From arena to NHS training centre and back again – the transformation of The O2

17/11/2020

| Major Events

The world's leading male tennis players line-up at The 02 arena in London

This week sees the world’s best male tennis players head to The O2 in East London as the venue hosts the Nitto ATP Finals for the last time. But what many people don’t realise is that earlier this year the arena played a critical role in the UK’s fight against Covid-19.  

Following the outbreak of Covid-19 the usual schedule of high-profile events at The O2 in London stopped overnight – but work carried on as the renowned arena became an NHS training centre designed to help health professionals treat those affected by the pandemic.

Opening its doors to the NHS for free, the famous stadium was transformed in just two weeks into a training facility for staff who went on to work at the NHS Nightingale hospital at the Excel Centre in London.

Set up on the arena floor was a makeshift hospital with 30 beds and PPE stations, 30 different areas for specialty training, and a lecture hall. On average between 100 and 300 NHS staff were trained each day with sessions running from 7am-7pm.

In total more than 3,000 NHS staff received training over the course of six weeks at the temporary centre.

A PPE station set up for NHS staff training at The 02a

“The arena transformed completely,” said Danielle Kennedy-Clarke, Deputy General Manager at The O2. “Everything stopped and then all of a sudden we were a fully-fledged training centre in just under two weeks.

“The arena floor looked like a hospital. They had all the same equipment you’d have at the Nightingale and they practiced everything – from putting in a cannula to guidance on how to deliver bereavement counselling.

“Anything they needed it was never a problem and we just tried to make life as easy as possible for everyone there.

“It was such a poignant time for all of us – especially for our industry who are so used to being busy as we’re a bunch of ‘doers’.

“It was a proud moment for me and the team to say we did our bit and in a small part we helped a group of fabulous people get the support they needed to do their jobs.”

An instructor asked the group how we feel about caring for the patients at NHS Nightingale, and in particular the ones that will die there. One of the group answered ‘privileged’, which resonated with most of the group, apparent by the nodding of heads.

Nurse Sian Rodger, who attended training at The 02

One of those who attended training was Sian Rodger, a health coaching lead at the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre with a background in nursing.

“We met some hugely knowledgeable and experienced healthcare professionals,” Dr Rodger told the Nursing Times.

“We were given a refresher on IV medications and we also had a session on ‘psychological PPE’.

"Caring for the dying patient was another session and during this the instructor asked the group how we feel about caring for the patients at NHS Nightingale, and in particular the ones that will die there.

“One of the group answered ‘privileged’, which resonated with most of the group, apparent by the nodding of heads.

“These patients won’t have their loved ones around them when they die, but they will have us to ensure they are as comfortable and dignified in their final moments as they can be, and that is in my opinion a privilege.”

The 02 arena plays host to the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals

Following the closure of the training site in May staff at The O2 have been busy re-scheduling shows and working to return the venue to its normal role as a venue.

A huge amount of work has gone into setting up the arena for this year’s Nitto ATP Finals – ensuring that the tournament can go ahead safely.

“The main focus has been on safety and making sure we can create a secure bubble,” said Mrs Kennedy-Clarke.

“We did a massive amount to make sure we were ready for the arrival of players and technology has been at the forefront of our planning – for example we’re using RFID accreditation so that when a player arrives we don’t need to touch their passes for them to check in.

“Public Health England, DCMS and the ATP Tour have been very helpful and we’re just happy to be putting on a show for the fans at home.”

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