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Isolation Diaries: Students and staff on changing the way we work and study

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Published on 08 April 2020

The Isolation Diaries
The Isolation Diaries

Tanika Williams is a second year Events Management student at the University of Sunderland.

In her Isolation Diary we find out how, in between studying, the 21-year-old is keeping Sunderland eating

Tanika and her sister Tia are all isolating together. The pair lost their mum and dad recently, so staying together has been important for both of them.


“In between studying, I work as a cook at the city’s Number 2 Church Lane restaurant.

Number 2 Church is now operating as a contact free delivery service. I don’t think I am classed at a key worker but we do seem to be doing very well as a takeaway.

Work at the moment is a struggle as I am the only chef as everyone else is self-isolating. It’s a lot of stress, but Rebecca, my partner, has come to help where she can.

It’s still a teething period and we are still trying to work out a good system and changing from running a restaurant to a takeaway that delivers is actually very different.

Continuing to study currently is easy - lectures don’t seem to be as long on video.

I’m still finding the time to watch the online lectures, but it is a struggle to juggle both work and assignments. I am working more than I would have been, and still attending university full time.

But the support from lectures online and over Facebook is a massive help through the struggle. They are all 100% understanding.

When not working or studying or walking her dog, Tanika keeps in touch with her friends and fellow student using FaceTime or video call on messenger, but admits she still struggles with isolation.

The hardest part of isolation is definitely not being able to see family for a cuppa, oreven just visiting friends for a games night or essay nights. I also miss going out to the pub.

But I am keeping occupied and staying positive. This isn’t going to last forever, and once it’s all over we will all appreciate the better things in life a whole lot more.

Keep smiling and checking up on your family and friends. In times like this we all need to come together as one, and look after yourself and everyone else. Stay safe and be happy.”


Last summer Joel Manning left his family home in Saint Michael, Barbados, and arrived at the University of Sunderland.

The 27-year-old took up an MA in Sports Journalism in the hope of achieving his dream of becoming a TV sports presenter.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, Joel returned to Barbados and his family. Here he tells us about his life back home.


With absolute certainty I can say that COVID-19 has affected us all, as a University, as students, and as people.  

 Whilst we may have seen it slowly coming from afar, nothing truly prepared us for the significant impact that it would have on our lives now and for a long time to come.  

 Thankfully to date I’ve been able to stay fully healthy but the same cannot be said for hundreds of thousands across the world and my heart truly goes out to those who have suffered, are suffering and those who are risking daily on the frontline to help us in these times.  

When it all started, I was still living in the University student accommodation. I recall my original thoughts being, maybe things won’t get so bad and I would stay in the UK and make the most of what at the time appeared to be a “temporary inconvenience.”  

As the days went by however and the “temporary inconvenience” escalated into a global pandemic, I started to go back and forth in my mind about the possibility of going home.  

High flight prices at the time made it an easy decision for me, it simply was not in my budget to return to Barbados and I was pretty sure I could handle not being home as long as I knew my family were safe. 

Then came every headline and their predictions and I had to decide that should something happen to me, it would be better for it to happen back home with my family. 

It was then I packed up my life in the space of two days and hopped on what was the last available flight to Barbados before airlines shut off. 

The situation here in terms of numbers is certainly no comparison to those in the UK but at the same time we are a very small island so there is still understandably a significant measure of concern about the virus’ presence here.

What I can say though is that our Government has been proactive in its implementation of various measures and the population has been co-operating and coping as best it can in these times. 

For my fellow students who were unable to return home, I know that we will all get through it, healthy and ready to take on the new challenges of this uncertain world.” 

Graeme Thompson is Pro Vice-Chancellor External Relations at the University of Sunderland and a former Head of News and Managing Director at Tyne Tees Television.

Here he describes how his working life has changed in the past few weeks.


Settling down at my work station in the dining room, I’m getting very used to the virtual world.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been in virtual catch-ups with colleagues via Teams in the morning and joining external meetings on Skype or Zoom in the afternoon. And then chatting to friends and family on WhatsApp or Facetime during the evening.

I’m constantly in awe of the invention and fortitude of colleagues across the University. Not just in the way they’ve risen to the challenge of supporting the fight against the virus (for example through loaning our ambulance and testing equipment to the NHS) but also in their ingenuity in supporting students, applicants and staff.

My team across External Relations has been working with colleagues from home and international recruitment on creating and delivering a series of online Open Days and Applicant events. Vital for the future of the institution that we continue to engage with those who see Higher Education as a light at the end of this current tunnel.

Also hungry for news about their University are our thousands of alumni across the globe. Our alumni and development team are working hard to keep everyone updated. Sadly that process includes letting us know when alumni have fallen victim to the virus. As was the case last week when one of our most distinguished graduates the HIV researcher Professor Gita Ramjee died after contracting the virus on a visit to London.

I’m so impressed with the way my teams are coping with the lockdown – particularly those who are juggling work around looking after and home schooling young children. I suspect when we emerge from this pandemic, the way we work will look very different.

We’re discovering that online engagement – whether in communications, support or curriculum delivery – can in many instances be more effective than physical meetings and appointments.

Looking at my diary, I seem to be having more online meetings and interactions in an average day than I might have expected. Lots of internal interactions but also external meetings with organisations including the Customs House, the Royal Television Society, The Creative Industries Federation and Arts Council England.

The world of Teams, Zoom, Skype and Webex feels completely natural – particularly when I remember to unmute my mic. I definitely think there is a sitcom waiting to be written about how people use these online sessions.

So far I’ve seen interruptions from children or housemates, participants forgetting they’re on video, accidently sharing what they’re looking at onscreen, failing to switch off their mic when having private conversations with their partner…the comic possibilities are endless.

My home routine is interrupted by the occasional delivery. We get very excited when the fruit and veg box arrives. And there’s a real sense of occasion when the Morrison’s van pulls up once a fortnight. The chef at our village pub is also providing freshly baked bread so we feel fairly self-sufficient in supplies.

Back to my laptop and I’m especially enjoying the sessions Lord Puttnam has been having with the University’s six Puttnam Scholars. The Oscar winning film producer conducts the two hour calls from his studio in Ireland and we’re able to chat and interact with him as though we’re all in the same room.

He plays lots of clips from films to illustrate his ideas. We’ve looked at segments from Pixar’s Up and Wall-E, For Sama, Cinema Paradiso, The Diary of Anne Frank and so many other examples where the human spirit triumphs over adversity.

This week he’s been talking about how self-isolation can produce intense creativity. Normally the scholars work together to make a documentary executive produced by David Puttnam. But this year, because they are all at home, we’ve challenged them to produce individual ten minute features about their isolation.”