Life on campus

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As the University slowly prepares for a phased return to campus, it’s important to remember those who never left. Here we speak to colleagues from Estates and Accommodation, Catering and Events (ACE) about adapting to the pandemic, and how their jobs have changed over the past 17 months.

Sarah Thomson is Catering Manager for four of the Grab and Go cafes. Her job has changed a considerable amount over the past year.

“In March 2020, I worked with other managers to organise an ACE ‘staff pool’ of catering colleagues who would volunteer to help support teams across the University.

I was then involved in the preparation and delivery of up to 100 meals per day to ACE essential workers who were still working on site.

“Prior to the cafes reopening for the return of students in September, I cleaned and cleared out food from cafes across all campuses, donating any non-perishable food and drink (sweets, crisps, cans of soft drink) to food banks in the city.

“The cafes reopened for the start of the new term but footfall was much lower than expected so I moved into the Self-Isolation catering team in October, preparing meals and grocery boxes for students who were self-isolating.

“In February I joined the very busy ACE Allocations team helping process refunds for students cancelling their leases, allocating accommodation for students starting in September and responding to emails.”

“The feeling of being appreciated wherever I have helped out, by both staff and students, will be a lasting memory of the past year. Feeling like I was adding value and played my part in helping the students, and ACE, during the past year is something I will cherish.”

For Audrey Drynan, however, not much has changed. Audrey is a Cleaner in the Charnock Bradley Building on the Easter Bush campus.

Edinburgh University. Easter Bush Roslin Institute.

“My job role has not changed much since the pandemic began as the area I work in has still been busy, as the people cannot work from home. Apart from social distancing, the wearing of face coverings and the enhanced cleaning throughout the day everything has remained the same.

“I feel the most challenging part of working throughout the pandemic has been maintaining a positive attitude.”

Aaron Kelly, Assistant Residence Life Coordinator and a live-in Warden, for Buccleuch Place, Buccleuch Place Lane and Ascham Court, has also struggled to maintain a positive attitude.

“Losing everyday face-to-face interactions with other colleagues has been difficult to adjust to, I felt really isolated working from home. There was an initial honeymoon period which wore off very quickly and I struggled with keeping a positive mind set. I made a point of calling colleagues to talk about work but more importantly, just to have a chat.  Those regular calls really helped contribute to my wellbeing during the past year.

Aaron has also made sure the 400 postgraduate students his team are responsible for were interacting online too.

“Loneliness and isolation are common for students in a normal year however lockdown has exacerbated this. At Residence Life we run social events to help build a sense of community, providing great opportunities for students to meet and make new friends.

One of the things that has changed the most is the way we deliver these events. Wardens, Resident Assistants and the central Residence Life team have spent a lot of time tailoring the events programme to an online audience. We have adapted well and run a number of really successful online events including competitions, quizzes and fitness classes.

“I really enjoy cooking so I was able to combine my passion with work and set up the very popular Residence Life ‘Cook-alongs’.  Every Friday night for 12 weeks I cooked a dish on Facebook Live and students were invited to tune in and cook along with me. Some of my highlights included lamb burgers, leek and mushroom pasta and even pan-fried cod with a black pudding crumb and white wine sauce.

“The ‘cook-alongs’ gathered 20,000 views from students as far away as China, Mexico and USA.  I thoroughly enjoyed running them and got some great feedback from those that took part.”

Akhil Handa, Security Officer, has continued to travel onto campus throughout the pandemic.

Edinburgh University. ECCI car charging.

“The job has and hasn’t changed in the last year. One of the most challenging parts of working during the pandemic was working closely with students who weren’t keen on following Covid-19 Government guidelines. We had to remain calm and composed during these times.

“Although, our team has been working with minimal staffing levels due to absences throughout the teams, we had to adapt like everyone else to a new working shift pattern to be able to provide round the clock service. I feel our team has provided a consistent level of security across the University during the pandemic.”

Helen Reid, Domestic Team Leader in Chancellors Court, is part of the ACE Property Team. She has also been on the front line, looking after our students, but from a distance.

“Covid-19 has meant that we have had to adapt quickly to changing cleaning protocols as well as ensure that staff feel safe in their working environment. I feel proud of our team that worked hard on the ground over the past 14 months to reduce anxiety for students at a difficult time as well as providing extensive cleaning throughout the Estate.

“The most challenging part of working through the pandemic for me and my team was the lack of interaction with our students this year. Usually we interact with them every day and take an interest in how their day has been. However last year we couldn’t even enter their household and we missed forming these relationships.

“The past year has taught me that even though things are different we can be successful in the new normal. The majority of ACE staff have been working over the past 14 months in order to keep students safe in such a difficult time. Therefore, I would like to reassure those staff who may be anxious coming back to the Estate and be encouraged by the hard work that has been put in by the Health & Safety and Estates team to create a welcoming, safe environment. I look forward to seeing everyone!”