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Message to staff from the Vice-Chancellor - 6 November 2020

Dear Colleagues,

This week, in England, we have entered another period of lockdown and this presents challenges for all of us. These changes will of course have practical impacts and will affect how we can spend our time outside of work and how we connect with our friends and loved ones.  And for many, the new lockdown will further highlight concerns about our wellbeing and mental health, as well as that of those around us.

Everybody has struggled at some point since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March this year. For some of us the effects on our wellbeing have been serious and have lasted for weeks or months.  For many, feelings of anxiety, loneliness, tiredness and over-work are sadly not easing.

I want to acknowledge how difficult this term has been. Colleagues have worked incredibly hard in so many ways since the pandemic started.  Many staff have been involved in helping to create and support the best possible COVID-secure teaching, learning and living environment for our students. We have incredible front-line staff who have supported us on our campuses whether within student accommodation, supporting wellbeing, maintaining security, offering advice and information, managing our libraries and study spaces or delivering research and our huge range of professional services.

I have been greatly enjoying my virtual department visits in the last few weeks and have been truly inspired by the innovative new teaching methods staff have adopted as we have moved to a blended delivery model and I have loved hearing about some of the remarkable research projects being undertaken.  They have been uplifting reminders of what a great University this is and how incredible our staff are.

Our community has had to adapt to new ways of working on our campuses. For those working remotely, we have found new ways to work and to make connections with others, getting to grips with new technology as we go.  Some of us have found benefits in these new ways of working, such as leaving the daily commute behind and having flexibility to deal with other life demands. But, for many, back to back online meetings and adapting to new delivery modes is proving to be very tiring and we are missing those spontaneous discussions with our colleagues.

Outside of work, we have had to manage new and changing restrictions on our personal lives, concern about our own health and that of others, and our uncertainty about the future. Usually at this time of year many of us would be looking forward to ending the year with events such as Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. These celebrations may feel very different this year. Still, we must remind ourselves to ‘step off’ at these important times to recharge and take a break. Our Diwali celebrations, organised by our student societies, will be online this year from 10-14 November, including henna workshops, dance workshops, Diwali playlists, cookery demonstrations, children’s activities and even Netflix recommendations. Please join in if you can.

I’ve been proud to see such amazing positivity and adaptability everywhere I have looked, and the creativity coming from colleagues has been inspiring, I have seen virtual coffee and cake meetings, craft fairs and facilitated departmental drop-in sessions to discuss and learn more about mental health and wellbeing.

But we cannot go on at this pace forever. It is reassuring that staff are raising their concerns with me and my senior colleagues directly, and we are committed to trying to address them.  Do remember that it is normal and perfectly acceptable to not feel okay all of the time; you won’t be the only one. It is also okay to ask for help from your line manager to try and manage workload or to reach out for wellbeing support.

We have tried to find some additional time for colleagues through additional closure days on 23 and 24 December and the email ‘lite’ week that many of us benefitted from last week. We are also establishing a new Wellbeing and Mental Health Board and will be sharing a staff survey later this month so we can hear from you about your experiences, the changes we have made during the COVID-19 crisis, and the support you need, so we can implement some positive changes.

If you are struggling or just needing to talk, then there are people who can help and resources that can help you manage.  You can find and access a wide range of information, tools and support at www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/wellbeing. The ‘self-care and staying well’ section has expert tips and resources to help you take care of your physical and mental health. There are also links to mental health and wellbeing support networks and tips and advice to help you with working from home, managing caring responsibilities and supporting others. The mental health support and treatment page has a full list of resources that are available for each common mental health and wellbeing concern, including stress, anxiety, depression, work-related problems, grief and worries caused by COVID-19. If you are unsure where to start, you can email occupationalhealth@exeter.ac.uk for confidential advice on choosing the right support for you.

Finally, I have been very heartened by the incredible commitment, support and kindness I’ve witnessed right across our community since I joined the University. The way you have all looked after your colleagues and our students has been wonderful to see. I know I have said this before but thank you for all that you are doing, I promise it is hugely recognised and appreciated. Even though lockdown is hard and we may feel like we are on a treadmill, please try and think how you can press the off switch now and then, and do let us know how else we can support you at this time.

Take care,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive