Before the lockdown, my day in Oxford would often start with an early morning coffee in Gail’s on Little Clarendon St or another nearby café, where I’d invariably bump into a friend or colleague and enjoy a chat. Then, as I walked between meetings from my office in Wellington Square to the Oxford Botanic Garden, Libraries or Museums, I would cross paths with so many others, and share a hello, have a quick catch up, or exchange a simple wave. Those brief interactions are part of the fabric that makes our University community, and they are part of the day I took for granted but now greatly miss.
It is interesting to see how quickly we have found a new ‘normal’. Underpinned by technology, but more importantly by an overwhelming sense of collaboration and support for each other, we are bringing together individuals from across the collegiate University to tackle what are extremely complex and difficult issues. In ways they would not have done so previously. The staffing priorities that were recently announced are a case in point. Taking such decisions is neither easy nor straightforward, but putting short-term controls on our costs, and recovering funds where we are able, is key to sustaining our academic excellence and securing the future for our staff and students.
Happily, we are beginning to turn our attention to what return to our buildings will look like. Although a more gradual affair than the lockdown, and likely over a number of months, I’m hopeful that it will begin quite soon. Throughout, the safety of our staff and students will be our top priority. It seems likely that physical distancing and other measures will be with us for some time and will impact all that we do. Return to our buildings will take planning and in many cases will not be as it was for a long time. And I hope in those plans we can also learn from our new ‘normal’ and keep hold of the good things that have come out of the lockdown and take them forward in our future plans.
At the forefront of all these plans is how we can maintain the wellbeing of staff through such transitions. The digital hub www.ox.ac.uk/coronavirus which provides a fantastic array of resources, advice, and practical information is another example of colleagues providing support for each other. From personal development courses and research support networks to information on wellbeing and work-life balance it incorporates contributions from across different University departments. Thank you to all who have contributed to it and please continue to do so.
We are all very fortunate to be part of this vibrant, diverse and resilient community.
I look forward to seeing you soon, when we can next cross paths on the streets of Oxford.