The world’s best male tennis players are currently battling it out at 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 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 stadium was transformed in just two weeks into a training facility for staff who went on to work at the NHS Nightingale hospital at ExCeL 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.

“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.”

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.

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,” continued 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’ve used 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.”