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What we've been up to during lockdown

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As lockdown starts to ease, the shops begin to open, and we slowly start to widen our social circles, we’ve decided to take a look back at what our university community has been up to during lockdown. The past few months have been tough; with ‘normal service’ at a standstill across the world we have all been required to adapt to a new way of living, from small changes such as wearing facemasks in public, to bigger challenges, like being parted from our loved ones. 

University-life in lockdown

In terms of how lockdown has affected us here at Sunderland, the majority of our usual on-campus activity has moved online, with staff and students working from home, communicating through Microsoft Teams and our VLE, Canvas.

Academic teaching staff have had to rethink lesson plans and how best they can support their students from home, while students have had to get used to studying at home, away from their classmates, potentially in a space they don’t always feel motivated to work in. Despite the challenges, both groups have managed to find ways of making ‘the new normal’ work for them and should be congratulated for the effort they have put in to keep the student experience as vibrant and engaging as possible.

Moving onto our services and support staff, while most people have made the transition to working from home, we have our own key workers to thank, such as Estates and Facilities staff who have kept our campus clean and safe, ready for our eventual return.

And let’s not forget some of us have been home schooling, moving house, dealing with temperamental Wi-Fi and possibly even experiencing the coronavirus, while coping with university-life in lockdown.

Lockdown tales

As well as trying to keep ‘business as usual’ as much as possible, we’ve also seen some brilliant, creative innovation come out of our time in lockdown. 

‘As Long As I Have Music’

Back in May 2020, a group of our Performing Arts students worked with internationally renowned Mezzo Soprano Valerie Reid and music director Andrew Clarence on a new arrangement of the song ‘As Long As I Have Music’, written by Don Besig and Nancy Price. The uplifting performance was rehearsed and recorded virtually and then mixed by the University’s own award-winning producer Ed Westman.

The song was chosen because of its harmonies and uplifting message, which was especially poignant during lockdown. The video of the performance has even received an endorsement from Don Besig and Nancy Price who commented: “Our thanks to you for this sensitive recording. We hope its message of inspiration and hope will touch many hearts during this challenging time. Blessings and peace to you all.”

Sunderland Creatives

Each year students, graduates and staff from the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries produce work for the annual summer degree shows, which are an excellent way of showcasing our art and design community’s creativity and talent. This year’s shows were originally planned to take place in Sunderland Museum, National Glass Centre and on campus at Priestman Building, but of course as lockdown set in it became clear this wouldn’t be possible. As a result, the decision was made to move the shows online and share the work there instead.

The community have been praised by Professor Kevin Petrie, Head of the School of Art and Design for how quickly they have adapted to working online: “I think this has really highlighted some of the positive attributes creative students develop on their degrees. I’m thinking about: creativity and imaginative; resilience; the ability to communicate in a range of formats and importantly the ability to work with ambiguity, uncertainty and unfamiliarity. These will be great qualities for our graduates’ careers.

"I’d like to congratulate our students, and staff, who have quickly been able to adapt to the new situation and still find powerful ways to communicate their ideas. When you get to look through the site I hope you’ll agree that there’s a really diverse and exciting range of work to be seen."

You can view the work on the Sunderland Creatives website.

The image is of student artwork. Three sculptures are made out of beeswax, with bees crawling over them.

Isolation diaries

While we’ve been apart, we’ve been keeping up to date with some members of our university community through isolation diaries. Sharing their stories of how they have found their time in lockdown, our diarists have provided us with a snapshot in time of how different everyone’s lockdown experience has been.

Take Tanika Williams for example; alongside her studies as a BA (Hons) Events Management student, she works as a cook at burger restaurant, Number 2 Church Lane. She shared with us her experiences of continuing to work at the restaurant during lockdown, providing a contact-free delivery service, while juggling her assignments: “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 lecturers online and over Facebook is a massive help through the struggle. They are all 100% understanding.

“The hardest part of isolation is definitely not being able to see family for a cuppa, or even 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.”

We’ve also heard from Sports Journalism student Joel Manning, who moved to Sunderland from Saint Michael, Barbados last year and who decided in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to head back home to be with his family. He also remains positive and says, “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.”

University staff have also shared their experiences, from the challenges of home schooling, to the ways their working lives have recently changed. Pro Vice-Chancellor of External Relations, Graeme Thompson, did exactly this and described how he has found himself having more online meetings and interactions than he expected, and how some have turned into comical moments as people forget they are on camera or fail to mute their mic when chatting to a family member!

The isolation diaries have provided us with the human interaction we’re missing while we’re apart and we’re grateful to those who have shared their stories with us.

Along with the rest of the world, we still don’t know what the futures holds, but if the optimism and determination of our staff and students over the past few months is anything to go by, we’re in for a good time at the University of Sunderland.

Published: 2 July 2020