Working at a university during the pandemic

After coming through all of my treatment over 2018 and 2019, 2020 was due to be my trouble free year as I’m in remission. Then the news started early in the year of this virus which was slowly spreading through the world. Even late February and early March I kept on making plans as i didn’t think it applied to me. We’re perfectly capable of keeping in control of a virus in a modern western country like this right?
The university kept going, people started to wear masks when they came into the Library but it was business as usual. Then mid March, it was declared a pandemic and the university announced that all teaching would move online with immediate effect and there would be no exams this year. The Library kept up normal business hours though. It wasn’t until March 18th that the number of visitors had dropped off so drastically that we cut our opening hours. By Friday they announced that we would close for the foreseeable future on the Tuesday. It really did happen that quickly. I stayed until the very last possible day even though I was the only “vulnerable” member of Library staff. On Monday 23rd we switched to be a completely virtual organisation. All Library services moved online. We extended all student book loans until September in the hope that things would be resolved by then and created new Library web pages telling students what to do in any given scenario. It happened with remarkable speed.
At the same time I received a text as a Vulnerable person telling me I needed to shield.
Life completely changed that day. With the exception of the people I lived with i didn’t see anyone else in the flesh for months only on Zoom and Teams neither of which I had used before. Working in a front facing team we had to find new tasks for everyone to do as there was no more face to face work and the amount of student communication via email or online chat plummeted. At first it felt like a novelty and then it became a real chore. I also had to find new social outlets. A group of friends met up every Friday night to chat and have a social drink. I did lots of of online murder mysteries to keep my brain active and interact with other people. Not being able to go on any of the travels I had booked, I did a virtual tour of the Faroe Islands. And then there were practical problems like getting shopping and medicine and having to live with 3 people who were neither friends nor family and therefore who I couldn’t ask to restrict their lives for me.
The University worked hard to come up with a traffic light system for reopening the service and all of the safety measures that needed to be in place. Things were supposed to start in August but it didn’t happen until September. The university went with a blended learning approach of part online/part face to face teaching. The in person Library service switched to having to reserve books in advance via click and collect and no longer being able to take them off shelves yourself. Entering the Library was allowed for the first time late September by a book a seat service of 4 hour slots. Both services have caused a considerable amount of work for librarians. We started working back on campus one or two days a week from mid August, initially with no students. There were groups of 8-10 staff each day forming daily bubbles meaning you would never get to see the people that worked on other days. Masks and sanitisers rule the environment along with social distancing. Simple little things like bringing in sweets for staff are no longer allowed and no more than 4 people are allowed in the staff room at any one time.
Everything humanly possible has been done to make it safe and everybody has undergone a personal risk assessment before returning to campus but we have still ended up with a Covid 19 outbreak like many other universities. It was inevitable having people come from all over the country and gathered in one space is a breading ground for viruses. It’s a small outbreak so far and containment measures have been taken by the university but it is unlikely to be the last outbreak. There is a plan under the traffic light system to move back to red and a totally virtual environment immediately if the virus takes hold. Really life is very uncertain and everything I spent the last 25 years doing has changed in order to keep these 2 new services running until such time as we close again. We watch and wait but there is no sense of excitement at the start of a new academic year like there normally is and no run up to Christmas. Even the once boisterous students appear very subdued. Onwards we go one way or another…


Thanks @Franko for telling us what it has really been like for you over the last months working at the university.

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Nobody could have dreamt in their worst nightmare what 2020 would turn out like. I did not imagine that I would be admitted for an emergency appendectomy on 18th March, hospital go into lockdown on 20th, then national lockdown. Now shielding until another operation next week. This last month I have had to attend hospital several times for tests and to see a consultant, and the hospital is well prepared. It was busier yesterday when I went for a very thorough pre-assessment and on Monday I must have a covid test.
@Franko I hope that good times return again for us all, and that you can soon start on your travels again. I hope your sister is getting on ok. Best wishes

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Franko, thank you so much for sharing your personal experience-we really appreciate this and encourage you all to share with us how you’re getting on with your workplaces.

We do want to reassure everyone that we’re doing everything we can to support you all during this time. One of these things is calling for the Government to provide financial support to people affected by blood cancer who can’t work from home or return to work safely.

Franko, it has been so helpful to hear what kind of measures your university have put in place and how you’ve felt about this. How about everyone else? Does anyone else also have experience at a university, be it as a student or member of staff?
And for those of you also have a similar public facing role, for example, in a restaurant, café or shop – and you can’t work from home, and are worried about your safety at work, and for some of our forum members who might also sadly face losing their job- please do keep reaching out for support.

We would also really welcome you all to share your story via our form here: This will really help us as a charity show the urgency and importance for the Government to provide this support to people in a similar situation to you all.

Thank you so much again and take care,

Su and Support Services team

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