Supporting student welfare during COVID-19

As the majority of the UK stays at home to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), many students have had to remain in their halls of residence. At The University of Manchester, the Residences Catering teams adapted their services to protect these students during changing lockdown rules.

“The team really care about our students,” says Emma Stansfield, Head of Residences Catering, the team responsible for providing catering for students living and studying on campus. “There are a few colleagues who are like parent figures; they know who’s there for breakfast or dinner, and notice if someone isn’t looking quite right.”

Such is the commitment to the welfare of their students, Emma’s team have shown resilience and adaptation in the face of daily-changing and ever-challenging circumstances.

“It’s like a war effort. I have such a great team, they just dig in, and I am so proud of them,” says Emma.

An appetite for adaptation

The first big impact on the team occurred when the government asked people to stay away from pubs, forcing student bars to close. “The students love them [bars on campus] – we look after them better than external venues,” explains Emma. “The bar staff are mainly students and the University has honoured payments for the shifts they were on rota for.”

As further measures were brought in, the dining room staff shifted their working practices to allow them to keep feeding the students with the freshest food possible and rolled with every short-notice decision with good humour.

“We had 240 students to feed at two sites, Fallowfield and Victoria Park,” says Emma. “At first, we could offer food in the dining room, a takeaway service or a packed meal. In order to keep a safe distance from one another, we had students coming in via one door and leaving out of another. Our staff also worked at a safe distance.”

“That was an important hurdle to cross: keeping our students, staff, and the families our staff go home to, safe,” Emma shares. “Then when the dining room closed, we offered students a takeaway meal or packed meal.”

As the closure of all but essential services loomed, the team prepared and distributed breakfasts and dinners for each student to help them get through the following week.

Emma pushed a trolley around halls offering food to students for their journey home on the day before the closure of most of the campus: “I can’t have them go hungry. If that was my daughter in another country, I would be so worried."

Preparing for the future

The next step will be planning how to cater for students when the summer semester starts.

“Coping with change is something we are really, really good at,” Emma says with pride. “We’ve been studied by Aliiance Manchester Business School researchers, who have been amazed at how we cope with change all the time. It’s part of our job."

“We definitely have a can do spirit – there’s nothing that defeats us.”