The upheaval to daily life brought about by lockdown has revealed one of the greatest strengths – often behind the scenes – that the University has to offer: the commitment of its staff and students to supporting the local community.
At a time when the demands on all of us have been exceptional, many colleagues from across the University have given their time and resources to the charities, voluntary groups and local authorities working to ensure that those in need are not forgotten.
One of the most pressing issues at the beginning of lockdown was finding accommodation for Oxford’s homeless population. A team from University Administration and Services (UAS) and the Conference of Colleges quickly responded to the City Council’s call for action for temporary housing. Saïd Business School and University College provided rooms for those required to self-isolate, while Pembroke College’s catering team stepped in to supply breakfast and two hot meals a day for a group of 120 formerly homeless people.
The urgent demand for personal protection equipment (PPE) for essential workers also received an enthusiastic response from the University and the colleges. St Hilda’s acted swiftly to organise the delivery of vital supplies of PPE to medical staff at John Radcliffe Hospital and the Bodleian Libraries donated a quantity to the City Council to use in their locality response centres for workers on the frontline.
It has been fantastic to see such huge numbers of people volunteering to help those shielding or in self-isolation. Sara Fernandez, Chief Executive of the Oxford Hub, told me that the scale has been impressive and that she ‘didn’t know where to start’ when describing the contribution made by more than 2000 volunteers – many of them students and staff – to the Hub’s Oxford Together initiative, which is supporting people affected by COVID-19.
Students have organised social check-ins for people unable to leave home, helped with shopping and delivered medicine, along with using their talents to give online tutorials for local school children to help prevent them from falling behind with their work.
For my part, I’ve been pleased to help make connections with and secure assistance for local community groups, including Oxford Homeless Movement
, including promoting volunteering opportunities and organising a financial contribution. University donations have gone to the Oxford Hub for Oxford Together and the Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF)
for its resilience fund, keeping essential community projects going in the face of sharp drops in funding.
Now that we are moving out of lockdown, and as a sense of normality begins to return for some people across the city, it is a priority for the University (and an ongoing commitment of our Strategic Plan) that we nurture these relationships with community partners. This will be a focus for me over the coming year, alongside colleagues in Public Affairs, the Knowledge Exchange and Impact team, Research Services, colleges and our public engagement teams – to name just a few.
Key to this is our involvement in plans for getting Oxford’s economy and cultural life back up and running. We have been engaging with the local councils and residents groups on our careful preparations for the return to return to on-site working and the start of Michaelmas term. Conversations are also starting around the big annual events, like Oxford Open Doors, that are so important in bringing people together – adapting to new ways that follow guidance on doing so safely.
As we head into August, the University will be striving to support our local community as much as possible.
While there is still a huge amount to do, I am confident that we can all help make sure that Oxford recovers stronger.
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