Assessing health volunteers’ success in Thailand’s COVID-19 response

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By Professor Vikas Kumar, Director of Research and Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management

Thailand is one of the countries that has successfully managed COVID-19 outbreak control – the number of new infections is on the decrease and related deaths are limited. Playing a huge role in this success has been the country’s 800,000 active Village Health Volunteers (VHVs).

Each volunteer acts as a messenger and goes into the community to relay the latest news about  public health, as well as providing primary healthcare and planning for and monitoring of health issues. Their dedication strengthens the primary healthcare system and helps tackle the healthcare crisis, which now includes COVID-19. Each province contains approximately 104,000 VHVs, many of whom were active during SARS in 2002 and Avian influenza in 2004.

Having received a Newton Fund Institutional Links Grant, we are working with Mahasarakham University in Thailand and will initially assess how effectively VHVs are performing their role in COVID-19 limitation across Thailand, whether in suburban or more remote rural areas.

I will be leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers in Thailand (Dr Kittipol Wisaeng, Dr Amporn Kai, Dr Petcharat Lovichakorntikul, Ms Aim-on Tarakam, Ms Somsri Sungkharom and Dr Worawat Sa-ngaimvibool) who will be working closely with a range of local stakeholders (VHVs, Local medical practitioners like doctors and nurses, local government, councils, etc.). Also included in the team are researchers from the Innovation Operations Management and Supply (IOMS) research group (jointly led by Prof. Wendy Phillips and myself) at the Bristol Business School.

We will then look at ways in which VHVs might perform more effectively in COVID-19 control in the future as their ability to social distance, help implement curfews etc. is hindered by extraneous factors such as climate change. We will also outline operational and logistical challenges they face while executing their role in remote areas. These could include short- and long-term changes in mobility, landscapes, other emergencies (e.g. epidemics).

In line with these potential challenges, we will look at the associated developmental needs and ultimately our work will look at how we can re-conceptualize the role, forms, and management of VHVs in preparation for impacts of COVID-19 and other emergent epidemics.

Baed on our conclusions, we will put produce effective strategies and a toolkit to help VHV perform better in COVID-19 control in changing contexts.

All these additional innovations to the VHV scheme and lessons learned will better facilitate contributions to other countries in COVID-19 control as well as the control of other emergent epidemics.

By achieving the objectives, this project hopes to contribute significantly to existing literature and community practices in Thailand. The developmental strategies will help local government/authorities to increase the potentials of the volunteers for COVID-19 and similar outbreak control in the future. There is also an opportunity for other countries to learn from this project who are struggling to manage this pandemic.

Tackling the inequality of home learning

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By Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in Education

As we find ourselves in another lockdown, families across the country take on the task of home schooling yet again – and this time through the winter. The difficulties this poses for many families are becoming all too familiar as ongoing pressures of job insecurity, poverty and relationship breakdown strengthens its grip on our society plagued by COVID-19. When schools closed on 5 January, over 1 million children could look forward to nothing more than the societal inequalities they have been dealt becoming more deeply entrenched.

While inequalities come in many forms, the one I refer to here becomes ever more visible with lockdown: digital deprivation. We have seen from 2020 that any semblance of a normal school day is made possible through schools embracing technology, assisted by access to online educational resources.  While the first lockdown saw emails and posting of work on online platforms, teachers have adapted and many schools are now providing live lessons throughout the day. Those without access to stable internet connections and laptops, desktops, tablets or smart phones fall behind. In fact, the NFER reported that in July 2020 there was a 46% bigger learning gap between disadvantaged children and their peers compared to the previous year – with another six weeks of home schooling ahead this gap will only get bigger.

Since September, schools have been drawing on their own budgets and government funding to supply hardware and bolster tutoring programmes in targeted areas of deprivation.  There have been steps made to invest in devices and resources for the children who need them. But, with this new lockdown it is plain to see that the tutoring programme is in tatters and distribution of tech is too slow and doesn’t fulfil the need. Where tech is available, money for food and heating may well be the priority over electricity and data usage for school work. 

The government have identified children without digital connectivity as ‘vulnerable’. In theory this means they are able to take a school place. But just four days into school closures there were already reports of schools being unable to support these numbers safely. The result? More children falling behind. More children being digitally isolated.

What’s the solution?

Hardware needs to be quickly and accurately distributed to those without. All mobile data providers need to apply ‘zero rating’ data use on educational sites to eliminate financial burden. One parent from disadvantaged homes needs to be 100% furloughed in order to support their children’s learning and an online education allowance (similar to a heating allowance) provided to financially support families with increased heating and electricity costs.

Teachers know that the previous lockdowns have created gaps in children’s knowledge and skills – coherent guidance is now needed on how the curriculum should be adjusted, taking into account local contexts. Reform is essential in order to rebalance teacher workload and ensure that at this time of crises we have the retention of our teachers which is crucial for learners in order to ensure consistency.

Unfortunately this will not, in all likelihood, be the last time children will have to be taught from home. As such we also need to ensure that our teachers are trained thoroughly in developing and implementing online learning. These are different skills to those needed within the familiar physical space of a classroom, and require more than just talking to a powerpoint slideshow. Already at UWE Bristol we are providing focussed sessions on online pedagogies for our trainee teachers to support them in their practice. While such futureproofing is essential for our new teachers, experienced teachers already in schools also require similar ongoing training opportunities. 

COVID-19 continues to show and accelerate the reality of inequality in the UK.

Our most disadvantaged need a clear and supported educational strategy to ensure that the gap in achievement is not increased. We know that reopening schools as soon as possible is not the answer. It needs to be safe for both pupils and staff. In the meantime, we need to do all we can to disrupt the disadvantage. Our education system needs to be right for all, not just for some. It is failing and will continue to fail if change does not occur. 

Governments must intervene now to support students; universities cannot do this alone

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By Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor at UWE Bristol

The growing calls across the country to refund tuition fees are impossible to ignore. What’s more, they are understandable. Whilst students have still been able to meet learning outcomes, progress and graduate, thanks to the hard work and dedication of staff across the higher education sector, there can be no question that they have faced significant upheaval over the last 10 months.

We now need the Government to work with us to send a powerful signal to students and society that they too are prepared to support a generation of graduates who face a uniquely challenging jobs market, and that they will tackle the growing inequalities created by Covid-19.

The Minister unfortunately fell short of this in the ‘STUDENT MESSAGE’ shared on Twitter, which offered very little in the way of meaningful reassurance for learners and showed heavy disdain for universities. Having worked tirelessly to protect the student experience and provide high-quality teaching throughout the pandemic, universities were accused of not working hard enough to ‘maintain the quality, quantity and accessibility of tuition’ and told that university fees are a matter for universities alone.

There is no denying that even with the continued dedication of university staff, students are having a very different university experience from what they might have expected. Our staff have dug deep to support our students, demonstrating the levels of sustained innovation and commitment needed to match a national crisis. Learning outcomes are being assessed and achieved against degree and professional standards. But students are rightly asking for more – they are asking for support for their futures that universities cannot provide alone.  

Universities have already invested heavily to support students through these difficult times; providing additional IT and digital resources, hardship funds and expanding wellbeing support. This has all been unbudgeted and falls outside of normal expenditure by many millions of pounds per institution.

In addition, universities have faced increased costs to create Covid-secure campuses and environments, and many universities, like us, have spent millions refunding students for the university-owned accommodation that was left empty in the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns.

But even with these interventions, most students are still significantly disadvantaged and in danger of being forced to drop out of their studies. They have lost access to vital part-time work and much needed income that allows them to survive and stay in education. Many are falling deeper into debt which is impacting on their mental health. The vast majority of students who are in private accommodation are still paying rent to their landlords for unused accommodation, just as they did in 2020. Universities have increased hardship funds but they are being overwhelmed by the demand.

The Government points to £20m additional funding and the repurposing of £265m exisiting funding designed to be used on other prioirties, now made available to support those most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances. For my own University, with around 30,000 students, the new funding delivered around £9 per head. Whilst welcome, this didn’t address the significant challenges the student population is facing, as have already been recognised in Wales and Scotland.

Throughout this crisis, universities have received minimal financial support from the Government and have only been able to furlough very few staff due to universities being largely publicly funded.

This is despite the much broader role Universities have also continued to play in their communities, with many volunteering crucial support to the NHS – stepping up to offer vital facilities, capacity and equipment, and frontline staff and training.

With university finances increasingly fragile I call on the Government to play their part.

What is the ask?

It is clear that the best and fairest way to support this generation is by reducing their student debt. This would demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to the graduates of the Covid-19 era, making their repayments more affordable as the UK economy starts its long recovery from the effects of Covid-19.

I recognise that there have been many calls on government support during the pandemic. All parts of society have been hit. We need fair ways of helping all students disadvantaged by this crisis. Action needs to be taken to:

  1. Reduce and reprofile student loan debts, by reducing the interest rates being accrued on these loans during the pandemic disruption.
  2. Increase maintenance grants and hardship funds for the most disadvantaged students to protect their futures.  
  3. Provide additional funding for universities to support mental health and wellbeing and to maximise the summer experience to add as much value as possible during the summer term.

Undergraduate university teaching is funded, in the main, through the Treasury via the Student Loan Company, with 25% of students taking out a loan expected to repay in full. These adjustments can therefore only be made by Government itself. Whilst there may be a need to review the way in which Higher Education and Further Education is funded in the future, that debate is still to come. For now, universities are doing what they can with their limited resources, but the Government has a crucial role to play to ensure equitable solutions are in place which will catch all students at risk of slipping through the system.

Let’s not fail a generation. Universities and our graduates will play a vital role in the post-pandemic recovery – providing the skilled workforce, innovation and creativity this country needs to build back better and stronger. Together we must protect their future.

Tackling Food Sector challenges post COVID-19

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By Vikas Kumar, Director of Research and Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis is having a major impact on the global food supply chains affecting segments such as farm production, food processing, transport and logistics, retailers and final demand. The sudden increase in demand for essential products triggered by panic buying/hoarding and the slow reaction of retailers to replenish them has exposed the limitations of cost-efficient and streamlined supply chains when it comes to being agile and adapting to unforeseen shocks. Therefore, it is important to draw attention to the challenges that COVID-19 related supply chains disruptions bring to the businesses.

For instance, the ongoing pandemic has meant labour demand in food production, food supply, grocery retail, transport and delivery services is massively outstripping current supply. In the UK, this has been further complicated by the shortage of seasonal agricultural workers, who hail from European regions. Some other potential challenges the food sector is currently facing are supermarket supply chain struggles, food delivery issues, food price hikes, risks to jobs and livelihoods, food waste and challenges imposed by shifting consumer behaviour. As the food sector has been severely impacted globally, it is essential that it develops a mitigating strategy to deal with these challenges.

This could include applying a holistic approach to managing supply chains. Food organisations need to develop higher resilience, which is needed if they are to build sufficient flexibility in their supply chains to protect against future disruptions.

In building this resilience, they also need to realise the potential benefits of digital technologies. IoT sensors for soil and plant monitoring, warehouse automation, blockchains for traceability, drones for delivery, data analytics for demand and supply management, are all examples of industry 4.0 technologies across the food supply chains that could bring numerous benefits to organisations. A combination of digital technology assets – data collection, data storage and management, analytics, and decision modelling – could help unlock farming’s potential as well as strengthen the resilience of supply chains.

Another step in the right direction might be a transition towards more sustainable practices such as the adoption of circularity in food systems, which advocates reducing the amount of waste generated in the food system, reuse of food, utilisation of by-products and food waste, and nutrient recycling.

The pandemic has also exposed the dangers of relying on a single supplier or single geolocation – the equivalent of putting all eggs in one basket – thus diversification of the supplier base is encouraged. Talking of eggs, the last few months have also shown a growing reliance on farmers markets and farm shops (called short food supply chains or SFSCs) for essential food, and their popularity will continue to grow as consumers are getting health conscious and more concerned about food safety and transparency.

The ongoing pandemic has created several challenges for the food system and many lessons still need to be learned. How these lessons are reflected in UK food policy will determine how effectively we deal with similar situations in the future.

The content of this blog is based on the following recently accepted paper, due to be published early 2021: Kumar, V. (2021, in press), Adjusting to the new normal: Challenges of the food sector in the wake of COVID-19. Journal of Supply Chain Management, Logistics and Procurement

Public transport and future pandemics – is there a Plan B?

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By Dr Steve Melia, Senior Lecturer in Planning and Transport

Demand for trains is likely to rise again “assuming at some point there will be a vaccine and we will return to some sort of normal” said the Chief Executive of HS2 recently. His assumption might be right, but vaccines are rarely 100% effective. What if they don’t eradicate the risk and social distancing continues to constrain the capacity of public transport? Many ecologists are now warning that human interference with natural systems will cause more pandemics in future. What would happen to public transport if pandemics and social distancing became a recurring feature of 21st century life? What is Plan B?

Six months after the lockdown caused patronage to collapse, I was going to write about the strange silence of the transport world on these questions. But perhaps that silence is not so strange. Whose interests would it serve to acknowledge those possibilities? Whose ideology would it bolster? Clearly not the public transport industry or its supporters. Nor would it help the petrolheads’ case for unrestrained driving. So, at the risk of provoking the ire of all sides, I want to consider what might happen and how we might collectively respond if public transport remains constrained in the longer-term.

A few articles on these questions, from elsewhere in the world, have raised the nightmare scenario, where fear of infection causes people to shun public transport and flee cities, reversing the past few decades of urban regeneration. In countries like the USA and Australia with low population densities, that would gently accelerate the spread of car-based sprawl, which had slowed but never stopped. In Britain, and particularly England, that prospect would be far more serious. As I have written elsewhere, the claim that England has plenty of land available for development without destroying what remains of our natural environment is unfortunately untrue.

In recent decades, UK governments have tempered their push for more house building with planning policies encouraging densification of central urban areas. I am looking at the result of that strategy through my window in central Bristol – 375 flats on a site the size of a football pitch with only a handful of parking spaces. This type of urban intensification depends on high-capacity public transport for new residents, who will be unable to own cars because there is no space for them. Remove that capacity and the densification of cities will become unviable. Rural areas will suburbanise and suburban roads will fill with congested traffic.

Social distancing regulations are not the only problem; Covid has reduced people’s willingness to travel in close proximity to others. When I have asked people in the industry: ‘what if things don’t return to normal?’ their answers are all around funding, which is hardly a solution for the long-term. I recently met a government transport official who had considered the longer-term risks. He said “there is no solution”, and within life as we know it, he is right. Trains and railway stations could conceivably be converted to allow people to travel in separate compartments without inhaling each others’ breath, but at a cost that would make HS2 look like a bargain. Buses would have to be replaced by some entirely different type of vehicle. The capacity of both would be permanently reduced, which would not solve the problem. People could continue to drive cars but not at higher concentrations in urban areas, so they wouldn’t solve the problem either.

If there is a workable Plan B it would have to transform both public and private transport. The early hype around autonomous vehicles has subsided as researchers (including some of my colleagues) have shown how some of the barriers to full automation cannot be solved by technology alone. To allow autonomous vehicles to interact with pedestrians in dense urban areas would require big changes to the way we organise our cities. Whether those changes are made or not, we can expect incremental automation such as platooning on motorways.

Putting all those factors together with the imperative to decarbonise transport we could imagine a world where autonomous electric pods, smaller than today’s cars, follow a network more limited than today’s roads. They could travel at low speeds through urban areas until they join interurban networks, where they could travel in platoons at higher speeds. Similar principles could transform the way we move freight into, out of, and between urban areas. If you think that vans and lorries are the only ways of moving freight around cities, take a look at Joel Crawford’s books about carfree cities. Such a system could replace the motorway and rail networks, reducing the overall land-take of transport networks. I float that idea, not as “the solution”, but to illustrate the scale of the transformation that Plan B might require.

Of course, we might be lucky; Covid-19 might fade into history and future pandemics might be more benign – or not, so where does that leave us in the meantime?

The case for joined-up cycle routes and traffic-free environments for walking remains relevant under any conceivable scenario. So will the need to remove or replace vehicles powered by fossil fuels. Road building remains a damaging option under any scenario. But should we be pressing ahead with plans to build big public transport infrastructure at this moment? Is it possible to genuinely future-proof such infrastructure?

My colleague Professor Glenn Lyons has written some useful articles about planning in uncertain situations. But on the specific questions I can give no definitive answers; I can point you to no relevant research. I can only conclude that we must break the silence and start treating these possibilities more seriously.

This article was first published in Transport Times

The impact of lockdown on body image and eating behaviours

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By Dr Helena Lewis-Smith, Senior Research Fellow, and Sharon Haywood, Research Associate, from the Centre for Appearance Research

Lockdown has changed our lives in unprecedented ways. Not only has it transformed how we study and work, but it has also impacted how we socialise. Social media usage has soared to new heights, helping us feel less isolated, but could spending more time on your favourite social media site bring negative effects?

Long before lockdown, researchers from various countries established that a significant link exists between social media use and body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Since lockdown, the message of “bettering” ourselves has been persistent, bringing with it a surge of diet and fitness tutorials, usually featuring “ideal” bodies. Past research has shown that the popular social media trend of “fitspiration”—intended to inspire people to exercise—can lead us to compare our bodies with those we see online, which can then increase body dissatisfaction, so this heightened pressure to be healthy might actually be counterproductive to our well-being. Adding to these demands is Covid-related fat-phobic content, such as memes about pre- and post-lockdown bodies, making us feel ashamed if we’ve gained weight. When we combine all these factors, it’s unsurprising that early research has identified adverse impacts on people’s eating behaviours and mental health.

Researchers in Australia found that since lockdown began, adults in the general population reported engaging in more dieting behaviours and binge eating. They also found that individuals with a history of disordered eating were particularly vulnerable to maladaptive changes to their eating and exercise habits. In the US and Netherlands research revealed that people with an eating disorder are facing greater challenges in moving towards recovery. Not only did they report worsening of their symptoms, but they also noted increases in anxiety and concerns related to their overall mental health.

Collectively, this early research highlights the importance of providing psychological support to individuals with disordered eating or a diagnosis of an eating disorder (past or present). For those struggling with this, we recommend contacting Beat, the UK’s largest eating disorder charity, which provides free support to anyone affected by disordered eating. Here at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Appearance Research (CAR), we are currently running a study to explore the impact of lockdown on recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating to help inform knowledge of what support might be helpful. Although recruitment is presently on hold, additional participants may be required. If you (or someone you know) is interested in taking part, please add your contact details here.

Even though it seems that lockdown is coming to an end, the possibility of a second lockdown later this year is possible, so here are some tips on how to cope with body image and food wobbles—that you can also put to use when not in lockdown!

  • Avoid getting pulled into comparing yourself with others on social media. While it’s completely natural, it just makes us feel worse. Diversify the content you’re following so your feed contains a wide variety of body types and messages that promote self-acceptance.
  • Avoid viewing and sharing Covid-19 weight-shaming memes. Not only does it stigmatise larger bodies, it may also trigger negative thoughts about your own body.
  • Practice self-compassion. Difficult emotions are part of the human experience. Treat yourself with the kindness and patience that you would someone you love.
  • Remember that it’s natural for our bodies to change throughout different stages of life and when our routines change. Be kind to yourself if you’re eating due to stress, loneliness or boredom – this is a challenging time! Consider other ways to self-soothe, such as reading, going for a walk, or calling a friend.
  • Engage in movement that you enjoy and adjust your expectations about exercise. Instead of exercising to compensate for more sedentary behaviour or changes in eating habits, focus on engaging in physical activity that stimulates your mind and body. For example, you might want to play rounders with some friends, go for a walk with family members, or do an online dance class.
  • Appreciate what your body can do. Rather than focusing on what it looks like, shift your attention to the functionality of your body. Think of all the amazing things your body allows you do: Perhaps it’s playing football with your kids, taking in the fragrance of your favourite flowers, or restoring itself with sleep.

For more tips and strategies, listen to CAR’s 49th Appearance Matters podcast episode Managing Body Image and Food Wobbles During Lockdown.

Photo credit via Instagram @Meg.Boggs (www.megboggs.com)

Apart but not Alone? Neighbour support during lockdown

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By Amy Beardmore, Research Associate in Public Health and Community Development

As the UK went into lockdown on 23 March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, communities across the country sprang into action and initiated a rapid process of self-organisation, the likes of which had never been seen before. Help for people within communities was quickly coordinated using online platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and the hyperlocal social network Nextdoor, alongside more traditional forms of communication such as phoning neighbours or dropping notes through letterboxes. The pace at which this unprecedented community response to the crisis was organised appeared to overtake the implementation of more formalised voluntary and statutory sector support in the area. The result was a complex network of street, neighbourhood and community level help, support and resources.

Rapid research

It quickly became apparent to researchers in the Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing that a unique opportunity was emerging to document the extent of this sudden surge in ground level support and how it might be affected by levels of social deprivation. Enlisting the help of colleagues from within the centre and external partner organisations, as well as a number of community researchers and public contributors, the team designed a piece of research consisting of three distinct phases. This work began just four days after lockdown on 27 March under the heading Apart but not Alone, starting with an online cross-sectional survey.

Survey One

Launched on 2 April and promoted largely through online channels, email and text messages, the first survey asked respondents about who and how they were helping, and their wider experiences of personal involvement in neighbourhood life. Of the 862 people who responded to the survey, a total of 539 responses from the Bristol built-up area were eligible for analysis.

Complex picture in areas of higher deprivation

The results showed that help and support unsurprisingly tended to be aimed at the most vulnerable in communities – specifically the over 70s and those self-isolating. Interestingly, the data also indicated that respondents from more deprived areas of the city and surrounding areas tended to be disproportionately supporting those with disabilities and mobility issues, those with no access to outdoor space and those experiencing financial difficulties. These areas of higher deprivation were also less likely to strongly agree that neighbours were supporting each other well.

Women shouldering majority of the burden?

It is notable that 80.9% of survey respondents were female. There could be a number of reasons for this, including the possibility that women are more actively engaged in social and community networks – both on and offline – and men’s helping behaviours therefore exist but are simply less visible. It may also be that women are shouldering the burden of caring for their community as well as immediate family members, with many also trying to work from home, often with children present.

Low BAME response rate

Bristol has a BAME population of around 14% (although this figure is much lower for South Gloucestershire and North Somerset), so a survey response rate of 5.3% does not appear to be representative of the local population. This may well be due to the restrictive nature of an online survey promoted largely via social media, although the sample did specifically include BAME organisations. It is hoped that the experiences of the BAME population will be explored in more detail through the qualitative element of the project.

In-depth interviews reveal lived experience

The second phase of the project consists of in-depth qualitative interviews with some of the survey participants in order to get a better understanding of how social capital – the resources and connections that people have access to that can influence their ability to navigate systems or to generally do well in life – influences individual and community experiences of lockdown. Eighteen interviews have been conducted so far as part of a unique piece of research in which the researchers themselves are living through the same experience as their interviewees.

“Two of my neighbour’s cousins have died because of Covid-19…and it’s difficult for her because they can’t get together as a family to mourn…”

Research participant

Follow-up survey on community spirit

Participants from the original survey who expressed an interest in taking part in further research were also invited to take part in Phase Three – a follow up survey, published on 27 May. This survey asked about positive and negative experiences in communities since the easing of lockdown on 10 May, and early analysis suggests that whilst many reported a continuation of positive activity (such as increased communication, street level events and volunteering), participants also identified a number of emerging concerns. These tended to indicate that tensions were starting to creep in, particularly associated with confusion over the rules and social distancing as well as more general concerns about previous negative behaviours being exhibited by some members of the community. Of particular note were a number of negative comments about the behaviour of young people and teenagers, indicating potential generational conflict.

What next?

Results from Survey One were recently published in Emerald Open Research, and it is hoped that a second article will be published in the next few weeks summarising the findings of Survey Two, which is currently undergoing analysis. The qualitative element remains ongoing as we continue to explore the participant links to social capital and the impact it has had on their experiences of lockdown. For regular project updates, please follow us on Twitter @ApartAlone.

Getting the most out of home-working during Covid-19

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By Dr Harriet Shortt, Associate Professor of Organisation Studies at UWE Bristol

We are all currently experiencing a situation we have never been in before, where society has had to change and adapt beyond recognition, and one of the biggest changes we have had to make is the one associated with our work spaces. Many of us are now working at home and this has meant a complete shift in where we work and left some wondering how to cope with these changes. This blog offers some thoughts and reflections for those finding themselves unexpectedly working from home.

Before we think about space, it’s worth thinking about work more broadly first. I have seen the use of the word ‘productivity’ floating about a lot recently. Be cautious of using this word (and this goes for employers/organisations/team leaders as well as us as individuals!). Whether it’s to ‘prove’ you are being productive at work or being productive in other ways – like taking up a new hobby or learning a language or suddenly taking up running – we need to remember we are in the middle of a pandemic and we are not out of it yet. Trying to set never-ending targets for how you are going to self-improve and working to unrealistic expectations is not good for your mental health or work – it is known as ‘toxic productivity’ and we need to recognise when this creeps into our working lives. Productivity does not look the same as it did before Covid-19, so adjust your goals, your boundaries, and your breaks from work to reflect this challenging period of time.

Let’s now turn our attention to home spaces. Our homes have now become a complex shared space. It’s an office, a gym, a place to relax and for many of us, a classroom. This can make it hard to find a ‘dedicated workspace’ that also encompasses everyone else’s needs in your household. Even for those who are used to working from home, this will be a new challenge as the routine of perhaps working at home alone will have likely changed and you’ll be sharing your ‘work’ space with others. This is going to require negotiation and open conversation about how, where and when we work with a house full of people. Be mindful that everyone’s boundaries have been broken and need to be re-established carefully.

Finally, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is going to take time. We have all been dumped into this situation and working from home is more complicated than just finding a dedicated workspace, so don’t expect to get it right straight away. Try working in a particular space and if it doesn’t work, that’s ok – try somewhere else. Some work activities may work well in some home spaces, and others will need alternative spaces, so don’t feel you need to stick to the same place every day.

So, some thoughts on creating and thinking about our ‘new’ home-working spaces:

Free up different spaces for different tasks

This might mean adapting or re-appropriating your home spaces at different times of the day, for example, currently my dining room is a classroom by day and a family area at the weekends. I often take work calls in the kitchen or the garden so I can keep an eye on my daughter, but my work that needs concentration is done in quieter spaces.

Think about your space creatively

Could you use liminal spaces (these are spaces ‘in-between’, like landings, hallways, stairways) in your house as a make-shift office, a place to take private calls, or as a place to find a few moments of quiet and reflection? I recently wrote a blog for Work Wise UK that explores this very topic and how the liminal spaces of our homes can provide some important and unexpected uses whilst we’re working at home during this crisis.

‘Own’ your space

Wherever you do choose to work from, make sure you make it yours, even if this is just temporary. Research shows that the more you are able to have a sense of ownership over your workspace and create a sense of identity, the more positively it will impact your sense of wellbeing and connection to your work.   

Re-claim your ‘normal’ spaces

If you are having to appropriate a ‘normal’ space (like a kitchen table) into a workspace, try to turn it back to a ‘normal’ space at the end of the day. This might help you to manage the boundaries between work and home, and with your sense of work/life balance.

Visual communication tools and ‘being on show’

For many people, technology has enabled them to make this transition to working from home easier. However, this still comes with its own problems. It has been clear since the majority of UK businesses have adopted remote working, that being ‘visible’ and ‘on show’ in our home spaces has brought many advantages and disadvantages. So, it’s worth reflecting on some of these issues as an individual or as an employer; having your camera on for meetings is a great way to connect socially with your colleagues and the backdrop of your home can be a conversation starter! Lots of people have been commenting on the backgrounds of their colleagues’ homes, the pets that accompany the meetings or even the children that might make a brief appearance.

Having spoken to a lot of people about home working spaces over the past few weeks, there is a real sense that this has made us all more ‘human’. Seeing inside other people’s homes has made them more ‘real’ and people have enjoyed seeing this informal/ private side, rather than the typical traditional/formal interactions we are used to in the office. It is this that has brought people together.

Nonetheless, let’s be conscious of privacy and visibility when using these audio/visual communication tools. Others I have spoken to feel they are inviting people into their home spaces that perhaps they would not choose to. The blurring of the work/home boundary has been emphasised by our current use of technology. So, be respectful of asking colleagues to turn on their videos during meetings – there is a case of being social and connecting, but there is also a case for privacy and managing boundaries so that we keep some of the sanctuary of our homes to ourselves.

Capturing this experience in photographs

Apart from workspaces, my other area of research involves visual research to explore the everyday lives of workers. I use an approach called ‘participant-led photography’ and this includes asking people I work with in my research projects to take photographs based on a brief e.g. ‘what work spaces are important to you and why?’ and then they talk to me about their images.

This method elicits rich stories from participants and gives them the opportunity to talk about what is meaningful to them at work. Over the past 8 weeks or so I have seen so many images being shared on social media that picture what it’s really like to work at home. Social media platforms are a rich source of data at the moment and images captured and posted by workers all over the world depict the complexities, the joys, the difficulties and the juggles of working from home. I think this could be a great opportunity for organisations and employers to do their own visual research:

  • Organisations can collect data about the complexities of employees working remotely. Ask your team to take pictures of what it’s like working at home, where are they, how are they sharing their workspaces, what do they enjoy and what are they finding difficult. This could be a creative way of engaging your team, but also getting feedback. Remote working is here to stay in some form, so the more information and data we have about how people are doing it and how they experience it, the better.
  • During the current crisis, these images could be part of weekly catch ups and individual conversations with your line manager or be part of a performance review session. Or, they could be collectively posted on a virtual team noticeboard and discussed as a group. Either way, it might help people to reflect and share, and for organisations to sense-check how their employees are coping with working from home.
  • Post Covid-19, these images could also help us learn from this experience, as part of our recovery – teams or organisations could hold an exhibition of people’s images that document what working from home looked like for them. We will, at some point, need to come together to reflect and heal from this experience and a good way to do that might be through the eyes of employees and their photographs.

Hosting a hospital – how an NHS Nightingale hospital was created in three weeks at UWE Bristol

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By Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor at UWE Bristol

As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold of the country, universities have radically changed how they operate to best support students and staff, and UWE Bristol is no different. But alongside all of our efforts to ensure that our students’ academic and student experience is able to continue virtually, we have also found ourselves as one of the hosts for an NHS Nightingale Hospital on our Frenchay campus.

Creating a 300-bed hospital in our Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) has been no mean feat, but when we were approached by the NHS, it was a very easy decision for us to offer everything we could to help. Along with many universities, UWE Bristol has a very long history of being embedded in its local community, and if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of community support and collaboration to tackle the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. Universities are uniquely placed to help in the current crisis, so we knew that no matter how complex the creation of this hospital would be, we were ready to get involved.

Although the prospect of having a fully operational intensive care bed hospital on our campus has been daunting at times, the reality of the construction has been remarkably smooth. I have been on the project from the outset with fantastic colleagues at all levels and disciplines playing their part in delivering this facility. Our collective effort has given hope to NHS frontline staff, and the hospital is now ready if needed to treat the sickest patients battling COVID-19.

We were first approached in late March, when a team from land surveyors CBRE, the NHS, plus the Army Logistics team, arrived onto campus to survey the ECC and surrounding area. A project team was established and after that things began to move extremely quickly, with a full project Board established two days later and increasing numbers of Kier, NHS and contractor staff arriving on site.

We collaborated with the NHS and Kier leads from the very beginning, which was essential as there was an ambitious 15 day build plan to deliver 300 fully ventilated beds in one building – one that is usually put to use for everything from student exams to events to weddings, so it has been incredible to witness how it has been turned into such a different facility.

For me, one of the most important aspects of this whole project has been ensuring that we are not simply a geographical location for the hospital but a partner in this endeavour, consistently looking for new ways to support and adapt to having this facility on campus. To that end, we provided a bespoke 2 day training programme for volunteers to be able to work safely in the Nightingale which was designed and delivered for over 350 people over the Easter break, and UWE Bristol Academic and Technical Teams also started to train clinical leads and staff in the Nightingale protocols. We have been providing 1000s of litres of disinfectant and hand gel to the site, GP, practices, pharmacies and even the local businesses such as Rolls Royce and Airbus to keep the economy moving, and now we have begun making face visors in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

For now, the hospital stands ready if required, and the NHS continue to have our full support. Following the official opening of the hospital last week, we are now working very closely with NHS colleagues across the region to determine how the facility might change and adapt as the disease progresses and clinical needs change.

The fact that we are host to such an important part of the UK’s fight against COVID-19 is a source of great pride to our staff and students. While having a hospital spring up in the space of two weeks across from my office is not something I could ever have predicted at the start of the year, everyone here has risen to the challenge with all the energy, willingness to collaborate and community spirit I’ve come to expect from our students and staff. This is us at our best, and demonstrates how we and the higher education sector can play such a vital role in the current pandemic.

This article was first published by Universities UK

Isolation – Film & TV drama might be best coping mechanisms

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By Professor Jane Roscoe, Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education

The world is streaming more than ever before as millions of us are living in lockdown and turning to television, films and gaming to fill our time. But immersing ourselves in TV drama and film is not just about relaxing or being entertained by our favourite shows, turning to Netflix or a drama boxset provides us with the opportunity to explore and evaluate our anxieties over the coronavirus and helps us to deal with the challenges of our new reality.

TV drama is the perfect cultural site in which to explore and work out our anxieties over Covid-19. As we are self-isolating, or consciously limiting the time we spend outside of the home, we are left with our fears and anxieties – could screen drama help us?

Television and film have always been a site in which we tell stories about the world around us. Watching and talking about those stories has given us many opportunities to build our own narratives and rehearse our thoughts and ideas. Many have argued our collective memories of key events such as the holocaust, have been in part, built through the screen representations of those events.

Fearful

Facing a pandemic and fast-changing circumstances has made many of us feel anxious, fearful, uncertain and isolated. These feelings are not new, the screen industry has produced a lifetime’s worth of content that explores, exploits and engages us in these very emotions. Importantly, it has also created a safe space in which we can engage in ways that can help us understand the very things that frighten us.

Not surprisingly, many of us have been watching Contagion (Soderbergh, 2011), Outbreak (Petersen, 1995) and Pandemic (Suits, 2016) alongside all the news and documentary productions exploring Covid-19. Documentaries and news provide us with facts, statistics and commentary on what is happening around us, but dramas give us the opportunity to explore how we feel. We are allowed to be scared and horrified as we watch.

While we may have to ‘keep it together’ for our family and friends in our day to day of lockdown life, these moments, when we deeply engage in the narratives of these films, provides the relief of feeling. We also get to see how it might feel to follow through different scenarios. What happens if I get sick? What happens if……

Screen drama is a safe space because it is a site of the imagination, of make believe, magic and the suspension of disbelief. We talk of ‘losing ourselves in a story’, of the ‘dreamlike qualities of a drama’ and often refer to the pleasures escaping into and through a complex narrative. Drama opens up the freedom for producers, actors, and audiences to go deeply into this space, to make sense of the world with no other obligation that to explore the story. In an era of fake news, drama doesn’t need to pretend to be anything other than it is. We are free to explore the narrative, the characters and the scenarios. Perhaps the relief is that we can watch and feel without any obligation to act.

Reinvents world

Screen drama brings the world to us; places, people, events that we may not have experience of, or sometimes, even want. Drama reinvents the world every day, minute by minute, building screen worlds of fantasy and strangeness, alongside those that are more realistic and familiar. Costume dramas create versions of the past allowing us to imagine what was, and science fiction presents versions of our future and the possibility of imaging what could be. Every day, drama is creating a space to imagine aspects of our lives, and those of others in the world around us. Watching these dramas connects us with characters dealing with some of the fears and worries we are also experiencing. That is both a comfort, and the start of a journey to think about how we might cope with those fears. The beauty of these screen dramas is that we can do this in our own space, and at our own pace.

So as we face this new reality of Covid-19, watching those dramas about pandemics, the apocalypse, the end of the world, is not just about judging whether the dramatists got it right or not, but more about allowing us to feel the fear, and use it to help us understand how to get through it.

This article was first published in The London Economic

Providing essential training for frontline staff working at Nightingale Hospital Bristol

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By Dr Marc Griffiths, PVC and Executive Dean, Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences

Over the last week the Glenside Campus has been set up to receive volunteers who will be working as frontline staff at the Bristol Nightingale hospital when it opens on the 18th April. The development and preparation for frontline staff training has been a collaborative effort between the University and colleagues from the NHS.

This approach further supports our excellent partnership working with NHS organisations across the region and many of our academic and technical staff were working over the Bank Holiday weekend to ensure facilities were ready for training purposes. The clinical simulation spaces at our Glenside Campus are equipped to deliver frontline training to 1,000 volunteers over the coming weeks and our staff have risen to the challenge.

Colleagues from across the local and regional NHS have come together with UWE staff to create a local version of the London Nightingale Hospital staff training programme. Having a campus that is equipped to deliver staff training on the required scale for the Bristol Nightingale site is testament to the investment by the University in clinical skills and simulation training for our health and social care students.

UWE Bristol has over 3,000 health and social care students and annually graduates approximately 1,500 practitioners into the local and regional health and social care system. Our integrated working with NHS partners and state of the art simulation learning facilities create the required environment for the local and regional health and social care workforce pipeline.