Behind the scenes at Our Future Health’s first high street hub

Spotlight – 14 October 2022
As Our Future Health hits shopping centres, we spend a day at our hub in Leeds to meet the staff and volunteers who are helping prevent disease together.
Our Future Health's clinic in Leeds
Our Future Health’s Leeds hub is in the St Johns Shopping Centre

This Autumn, change is afoot on high streets around the country. Among the usual shopfronts and food halls, shoppers will notice a new presence – shop units featuring yellow branding and the recognisable blue NHS logo. Above the doors, five words offer a warm greeting to all – and a bold declaration of intent. ‘Welcome to Our Future Health.’

The units are our new community hubs, where members of the public can go to donate a small sample of their blood and have some physical measurements taken. It’s a crucial step in joining Our Future Health – and it can now be completed at your convenience, when you next pop down to the shops.

Our first hub opened at the St Johns Shopping Centre in Leeds on Wednesday 28th September, followed by a hub at the Kingsgate Shopping Centre in Huddersfield on Friday 5th October. Many more are scheduled to hit high streets around the country in the coming weeks, including in Birmingham, London, and Manchester. 

A busy day begins early

“We’ve seen lots of interest from the local community in Leeds already,” says Jessica Roper, a mobilisation director for Acacium Group, who is overseeing the rollout of our hubs. “Even when we were setting up and the hub still looked like an empty shell, people were asking what we’re doing. Now the signs are up and volunteers are coming in – we’re getting lots of questions from passers-by.”

Today, Jessica is in Leeds to make sure the hub is running smoothly. Her alarm went at 4.45am so she could make the journey from her home in North Wales to be on site by opening time. Over 100 people are booked in for appointments, which means Jessica and her staff are expecting a constant stream of people through the doors.

Ade Oduyale greets volunteers

Ade Oduyale is the man tasked with greeting volunteers and checking them in for their appointment. An administrator who lives in Leeds, Ade says he’s enjoying the opportunity to work on a programme that will have a positive impact: “I see this as a great step to achieving a better future for everyone”.

“We’re seeing a large range of people,” he adds. “The diversity of our volunteers is encouraging – it suggests that Our Future Health is appealing to everyone out there.”

Meet the phlebotomists

Once volunteers have been checked in, they’re shown to the next available phlebotomist (a person trained to take blood samples), who conducts the appointment from beginning to end. During the appointment, volunteers donate a sample of blood, undergo a finger-prick test to detect cholesterol levels, and have their blood pressure, height, weight, and waist circumference measured. All in, it takes 15-30 minutes.

“I think the programme is brilliant,” says phlebotomist Holly Hutchinson. “People are really happy that this is open. Quite a few participants I’ve seen are finding out that they’ve got high blood pressure or high cholesterol. They didn’t know before. Now they can change things through their diet, or go back to the GP and have it checked out.”

By early afternoon, Holly has already seen nine volunteers; the day before, she saw 16. She says that she enjoys meeting so many people and helping them to find out about their health. But there’s also another factor that drives her work: “I’m very competitive – I always draw blood the first time,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve been classed as one of the best phlebotomists in the community”. What’s the secret to her success? “I must just get perfect participants,” she says, laughing again.

Holly Hutchinson (L) and Sadia Mahmood (R) are two of the phlebotomists at our Leeds hub

A few bays down from Holly, phlebotomist Sadia Mahmood takes just as much pride in her work. Sadia lives in Bradford and started working on Our Future Health three months before the opening of our Leeds hub, as part of our pilot with Boots. She was involved in training health professionals in the technique of efficiently taking blood samples.

“I’m working with wonderful people. Our job is to make people feel calm and explain to volunteers how they’re helping by being here. I tell volunteers that they’re helping to prevent diseases like dementia, heart disease, and stroke.” 

Sadia says she’s been heartened by the reaction she’s seen from the West Yorkshire community. “Over three months, I’ve seen so many people getting involved with this programme. People are taking time out from work to participate, to give back. It’s a wonderful thing to see.”

A chance to give back… in your lunch-break

Paulo Monteiro is one of those people. A 40-year-old software engineer from Leeds, Paulo has made a short journey to the hub today in his lunch-break from work, so he can volunteer and help future generations live healthier lives for longer.

“I’m here because I want to give back,” he says. “I have a six-year-old daughter, so I’m looking at her and thinking ‘what sort of data heritage can I provide’? My information will help researchers find patterns and correlations. With data, we’ll be able to target problems sooner.”

“It’s a big incentive for me that Our Future Health is associated with the NHS,” he adds. “It gives you reassurance that this is for the greater good.”

It’s a message that’s echoed by Richard Myers, a 69-year-old retired welding engineer who lives locally. Richard has suffered from two bouts of lung cancer. He says that when he was first diagnosed, he learned that the average survival rate is one to two years. Just yesterday, six years after that initial diagnosis, he was given a scan result that showed his body is free from cancer.

“The care has been absolutely fantastic,” says Richard. “I can’t praise the NHS enough – and the people who do the research – because I’m here. 

“I’ve been in hospital an awful lot in the last six years. By taking part today, I can give back for the care I received.”

Our Future Health volunteers, clockwise from top left: Paulo Monteiro, Meena Karunakaran, Elizabeth Kontargyri and Richard Myers

The end of a successful day

Whatever our volunteers’ motivations, a common theme spoken about in the hub today – from staff to members of the public – is how smoothy the process is running. Meena Karunakaran, a 42-year-old IT consultant who lives in Leeds, reports that her appointment lasted just 15 minutes. Meanwhile, 65-year-old retired primary school teacher Elizabeth Kontargyri, also from Leeds, says she’s now a fully-fledged Our Future Health volunteer, barely 48 hours after first learning about the programme.

Back at the front door, mobilisation director Jessica is busy talking to a new volunteer. “I try to thank everyone who I see,” she says. “Our Future Health is really exciting and everyone is so willing to help.

“We all feel like we’re part of something that’s going to be seriously big.”