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Facilities Directorate Staff Bulletin – April 2020/by Matt Hamnett
After significant change as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, I wanted to thank staff across the Facilities Directorate (FD) for the positive response you have all given to the unprecedented challenges we have faced. In particular, your dedication to maintaining essential operations across campus and your commitment to supporting the well-being of our students. Many of you are adapting to working from home, balancing the demands of care responsibilities, looking out for neighbours, volunteering to support the NHS and doing the right thing in line with government advice. We also have a core of essential workers who remain on campus who are enabling the University to care for the students who remain in Halls and offer support to our partners in the NHS. This commitment is greatly appreciated and further details of the work happening across the FD can be read in the sections below.
Everyone has really stepped up to the challenge and this current crisis has demonstrated the dedication and professionalism at the heart of the services that make up the Facilities Directorate. There is no doubt that further hard work lies ahead before we can return to some degree of normality, but the efforts delivered so far show that there is a great deal to be confident about around the ability to plan and implement the necessary operations to overcome these challenges.
The estate shutdown has had to be enacted with little time for planning, but because of the diverse range of specialists within the various teams, it has happened in a reassuringly orderly fashion. However, even now colleagues are engaged with planning for re-occupation of the campus and wider facilities to ensure the University can be back to full operation as soon as practicably possible as restrictions begin to be lifted.
Thank you again for your tremendous efforts and I hope you continue to remain safe and well.
Director of Campus Development, Facilities Directorate
Shutting down the estate, maintaining essential services
The current crisis has placed huge and unusual demands upon the Estates and Facilities service in planning and safely implementing an unprecedented shutdown of University activities, the like of which has never been seen before.
Colleagues across Estates Operations have been busy, particularly with preparing for the closure of most buildings. They have been supporting services with staff who still need to access the campus, maintaining statutory compliance to protect buildings and remaining occupants, and also planning for the eventual re-opening of services, which in itself will be a huge undertaking. Grounds and Gardens and Handy gang staff have also been helping move, offload and store essential items, including hospital beds, in support of the Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust.
The Water Hygiene team, ably assisted by volunteers from across the Maintenance team, have been working daily throughout the estate to ensure water services remain safe and secure. Similarly, the Fire Alarm team is working in the majority of buildings to maintain life safety systems protecting them against the risk of fire whilst unoccupied. The Asbestos team and Health and Safety team have also been coming on to campus for business-critical work only.
The Generating Station Complex (GSC) remains a key service provider to the University and the Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust. The present crisis means that the operation of this facility is more critical than ever. Consequently, key members of the Operations team have been tasked with focusing exclusively on planning (with the contractor Engie) the continued safe operation of all services from the GSC with an emphasis on serving the hospital as the critical partner.
The lockdown does present a unique opportunity for us to better understand how energy is used across campus. The Engineering team have been working to carry out the planned shutdown of non-essential facilities to reduce the University’s energy demand to a minimum. This will help reduce wastage and running costs and help inform any future works required to address the University’s net-zero carbon challenge.
Our campus development projects have also been placed on hold. For the immediate future, we have stopped work on most of our campus developments, refurbishment and improvement projects, except for projects where the contractor feels they can safely continue whilst closely following the Public Health England recommendations. These projects include the Sir William Henry Bragg Building and The Esther Simpson Building. The teams are currently assessing the impact of delaying projects and continuing to develop ways to be in a position to tender schemes once there is more clarity about future activity on campus.
Keeping campus safe
As one of the essential services that remain working on campus during the shutdown, the Security Services have been ensuring that campus buildings and facilities remain safe and secure. Security have stepped up high visibility patrols of campus to act as a deterrent to crime and the team are managing access to buildings across campus to ensure that they are available to essential workers.
Security have also taken steps to ensure that staff and students still on campus can access face-to-face advice and support whilst still adhering to social distancing guidelines. A new 24/7 WhatsApp video call service has been set up on 07876 866747, for anyone who needs to speak directly to a security officer. If support is needed in person then the Security Office remains open as an essential service during the shutdown.
Jo Hynes, Deputy Director of Estates & Facilities Services, said: “The Security team are truly a leading example of our values. They are going above and beyond to ensure the safety of the campus and be a first point of contact for all enquiries. They’re supporting students who are still living in residences and are managing essential contractor access. All of this whilst having to work differently themselves and maintain good practice in terms of social distancing and their own safety. Thank you to all the officers and staff!
“A special thanks as well from the whole security team to Catering Services and Bev Kenny. They have very kindly provided meals throughout this period, making the officers feel appreciated. In the current circumstances gestures like this help a lot!”
Caring for students living on campus, catering and managing deliveries
The Great Food at Leeds (GFAL) team has been working hard in providing food and drink to students in accommodation and essential workers on campus.
During the last week of term, when outlets were closed, front-line teams did a tremendous job of keeping vital operations going including providing takeaway meals to students at The Refectory. As well as this, our staff worked with LUU and the Co-op to ensure that all surplus and perishable food was donated to students and local charities across the Leeds and Bradford areas.
GFAL teams continue to work hard to support the University and the NHS, with now over 30 members assisting in other areas such as Residential Services and more taking up operational positions at Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust.
The coronavirus situation has presented several challenges for Residential Services. With the closure of most campus facilities and the end of in-person teaching, many students decided to head home rather than remain in their accommodation. This led to huge numbers of students contacting the Accommodation Office with questions on everything from their rent payments to key collection and what they should do with belongings left in their rooms. The Accommodation Office team have worked incredibly hard to assist students with all such enquiries and continue to do so.
Considering this extraordinary situation, the decision was taken to allow large numbers of students to withdraw from their accommodation contracts early on 27 March. Notwithstanding that, between 1,560 and 2,600 students are still living in University residences, and Residential Services staff are looking after them. Those in self-isolation, and some with disabilities, have been provided with advice and guidance for how best to look after themselves during this time, and where necessary, food and supplies have been delivered to their flats by Residential and GFAL Catering Services staff.
One consequence of so many students vacating their rooms early has been that Residential Services have been able to offer empty rooms to staff working at Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust. This is a great example of the FD being able to provide resources to support our local hospital.
Post and deliveries have kept arriving and with most areas of the University closed those items could just have piled up. Team members in the Print and Copy Bureau/Post Room have had to cope with those pressures and continue to maintain a service. They have been taking in post and larger deliveries, storing many items or issuing those that are essential. As well, they have had to open, scan and transmit urgent and important mail for remote workers e.g. for the Finance Team.
With conferencing events due to take place now being postponed or cancelled and future events looking for a supportive ear, the MEETinLEEDS team are giving reassurance to all our customers, whilst planning for what the business might need to look like in the coming months, including the launch of the new Cloth Hall Court facility.
Ian Robertson Director of Residential & Catering Services said, “Teams in the Residential, Catering Services and the Print and Copy Bureau/Post Room, have alongside their colleagues and many of our contractors, continued working to provide services that are essential to the customers we serve and they’ve done a great job.”
Managing health and safety
Colleagues from Health and Safety Services have also been supporting work across the FD from managing contractor access and induction at the beginning of the shutdown to developing and managing risk assessments for the essential activities that teams are performing. They have also developed proactive guidance on health-related issues and how best to accommodate the demands of working remotely.
Helpdesk, Office Support and Car Parking
To prepare for the relocation of FD staff from campus to working from home, the Office Support team have worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to ensure that we have had sufficient IT hardware and access to software. The team are continuing to support with day-to-day activities of the FD, which includes ensuring staff are kept up to date during these fast-moving events, logging urgent work orders onto SAP and maintaining records of completion dates which are critical to ensuring that the physical infrastructure of the University is maintained during this shutdown.
To help support NHS staff working at Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust, the FD has offered free use of the parking facilities on campus. This will enable more NHS staff to travel to the hospital via car and avoid the risks of travelling on public transport during the current lockdown. The car parks are also now free to use for any University staff who are still coming onto campus as essential workers during the shutdown.
Keeping campus clean
Cleaning Services continue to have a cohort of staff who are providing essential support to activities that are still taking place on campus. This includes areas such as the Dental Hospital and Worsley Building, laboratories being used to support the NHS’s efforts to combat coronavirus and buildings where other essential staff are working. The team continue to manage the clinical waste process on campus, as well as ensuring external areas of campus are kept clean and tidy.
In the coming weeks, the team will be working on a plan to remobilise the campus for when the current isolation rules are lifted. These plans will include a standard deep clean to ensure that all University students and staff have the best experience when they arrive back on campus.
Impact on Central Teaching Space
The team are constantly in touch and are busy working from home. As the University determines how teaching will be delivered in the first semester of the new academic year the team will be assessing the impact on central teaching space facilities and the potential increased demand for lecture capture and live streaming facilities.
Planned refurbishments of teaching spaces have been paused and using data from the Condition Audit and from Timetabling, consideration will be given to maximise the best use of space.
Innovating communications, developing our digital channels
The FD Marketing, Sales and Communications team have continued to provide invaluable support and advice across the FD over the last few weeks. In the quickly changing environment, the team have been busy supporting all FD services and the University Central Communications team to ensure the various complex communication messages are delivered quickly and effectively to all students, staff and other stakeholders. Where needed, they have created new methods of communicating such as the new FD staff text messaging service.
Whilst continuing to support the ongoing communications needs, the team will also be focusing on essential sales and marketing project work and planning activity that can be delivered in-house to ensure the FD can maintain income generation once operations resume on campus. We will also be developing all our FD websites to ensure compliance in line with new regulations.
Your home, your move – keeping the University community active
Following a well-coordinated shutdown across all Sport & Physical Activity facilities, the team have continued to be on hand for customers by handling enquiries and questions about the closure and many colleagues continue to work from home across the service.
Essential workers are performing regular on-site checks and upkeep to ensure the swimming pool at The Edge is maintained efficiently and the wider team are working hard to help keep our community active and healthy at home, including launching a new digital workout hub, Your Home, Your Move and a virtual running club.
The service continues their teaching of LEED modules to students and coaching and performance services to athletes online, plus promoting volunteering opportunities for students during the crisis. Work on many projects continues and planning for the future is a key priority for the team along with managing key stakeholders and external funding partners effectively to maintain relationships and excellent service for customers in the future.
Supporting the University and our wider community
The Sustainability team have truly come together to support the wider University in the past few weeks, with team members stopping their usual roles to support the University’s central critical incident team and pandemic planning group. Team members have worked within Residences, calling students who are self-isolating and helping them where needed and this has required the rest of the team to be flexible in sharing workloads and priorities.
The team continues to offer support to the community through the Leeds Residences Helpline which is also now being used to allow members of the public to report if they are concerned about the wellbeing of any students still living in Leeds.
Although the Bike Hub has had to close, the team, together with Security, set up new processes to allow customers to still return their bikes or extend their hire. Alongside this, they are answering any bike maintenance queries online to continue the help service and keep people active.
Some projects and activities have been postponed but the team are finding new ways of using technology, for example, a digital celebration for the annual Sustainability Awards.
Alongside all this, the team are helping to support our communities citywide by working with partners to coordinate volunteering activities.
Director of Sustainability Louise Ellis said, “Our commitment to Sustainability as a University continues at times like these and it is more important than ever to work together to support each other and to find sustainable solutions we can put in place moving forward.”
Ensuring we can stay connected, developing new processes
The Programme Management office has been supporting all FD colleagues by providing training on how to use cloud-based systems such as TEAMS and transferring their information so they can work from home. As a result of being offsite, some teams will be unable to undertake their normal activities, and this provides a rare opportunity for people to step back and consider how their team processes work and what could be improved. The team are available to help colleagues develop improvements to their ways of working.
Managing FD finances, establishing new spending approvals processes
The FD Finance team have continued to provide financial support and advice across the FD over the last few weeks. The team have been working to achieve their scheduled deadlines which, at this time, include Month End and IPE submissions. In addition, they have been providing additional ad-hoc financial support to Heads of Service during the current unprecedented circumstances.
Whilst the team will continue to support the FD in the provision of ‘business as usual’ financial information they will also be supporting the FD management team in enforcing the new approvals processes for incurring expenditure, the provision of additional financial information to support decision making and supporting the University to ensure continued financial sustainability.
Our staff, mobilising resources
The HR team have been busy ensuring that staff salary payments are made and letters to the identified essential workers are distributed.
The HR team have also been looking at ways to mobilise resources within the FD and identify critical/key tasks across the FD, and with partner organisations, and how FD staff can help support these. More information about this will be coming out shortly.
Updates on the University response to Coronavirus can be found at coronavirus.leeds.ac.uk and on the FD website news section at facilitiesdirectorate.leeds.ac.uk/news/.
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