Across the UK there are 130 Universities with two million students.
Chances are, if you have a University in your area you’ll be coming face-to-face with locking down a hall of residence or a block of flats.
In Manchester, two Metropolitan University blocks with 1,700 have been locked-down for two weeks after more than 100 positive tests.
Alun Ireland, Manchester City Council head of comms, in a Zoom chat on the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group ran through the early learning. In Manchester, the episode drew national attention.
Shots of angry students unable to leave their flats dominated coverage.
So what do you need to know?
As Alun is one of the good guys he’s keen to share what he learned.
Alun’s halls lockdown check list
Build relationships with partners in peacetime. If you’re local government this means building bridges with the University ahead of time. It helps makes things go more smoothly.
Expect little notice. The Manchester lockdown came in with only a few hours notice. There will be little time to act so prepare well ahead for the eventuality.
Expect enforcing the lockdown to be difficult. Much of this is appealing to people’s better nature. There’s every chance the police will be telling people they won’t enforce the restrictions as it puts them in a difficult position too – so try to agree your lines in advance.
Be clear on the decision making. Be clear whose decision the lockdown was and the reasons for it. You will get asked.
You will get targeted by no-win no-fee solicitors. Within 12-hours of the decision being made students were being targeted by solicitors eager to try and win compensation.
Support the students: with food. If there is a supermarket around the corner that students usually use, talk to their head office to arrange a block booking of delivery slots. If you’re offering to help with food deliveries you need to have this help ready immediately.
Support the students: financially. If there is a package to offer to students be clear on what it is immediately.
Support the students: testing. The lockdown hinges on the eventual testing numbers. You need to work with Public Health England to block book a batch of tests and prepare how to get the results back to people.
Students who have part-time jobs will worry about working. If they stack shelves during term-time they’ll be worried about their job. The good news is that providing a headed letter confirming their status will help protect their jobs and their pay.. They’ll need to know this and where they can get the letter from.
Students’ mental health will be a genuine concern. Many will be away from home for the first time worrying about University life, bills, making friends and their course. This adds a huge extra layer. Work out ahead how you will prepare for this. The support offer will be needed immediately, out of usual hours, and for the duration
Leaflet the neighbours and businesses. Explain that some students have been asked to take part in a local lockdown and explain why. Also explain that people will still see students on the streets and in the shops. They may not be affected.
Yes, there will be protest signs in the windows. No you won’t like them all. No, there’s not much you can do about them.
And then there are elite athletes. If you have an elite athlete they have a special arrangement that allows them to go about their business unhindered. Be aware of this.
Thanks to Alun Ireland for sparing the time to take part in the session.
Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica.