August 12, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth
I’m so proud to be part of the outstanding technical team leading us back to campus
Technical manager Joanne Green on the work behind the scenes to ensure Chemistry was among the first buildings to re-open
I lead a team of technicians working within four teaching laboratories. The School of Chemistry recruits a high number of undergraduates and our teaching laboratories are usually running at full capacity, which means my team are working constantly to ensure the technical operation of the laboratories runs smoothly.
When the University closed due to COVID-19 my team were furloughed as all laboratory teaching had stopped. I joined my team on furlough shortly afterwards.
During the early stages of closure, the School of Chemistry created a technical team nicknamed ‘The Skeleton Crew’ who continued to work in the department to ensure all critical pieces of equipment were maintained and that we were still able to receive deliveries of outstanding items.
During the weeks of lockdown, David and Martin worked tirelessly, walking around every room in the building measuring and designing complex one-way systems to ensure social distancing guidelines could be followed whilst considering all of the usual activities that would be carried out and deciding safe occupancy levels for every room.
Mark Guyler (Technical Specialist in Inorganic Research) and Jim Fyfe (Head of Stores) were paramount in the plan for reopening and were willing to do whatever it took to get the building prepared for the return of our researchers. I’m sure they were seeing arrows and one-way signs in their sleep as they spent days testing the new one-way system and applying endless arrows and safety signage around the building.
I was taken off furlough in early June. My first role was to re-purpose our large STEM multi-disciplinary teaching lab as a waiting area for researchers who wouldn’t be able to use their smaller offices on return due to social distancing.
The willingness of the technical staff to do whatever it took
to towards the shared goal of reopening was outstanding
and I’m very proud to be a part of it all
The next job was to adapt some of our larger meeting rooms into socially distanced refreshment areas which involved more signage and temporary removal of furniture.
We took more technical staff off furlough and created two larger teams headed by Mark Guyler, Martin Dellar, and Tom Clayton who would work in ‘bubbles’ on opposite shifts during the phased reopening period.
During week 1 of opening, I moved away from my usual role and spent my first few shifts working in the main Chemistry reception and helping the new researchers get used to the new layout and answer any queries. Members of my teaching team were also there to greet the returning researchers and explain the new protocols.
Jim Fyfe started a stores delivery service to minimise multiple footfall within the building and Mark Guyler and Neil Barnes (Vacuum Technical Specialist) provided specialist technical support to researchers who found some of their laboratory equipment hadn’t responded well to being shut down for three months.
Our Chemistry workshop and analytical services teams also worked in ‘bubbles’ from week 1 to ensure they could provide their services safely. Both bubbles set up ‘drop and go’ areas to safely leave items for the workshop or samples for Analytical Services to process. This maintained the safety of the teams by eliminating the need for researchers to come into direct contact with them.
The hardest thing for people to get used to from a practical perspective has been the additional walking they have had to do to get around the building. However, most are seeing this as a welcome change after spending months in lockdown and not getting as much exercise.
Without our technical team in Chemistry we would not have been one of the first buildings to successfully open. The willingness of the technical staff to do whatever it took to towards the shared goal of reopening was outstanding and I’m very proud to be a part of it all.
Please note: all staff must await notification from their line manager before returning to campus, so this process can be managed safely
Find out more about the University’s recovery planning