The COVID19 pandemic saw us adapt quickly to a new normal. Teams across our community came together to support our people during this challenging time.
For staff, we introduced measures in recognition of the difficult circumstances many of them faced. We offered Emergency Paid Leave for those struggling with childcare and other caring responsibilities, and team managers were also given greater flexibility to allow colleagues to fit their work schedules around their responsibilities at home. When the decision was made to place some of our colleagues on furlough, we topped-up the Government’s 80% allowance to full pay, ensuring our people would not be financially impacted.
To keep our community informed, our communications team focussed on eight relevant topic areas. We sent frequent messages from our University Executive Board, showcased our coronavirus experts, provided educational information for home-schooling parents and shared stories celebrating our key workers.
Supporting the wellbeing of our people became more important than ever. Factoring in new challenges, such as coping with anxiety, we adapted existing resources and surveyed all our staff to identify where we could offer further support.
As our focus moved to planning for the 2020-21 academic year, over 700 colleagues joined us for a series of Virtual Town Hall events to hear from the Vice-Chancellor and senior managers and ask questions
For the student community, our immediate priorities were to minimise the impact on education, provide clarity around assessments and ensure that those remaining in Bath felt supported.
Our academic colleagues worked tirelessly to deliver lectures and seminars virtually, with students engaging with up to 10,000 hours of content per week throughout lockdown. We replaced on campus exams with alternative assessments and introduced no-detriment measures to reassure our students that they would fulfil their potential and achieve the degree classification that they deserved.
Students living in our accommodation around the City were invited to move into campus accommodation. All students on campus received three free meals a day, courtesy of our hard-working colleagues in Accommodation and Hospitality Services (AHS).
Nur Fatini Binti Mohd Nasri, a Mechanical Engineering student, said: “I want to say thank you to the University for providing us with food and taking care of our needs during these uncertain times. I couldn’t ask for more. When I was celebrating Ramadan, the University provided us with meals to break our fast.”
In response to the increased financial hardship faced by some of our students, we enhanced the availability of financial assistance, thanks to our alumni and friends’ network. To date, nearly £100,000 has been donated to help our pandemic response.
To enhance wellbeing and retain a sense of community, our Student Services team transitioned all of their services online. These included a daily wellbeing drop-in service, mental health support, counselling, and other virtual sessions. The Student’s Union set up a Corona Community Facebook page offering a daily programme of activities, including quizzes, exercise classes and cooking.
Supporting our local community
As the UK-wide lockdown was activated, our colleagues turned their focus to efforts to help our local communities deal with the effects of the COVID19 outbreak.
In many cases working with local partners, our community helped keep people in our area physically fit, mentally active and socially engaged, and helped to protect frontline healthcare workers.
A team from the Faculty of Engineering & Design collaborated with the Royal United Hospitals Bath (the RUH), using their expertise to make essential personal protective equipment (PPE). Working from a safe lab on campus, the team had by late June made over 100,000 items of PPE, including face shields that achieved BSI certification, while a project with local sewing volunteers and other partners produced more than 2,200 medical gowns.
The effort also saw colleagues create Perspex covers for hospital equipment trolleys, protecting medicines during ward rounds and saving on time spent cleaning them between appointments.
Members of the Faculty of Science and the Material and Chemical Characterisation Facility helped keep Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) NHS Trust staff safe, by producing and donating chemical solutions used in face mask ‘fit tests’. Fit tests are carried out to confirm masks provide effective protection and are vital to ensuring the Trust’s staff can continue their work.
Sharing our expertise
When COVID19 swept the globe, our academics were quick to share both their knowledge and their resources with the world, helping to boost understanding of the pandemic and give meaningful shape to our fight against the coronavirus.
Through their enthusiastic engagement with national and international media, our experts featured in over 3,500 media stories during the first 90 daysof lockdown. Highlights include biologist Dr Andy Preston being interviewed repeatedly for BBC news (among many other print, broadcast and radio outlets); mathematician Dr Kit Yates appearing on Sky News and Radio 4’s More or Less, and multiple appearances by psychology lecturer Dr Maria Loades in the British broadsheets, Daily Mail, the BBC, LBC radio and around 200 international outlets.
Healthy in body and mind
While the competitive efforts of our elite athletes and Sports Training Village users were paused, Team Bath continued to help people work out and keep in shape by offering free online classes. Several live exercise classes were streamed each week as part of a full timetable of fitness activities, as well as wellbeing talks giving tips and advice.
Team Bath Netball training sessions, held online by player-coach and England international Rachel Shaw, were also made freely available for players and clubs around the world via Facebook, attracting thousands of participants every week.
Our Arts Team based at The Edge produced online creative skills workshops, wellbeing classes, online yoga, dance fitness and choir sessions, all run by local tutors.
The Arts Team also ran online interactive storytelling sessions inspired by our research, and ‘Invent’ craft sessions for children which fused arts and science. The Visions of Science Art Prize moved online, inviting submissions from UK-based artists whose work depicts or represents Faculty of Science research
Stunning range of expertise
From the moment the virus became a serious international threat, our mathematicians worked hard to make sense of the pandemic’s numeric complexities, framing their explanations in clear, understandable terms to reach the widest possible audience.
Our health researchers devised invaluable exercise programmes to keep people aged 60+ active in lockdown. Meanwhile, psychologists highlighted both the mental health risks of an extended quarantine and the importance of maintaining good hygiene to minimise virus transmission.
Biologists, and epidemiologists informed the public on every imaginable aspect of virus transmission and vaccine creation.
Instrument specialists from our Material and Chemical Characterisation facility were tasked with checking the quality and purity of chemicals used in the manufacture of tests to diagnose the coronavirus.
A group from the Centre for Photonics and Photonic Materials designed and built endoscopic devices as part of a major project to test new lung treatments for the disease. Experts from our School of Management shared their knowledge on how to lead in a crisis, exploring the consequences of the pandemic for business.
Shifts in behaviour
Health Psychology lecturer Dr Ben Ainsworth leads a team that aspires to create a global shift towards greater ‘protective behaviours’ against the coronavirus (such as better home hygiene and stronger infection control). Through his Germ Defence website, 100,000 people across 150 countries have accessed the team’s evidence-based behaviour- change techniques.
“Until a vaccine is available, behavioural measures are the only way to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” said Dr Ainsworth. “The website has been translated into over 20 languages, and our hope is to reach as many people around the world as possible.”
Maths lecturer Dr Paula Moraga is part of an international group that is using innovative mathematical and statistical modelling to make forecasts about the pandemic. Her modelling makes it easier, among other things, to detect disease clusters, assess the effects of social distancing and weigh up the risks of spreading the virus through travel.
“The outputs of this research will help health authorities and the general public take informed decisions about disease prevention and control,” she said.