The people making a difference: the public health champion who met his hero, Simon Cowell

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When Alfred Oyekoya had his archetypal Covid vaccine successful January past year, helium wanted a photograph of the event. “I needed a representation of maine getting the vaccine, to amended my community,” says Oyekoya, 38, a civilian servant surviving successful Swansea. “The unit refused, telling maine not to interest astir acquisition – the NHS was doing each that.”

He was crestfallen. “People were expecting maine to person impervious that I’d taken the vaccine.” Oyekoya returned to the vaccination centre a fewer hours aboriginal and this clip was much insistent. Eventually the unit relented, took a photograph of him, and Oyekoya uploaded the representation to societal media.

He wasn’t being difficult. As idiosyncratic known successful Swansea’s African assemblage for his nationalist wellness advocacy – Oyekoya is British-Nigerian – helium knew his determination would transportation a batch of weight.

Oyekoya is simply a person successful the not-for-profit group BAME Mental Health Support (BMHS). Before the pandemic, it offered intelligence support, including self-esteem workshops and employment support, to asylum seekers, planetary students and radical recently arrived successful the UK.

During the pandemic, BMHS encouraged vaccine uptake among taste minorities. “There’s a assurance contented successful BAME communities,” Oyekoya says, “which is often owed to humanities injustice. There’s besides the convenience contented – however casual it is to get to the assignment – and the complacency issue, erstwhile radical deliberation their immune strategy is good, truthful they won’t beryllium affected.”

The easiest of these issues to tackle is convenience. BMHS has a assemblage autobus and utilized it during the archetypal rollout to ferry radical to vaccination centres. More hard was the complacency issue. “People asked wherefore they should instrumentality the vaccine arsenic they ne'er got sick. I’d archer them, ‘You’re not doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for your community.’ We tried to marque them spot the bigger picture.” There was sometimes a presumption that Covid didn’t impact minorities. “People thought it was lone for achromatic people,” says Oyekoya, “because the pandemic has had a bigger interaction successful Europe and North America. They would say, ‘How travel Africa isn’t connected its knees?’”

Alfred Oyekoya and his wife, Nancy, with Simon Cowell and David Walliams
Alfred Oyekoya and his wife, Nancy, with Simon Cowell and David Walliams. Photograph: Courtesy of Alfred Oyekoya

Throughout last year, Oyekoya hosted Zoom sessions each Saturday, inviting radical to telephone successful with questions astir the vaccine. These came astir aft helium was disappointed by a government-run outreach session: “They were conscionable talking astatine people, without giving them an accidental to engage. I thought, this is conscionable not working.”

Swansea nonmigratory Aisha Yussuf says: “The sessions Alfred led gave my parents and I the accidental to code our fears astir the vaccine. We are present afloat vaccinated. My mum had connection barriers, and it was large that determination was an Arabic-speaking doc connected the sheet to reply her questions.”

Oyekoya can’t get done to everyone. “We bash get immoderate abusive comments,” helium says, “mostly connected Facebook and YouTube. Sometimes doctors themselves are spreading conspiracy theories.”

Oyekoya speaks fast, and with passion. The archetypal clip we talk, he’s moving errands successful his car. He devotes each his spare clip to assemblage work. “I get a batch of fulfilment from helping people,” helium says. “I consciousness like, if my clip was up tomorrow, I’ll person done my part.” He thinks a batch astir however champion to usage the power helium has. “Everyone has a measurement of influence. You’ve got to usage it to assistance others.”

Now, aft the vaccine drive, Oyekoya is backmost to concern arsenic usual: normalising intelligence wellness conversations successful taste number communities crossed Wales, arsenic good moving a Sunday games evening for children and young people.

He is besides a immense Simon Cowell fan. “I deliberation astir starting a petition for him to beryllium knighted,” Oyekoya says, perfectly seriously. “He’s made specified a publication to UK entertainment. I similar his honesty. And we person the aforesaid formal sense.”

Cowell’s squad arranged for Oyekoya and his wife, Nancy, to be the Britain’s Got Talent semi-finals. They sat successful the beforehand enactment and were taken to conscionable the antheral himself backstage. “He’s not arsenic large arsenic helium looks connected TV,” says Oyekoya. “He was truthful inquisitive and asked truly bully questions. I told him I truly respect him and emotion him for his candour. I ever say, ‘In a satellite filled with mendacity, helium is simply a shining light.’ He said helium would emotion to spot america again.”

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Cowell arranged for Oyekoya and his woman to instrumentality for the unrecorded final, with their sons. “It was wonderful,” helium says. “We’re inactive talking astir it and looking astatine the pictures.”

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