Welcome to the new academic year. It is good to see more staff and students on our campuses again following the many trials of the spring lockdown and the summer’s intensive recovery activity.
To be teaching, researching and studying on our campuses again is no small achievement, and I must thank and pay tribute to the many hundreds of colleagues who have worked tirelessly across the summer to support campus operations, critical research, preparations for teaching and the re-opening of our buildings and facilities in a Covid-secure manner. Amongst all of this activity and strenuous effort, I do hope that everyone has had opportunity to take some form of break over the summer.
In so many respects, I am looking forward to the new year: to be working on site with colleagues, albeit socially distanced, and to be engaging with our students. In particular, I look forward to seeing our freshers, and I hope their time at university will help compensate for the difficulties they will have faced with the sudden curtailment of their secondary education and the turbulence over the admissions period.
I am confident that rigorous safety measures are in place and that our community has a resilient approach that means we are ready for whatever turn the pandemic takes. I and other colleagues have written extensively on our preparations, and I would urge managers to continue to refer to and follow the guidance CV19 Recovery Planning webpages. Similarly, I encourage all staff to bookmark and refer regularly to our Coronavirus Information site to report symptoms and get the latest advice and information.
Of course, my optimism for the new year is tempered with the knowledge that the pandemic will be with us for a considerable period and that we will continue to live through uncertain times where further local, or even national, restrictions are a feature of life throughout the world. Our community has done an astonishing job in both responding to the ever-changing challenges during the pandemic and planning ahead. We will need to maintain the flexibility and adaptability that we have demonstrated since March for some time to come.
This is a pandemic with unknown long-term consequences for both physical and mental health. Colleagues will continue to face personal challenges resulting from the pandemic, alongside the professional challenges of working in a socially-distanced environment. Students may experience difficulties in being away from home and family or adapting to the current Covid constraints after many months of little or no structured education and social life.
Among all the excitement and tribulations of the new academic year, I would ask that we all devote a portion of time to supporting our own mental wellbeing and that of those around us. This might be asking line managers to be additionally sensitive to their teams’ morale whilst in the office, or colleagues on campus offering extra support to those who may face challenges in continuing to work from home. Do consult the Staff Wellbeing Guide which sets out a range of guidance, online, telephone and in-person support for wellbeing.
Our University values underscore our community’s regard for each other’s rights and feelings and stress the importance of demonstrating this in our behaviour, treating each other with kindness. Alongside the now well-known national slogans such as “hands, face, space” I would simply add “be kind.” Take time to support each other, as you do your students, through the next few weeks and months.
I wish everyone a safe, enjoyable and productive term.
Professor Shearer West
21 September 2020