AUDE Covid Heroes campaign: closing reflections

30 November 2021      Jane White, Executive Director

At the start of November AUDE launched its #AudeCovidHeroes campaign. We wanted to galvanise a sector-wide vote of thanks for the amazing work of estates and facilities teams at our universities throughout the pandemic. As our campaign draws to a close we want to reflect on what we did, and why.

In conversations between AUDE and its member directors of estates at the time of our annual conference back in the spring, it became clear that the idea of launching a campaign of this kind was widely supported. Sometimes it seems that saying something as simple as Thankyou can be a little difficult: we wanted to create a frame to help people do that. Most university senior leadership teams recognise that without the extraordinary efforts of our estates and facilities teams HE would simply have closed down during the crisis. It was our cleaners, our security teams, our facilities managers, our porters, our student support officers and all kinds of other behind-the-scenes colleagues who kept the entire show on the road. Without them all the things our universities did to support the national pandemic effort would have stopped. Many of these colleagues did not have the luxury of a WFH option. Theirs was a riskier path to tread.

Throughout the campaign we’ve heard about a “spirit of volunteerism” where individuals weighed up their personal and family risk against that of colleagues and volunteered into a gap, or to learn new skills that suddenly became vital. We’ve heard from the cleaning team at De Montfort University picking up the best of NHS practice to bring back to the university; from receptionists at the LSE who became emergency librarians to help keep that facility running; from housekeepers at Northampton who got accommodation ready for NHS workers who could not safely return home each day; from security officers at Lancaster tasked with providing a reassuring presence for more than 1700 students still on campus during the initial lockdown; and from space planners and porters at Strathclyde, working huge shifts to design and apply socially distant room layouts that would allow teaching to continue.

As institutions joined in our campaign throughout this month we’ve heard more and more stories of sheer hard work, professionalism and dedication from estates and facilities teams. The arrival of ‘instant’ Covid testing facilities on campus? Estates teams did that. Sanitation stations, one-way traffic flows, ventilation management, security across half-empty campuses? Estates teams did this, and much more. Thankyou to every university that joined us, to every VC and senior leader who wrote on the subject, and to every sector body and commenter on higher education who found time to acknowledge and thank our Covid Heroes.

In informing the Prime Minister about the campaign we hoped to create a trickle-down opportunity for our local politicians and education specialists to join in the campaign and acknowledge the work that has been done. On behalf of the PM and the Department for Education we received a letter of thanks from Michelle Donelan MP, Minister of State for Higher and Further Education; as well as acknowledgement and thanks from Jeremy Miles AS/MS, Welsh government Minister for Education and the Welsh Language. The same initial approach led to a motion of support being tabled in the Scottish Parliament by Kaukab Stewart MSP, the local constituency representative for the Glasgow Kelvin constituency which is “the home of HE” in the city. To have meaningful parliamentary support of this kind to pass onto those colleagues who are the focus of this campaign helps us to show that their work has been understood and is highly appreciated.

In drawing this campaign to a close I want to add my own thanks to those of the sector. Every story we’ve heard this month has been inspiring. People really have gone ‘above and beyond’. At a time of national crisis our teams have been determined to contribute to the maximum, and that tells us plenty about pride in our roles and pride in our universities. Next time you speak to a member of the estates and facilities team at your university you may well be able to uncover a story just as impressive as the ones we’ve highlighted during this campaign.

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