So this is Christmas

The 1970s were the apogee decade for Christmas hits: by turns cheesy, embarrassing and, very occasionally, memorable. They still get piped endlessly in shops each year. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s was from 1971. The lyrics are far from Lennon’s best, but the song essentially begins with “So this is Christmas/And what have you done/Another year over/A new one begun”.

After the year we have had, perhaps these slightly downbeat and morose lyrics frame our mood: 2020 is almost over. In my first blog of this year I wrote “Few things date more rapidly than predictions of the future” and went on to say “I don’t know, in detail, what 2020 holds in store for us: the most reliable prediction is of unpredictability”: and – well – cue hollow laughter – the most reliable prediction was indeed of unpredictability. None of us could have predicted that within just weeks we would need to overhaul our entire operating model and learn to work in radically different ways. It’s been a tough year, and perhaps tougher as the evenings have drawn in and the sheer longevity of remote working has become apparent.

But we can answer Lennon’s 1971 question “what have you done?” Nothing we have achieved over the past nine months would have been possible without the commitment and engagement of each and every one of you. The University has played an important role in supporting the regional and national Covid response effort. Work has happened right across the university, with students, graduates, teaching staff, researchers and in professional services colleagues stepping up to make a difference. We have demonstrated importance to our students and to the communities in which we work. We’ve learnt that we can move quickly to use our knowledge and expertise to help tackle the very immediate challenges the country has faced. Because it has been such a difficult and challenging year, I want to use this blog simply to rehearse some of the things we have achieved – together.

We have learnt to teach in different ways. For twenty years, the argument has been that students are ahead of their institutions in their grasp of technology enhanced learning – we have caught up at a remarkable pace thanks to the incredible dedication and hard work of our teaching staff and the excellent support from the Digital Learning Team. We have supported students in extra-ordinary ways. We raised more than £113,000 for the University’s coronavirus appeal, so that we could provide grants and funding for students who needed urgent financial support. Our student support teams have supported hundreds of students in distress, providing reassurance and support. Our accommodation teams have done a phenomenal job for students in residential halls and private accommodation, including supporting self-isolating home and international students. Our work to provide complimentary food parcels and support for self-isolating students was praised by the Universities minister in parliament. Our Estates and Facilities teams and Security teams worked tirelessly to get the campus back up and running with new safety measures in place to protect us all, after the first lockdown. We have established what a visiting government team called a ‘gold-standard’ asymptomatic testing facility in two weeks.

Our work has reached beyond the University to the community. We fast-tracked more than 600 final year student nurses into roles with the NHS in the region to support the fight against Covid. Student volunteers dedicated their time to support the NHS during the pandemic – volunteering to be part of the NHS check-in and chat phone line, and designing artwork to raise £3000 for NHS charities. More than 50 Hallam graduates have become mentors for hundreds of school pupils affected by the pandemic, through an innovative graduate mentoring scheme – a partnership between Hallam and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. We’ve shared our experiences and strengthened our partnership with La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Our research teams have mobilised in imaginative ways to support those suffering and caring for sufferers from Covid. Researchers at Lab4living created online resources to support people with dementia during the pandemic, in conjunction with a national charity. The resources have now been accessed thousands of times by dementia patients and their families. South Yorkshire Futures teamed up with the charity Trauma Informed Schools UK to create resources for schools and parents to help children learn about and understand the Covid crisis. AWRC colleagues worked with Age UK to develop a booklet to help older people stay active in lockdown, which, after a regional pilot has now been rolled out nationally. The AWRC team have also been exploring the long-term health impact of Covid on those struggling to recover from the virus. Health colleagues have delivered end-of-life care training during the pandemic to support care workers from NHS Trusts.

And we’ve started to look beyond the immediate crisis, considering our own learning from the experiences of the last nine months for ourselves, but also considering the way the region’s economy can recover. We played a key role in the Sheffield City Region taskforce to support the economic recovery of the region. We have created a new partnership with Sheffield College to support regional skills needs as part of the long-term Covid recovery effort. We’ve teamed up with the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals to launch an ambitious bid for government funding for a range of projects across the city region.

It’s been, in short, a year like no other, and it will be a different Christmas and New Year. You may not be able to spend Christmas as you normally do, but we all – all – need a rest and a break. It turns out that John Lennon wasn’t the person who coined another phrase routinely attributed to him, but he will do as the source: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. This year has surely demonstrated that to us all. Season’s Greetings to everyone.

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