Watford have turned their Vicarage Road stadium into a wellbeing sanctuary so medical staff from the hospital next door can recover from the trauma of the pandemic front line.
Most of the country’s football clubs have shut up shop in the crisis, but the Hornets have opened their doors to the neighbours at Watford General Hospital, where England manager Gareth Southgate was born.
Their public-spirited gesture comes straight from the ethos established by Golden Boys godfather Graham Taylor, who established Watford as the original family club – with a heavy accent on reaching out to the local community – more than 40 years ago.
All hospital staff – including nurses, doctors, managers, cleaners, porters and anyone who needs a change of scenery – can swap busy wards and offices for spacious facilities and the serenity of an empty terrace overlooking the pitch.
What began as a request for meeting rooms so the hospital could plan its COVID-19 response (in suites big enough to enable social distancing) has ended up as a full-blown, wellbeing facility.
West Herts NHS Trust also manages hospitals in St Albans and Hemel Hempstead and a free shuttle bus – from the Harry Potter Warner Bros studios tourist attraction, on Watford's outskirts – is now running between the three sites, meaning their staff can also make use of the santuary.
Breakfast and lunch is provided and there is overnight accommodation in sleeping pods, seating areas where staff can chat together after a tough shift and spaces to reflect and be alone.
There are also counselling rooms for staff who want help with the emotional trauma that comes from working during such a difficult time.
For anyone who wishes to remember loved ones who have died during the outbreak, the chaplaincy team from West Herts Hospital NHS Trust has created a memorial room at the club.
The club's gesture has had an immediate impact on staff morale.
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