Thursday 21 May 2020

All staff email

Covid-19 update Thursday 21 May - Gov guidance and campus restrictions

Dear colleagues

I am writing today to outline our approach to developing a ‘roadmap’ for easing restrictions and reopening campus.

I have also written to students this week to inform them that we will start our academic year as planned on 28th September but in a way that prioritises the health and safety of our students and staff.

Current situation: campus restrictions

Here, I have to reiterate that, based on Government guidance, people who can work from home must continue to work from home and there will be no change in working arrangements for most of us until that guidance changes.

Behind the scenes however, we are hard at work, and you may notice changes and progress. Examples of this include

  • managing controlled access to buildings for staff in the next few weeks to recover key items and equipment
  • helping current students pick up possessions from their accommodation
  • Implementing a phased reopening of labs and research facilities, the nursery and some library services between now and the end of July.

I can assure you that none of this will happen without rigorous risk assessments and, where necessary, additional training.

These measures will be facilitated by enabling a limited number of additional staff to return to work on campus, in addition to the essential workers already on site. Managing all of this safely and in an orderly way is a complex undertaking and I want to thank everyone involved for their careful and considered work.

Working with Government guidance

I know people are keen for more precise timescales, but I stress again that this will depend on Government guidance. Universities UK will be working hard to shape Government thinking to ensure it meets the needs of our sector. But the reality is that many of us are likely to be working at home for the next few months at least unless the impact of the pandemic improves dramatically.

The Government’s Covid 19 Recovery Strategy and ‘Covid Secure’ support, covering topics including shops and offices, gives us some insight into how and when we might resume some University’s operations.

For example, accommodation is listed as part of ‘hospitality’ in this national guidance, which could re-open as part of the Government’s Step 3, no sooner than the beginning of July. This means we would expect this to be the earliest point at which we could allow new rentals of student accommodation and may be subject to further change.

Towards a roadmap

We know where we want to get to and the use of a roadmap methodology will help us work towards this in a coordinated, safe and responsible way.

We have to prepare for different scenarios, including putting in place arrangements to ensure we can adhere to continued restrictions on social gathering and social distancing, or managing situations where some staff and some students are on-campus and others are working off-campus.

Even with these unknowns, our target is to reopen all of campus in time for the Autumn term 2020. We also know that the Government’s recovery strategy may change, depending on alert levels, and we will then need to revise our own roadmap accordingly, whether towards tighter or, we hope, looser restrictions. The health and safety of our community is most important to us and these priorities will continue to guide our plans.

For example, we are carefully working through the implications that staff and students arriving into the UK may be advised by the Government that they need to quarantine themselves for a short period. We are examining what this could mean in terms of the accommodation and pastoral programmes we will need to provide to manage any such requirements.

Coordination is key

In all of this forward planning, it is clear we will need to ask for your patience and understanding as we coordinate our approach, including prioritising and sequencing our activity.

We are already bringing together colleagues from across the University with relevant expertise to help us develop and then implement these plans. These teams have enormous experience and will ensure that our plan is delivered safely, efficiently, in the right order and at the right pace.

Looking after ourselves

The development and delivery of our roadmap out of lockdown will also require a spirit of cooperation, including trying to manage any concentrated swell of annual leave requests, which may create additional pressures.

As we approach the bank holiday weekend – and I hope, for those who can, that everyone enjoys some time away from work – it prompts me to give everyone another reminder about holidays. Taking time off is really important for our wellbeing. While we have relaxed the rule to carry over up to 10 days into the new holiday year (see our revised policy on annual leave), please do take some time off in the coming weeks and months.

Working from home is tiring - I find that being on Zoom for long periods of time can be really draining. I have no doubt our holiday plans are not what we envisaged at the start of the year, but I would like to encourage you to work with your managers and teams to plan in, and take, a well deserved break.

Have a restful long weekend.

Best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery