I want to begin by thanking everyone in the University for all you have done over the last few months during the Covid crisis and recognise just how strenuous and demanding this term has been so far. I know the Herculean efforts you have made to deliver teaching, research and support for students and the wider work of the University in ever-changing circumstances while dealing with your own personal pressures and anxieties. We all want this pandemic to go away, but for the moment we must continue to learn how to live with it, and adapt when every new phase of this pandemic brings additional challenges. The commitment, determination and agility that you have all shown during the last few exhausting months have been nothing short of astonishing.
What has occurred to me in recent weeks is how much the University has worked together as a community and how we have genuinely embedded the values of inclusivity, openness, fairness, respect and ambition that are the pillars of our University Strategy . However, I also recognise that there are members of our community who feel angry, anxious or disenfranchised, and I would like to find ways of engaging with those colleagues to work through their concerns. This is one of the reasons that I and members of UEB have been holding virtual town hall events throughout the last six months, meeting with thousands of staff and students.
Given that we have recently reached a critical point in Nottingham, I and other UEB colleagues are hosting more town halls during this week and the next. I certainly hope that as many people as possible will attend these events and feel empowered to express their views, and I also remind colleagues of my VC Surgery sessions, where anyone can sign up and speak to me about what’s on their mind.
In the midst of the city of Nottingham being placed in Tier 2 restrictions and the unfortunate negativity expressed by some in the city towards our students - the majority of whom are responsible and caring citizens - it was an unexpected uplifting moment to see that Banksy has chosen Nottingham as the site for his latest work of art. While to many this may seem trivial and whimsical, the image of a young girl playing with a hula hoop made from a stolen bicycle tyre reflects the kind of youthful joy and abandonment that our whole society appears to have lost in the last few months.
With the city of Nottingham facing a low point in the pandemic, this work reminds us that simple pleasures remain and we should embrace those pleasures when we can. Rather than seeing the current generation of students as a ‘lost generation’, Banksy’s work reminds us that we should celebrate their adaptability, imagination and resilience.
Looking ahead to the end of this term, the Department for Education continues to work with Universities UK to find a sensible solution to ensure that those who wish to celebrate Christmas with their families, or simply enjoy the winter break with loved ones, can do so during this period.
In the meantime, I have arranged a small thank you for the enormous effort you have made over the last few months in welcoming, supporting and teaching our students in the extraordinary circumstances presented by the pandemic. Three days of exceptional leave will be added to the 2020 Christmas and New Year break so that colleagues can enjoy an extended break over the seasonal period, without needing to use annual leave allowances. Including our existing closure days and national bank holidays, our break will now run from Monday 21 December 2020 to Friday 1 January 2021 inclusive.
While for many - including myself - it can feel a little early to be discussing Christmas in October, I hope that this token of both my and the UEB’s appreciation will provide you all with something to look forward to over the coming weeks.
Professor Shearer West
21 October 2020