Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s blog: vision for a return to campus

July 7th, 2020

I think I can speak for most people when I say the easing of lockdown restrictions last weekend brought home a mixture of emotions.

For many it was a welcome relief to be able to get back to some semblance of normality, being able to meet friends and family without being at the mercy of the weather and having the option of going to the cinema, restaurant or pub. But with that freedom came anxiety about how others will behave – will other people take this as seriously as me? Will social distancing be respected? Is it really safe to go out?

I appreciate this is how many of us might come to view a return to work. While we continue to ask all staff to remain working from home unless advised otherwise, it is natural that there are a range of emotions about returning in the future.

Local restrictions imposed in neighbouring Leicester may compound these worries. We have issued some guidance for those affected and within the Recovery Board we have a team dedicated to managing how we would respond to any local outbreak within Nottingham, working alongside local partners such as Public Health England. It is worth adding that the local outbreak plan for the county is being held up as an exemplar nationally.

Last week I had the opportunity to take a tour of some of the buildings that have reopened as part of our recovery programme. It was hugely impressive to see the amount of work that has gone into preparing these spaces to ensure the safety of our university community. A short video showing some of the changes introduced in the BioDiscovery Institute is shown here.

Not only did it bring home the scale of the challenge we have set ourselves in preparing to have our students back in September (just over ten weeks away) but it also gave me a true sense of what post-pandemic life on campus will be like.

In terms of the scale you will now be able to see, on our new Recovery pages, buildings grouped into ten phases for reopening. This sets out where our priorities lie and target dates we are working towards. It also gives a sense of when we might be asking colleagues to return although I must stress that even if the building you usually work in reopens you must continue working from home until told otherwise. The first phase of building openings have enabled us to pilot necessary health and safety measures, and many more buildings will now follow suit.

The detail that goes into preparing each of those buildings and the people who work within them, from cleaning staff to Heads of School/Department, cannot be underestimated. I know many of you are eager to get back to work or gain access to facilities and feel frustrated by the pace of our recovery. Health and Safety is our priority and I’m grateful for all the hard work that is being carried out by our workstreams and the individuals working within those buildings to ensure they offer the safest possible working environment.

The re-opening process is being accelerated by asking building users to take responsibility for some of the activities, working with the support of the central Estates and Health and Safety Teams. We opened seven additional buildings in June, and on current plans more than 30 more will open in July.

The Recovery pages also set out other useful guidance, specifically relating to activity, plans and decisions made by the board. It includes helpful documents such as the new return to work guidance for managers mentioned in Professor Sarah Sharples’ blog last week.

You will also be able to see, in coming days, regular updates from the seven workstreams. These will give an overview of the enormous efforts they are putting into making arrangements for recommencement of priority research and teaching, to ensure our student experience is the best it can be despite these unusual circumstances and the minutiae of detail that is taking place behind the scenes.

Later this month will see the return of the Vet School students, who began their university life online in April. It will be an important milestone for us, one that the sector and media will be no doubt be following, and reflects the huge amount of work that is still taking place navigate the challenges of returning to campus, social distancing, timetabling smaller group sessions and giving students a good university experience.

During the last Recovery Board meeting we discussed the use of face coverings, calling upon information provided by our Expert Advisory Group, to lead our planning into how we will be expecting staff and students to use face coverings on campus. I’ll be sharing more details on that in the coming weeks.

Life will be different when we do return, with hand washing stations, one way movement through buildings and screens becoming regular features of our working lives. You will get a sense of some of these changes in our video.

We’ll continue to follow government guidelines and review our policy on when we will be inviting colleagues back to campus. Until then we’ll be working to ensure the university is as safe as possible for all.

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