By the time of the group's first meeting, Estates Services and the Safety Office had already started to prepare guidance on reopening buildings and resuming activity safely. Following feedback from a pilot phase involving the reopening of small number of buildings, revised guidance was published in early June when Phase 1 of the ‘full’ programme began. Phase 1 covered all lab-based departments and priority library buildings with the objective of reopening by 31 July. Phase 2 incorporated all other University buildings that would need to reopen in time for Michaelmas Term.
By early October, over 210 out of 243 buildings had reopened, including all that needed to open by the beginning of Michaelmas Term to support academic activities. It was anticipated that an additional 15 buildings would open shortly afterwards, mostly based in Sports. A small number will remain closed as it is not considered necessary to reopen them at this stage.
Detailed guidance for staff, students, managers and buildings has been produced, and wide-ranging health and safety measures have been implemented across the estate. Due to the frequent changes in government/sector guidance, our internal guidance has been reviewed and updated on a regular basis. A University store was established for COVID-19 related items, sourced via central procurement.
This is an outstanding achievement given the scale and complexity of the undertaking, and a vast number of colleagues across the services, divisions, and departments have worked incredibly hard, often in very challenging circumstances, to enable us to reach the current point. There are myriad examples of great teamwork within and (crucially) between teams, and of individuals putting in ‘mountain-moving’ effort.
Between the end of June and mid -October, the team handled around 200 phone calls and 2,800 emails. (Note that around 50% of the emails related to internal discussions in Estates, or requests for information updates, hence not all of the emails related to queries from departments and/or will have required action.)
The central Store has been a great success in terms of demonstrating the benefits of central procurement and relieving departments of the burden of trying to source scarce items and competing with each outer. To date, it is estimated that thus far around £330k has been saved against University benchmarks (or £530k versus list price). It was initially difficult to predict what demand for certain items would be, but the team gradually built up intelligence and developed a good understanding of the pros and cons of particular lines of items such as hand gel. The face coverings for starter packs were discussed with the Safety Office and carefully specified and thus far they appear to have been well received, with some departments ordering additional supplies.
Early on in the RTOSW programme, the Travel Team in Estates Services was putting plans in place to address likely capacity requirements for parking, and institutional dialogue about parking and travel continues with the City and County Councils. To date, our capacity for parking spaces has always exceeded demand.
The position on availability of parking reportedly caused significant anxiety for some staff who were worried about getting into work safely. When the Temporary Permit to Park (TPTP) scheme was introduced, there was some confusion about how the process would work for staff who were only coming on-site for odd days, for staff based in multiple departments, and for departments with multiple sites. Communication has improved significantly, ES travel pages have been updated, and the Helpdesk now offers advice when departments have queries.
There was a general view that (in common with many other staff across the university) those who were actively involved with the RTOSW programme had to work intensely hard, significantly above normal working hours, and for a very long period. This shows the commitment of staff to support the endeavours of the university and commitment to makes things happen, in incredibly challenging circumstances.
In conclusion, the RTOSW programme has highlighted the commitment and dedication of University staff across departments, divisions, professional services and colleges to pull together to ensure that effective solutions are put in place to allow the ongoing operational business of the university, in the new and unexpected environment. The programme meant its key objective of ensuring that all necessary buildings were re-opened by start of the new academic year, underpinned by detailed guidance and support, and implemented in all settings.
To date, all settings have been operating effectively under their COVID-secure requirements. Alongside the successes of the programme, a number of lessons have been learned which should be useful in informing future practice, business operations, and major programmes.