at the Thackray, Dr Laura Sellers said it had been "a rewarding experience" to see the museum take on its new role after a two year closure.

She added: "Our time as a vaccination centre and being closed through this pandemic has made us all reflect on the histories of diseases around the world with even more attention than we might have before. The new galleries: ‘Making Us Well, Outside In’ Disease Detectives’ and ‘Response to Crisis; Epidemics and Pandemics’ all reflect on how we can prevent, protect and treat disease.

"They include recently acquired objects linked to COVID-19, including a used vaccine bottle from the vaccination centre, and objects acquired through community initiatives helping us fight the pandemic. As we collect stories, objects and experiences, Thackray will be fitting place to host exhibitions and programmes about diseases like COVID-19, demonstrating how humanity has overcome them."

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe