Colleges exist to enrich and serve their community, leaving no-one behind especially in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Nikos Savvas

Over the weekend, many of us will have started week three of ‘self-isolation and social distancing’. A pandemic is something none of us has experienced before and we are all trying to fumble our way through this extraordinary situation. We have all seen and experienced both acts of utter selflessness as well as acts of behaviour that driven by fear and ignorance resulted in empty shelves in our supermarkets. 

As a kid I heard the quote ‘the measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members’, and it stuck with me. Self-isolation and social distancing is not only a story of self-preservation but also a story of empathy and care for some of the most vulnerable in our society. The stories of kindness and humanity are overtaking the stories of selfishness and ignorance and fear.

We are also finding new and innovative ways of overcoming our problems. Thanks to our collective human spirit and our thirst for community, human connection and care and love we are using different methods to socially connect and support one-another. To consciously act in ways that lessen the pain of loneliness and isolation to the betterment of both our inner circle of friends and family as well as to our wider community of neighbours. Last Sunday I had dinner with my self-isolating elderly parents via phone, and on Tuesday morning we had a coffee break with all our colleagues at the college online.

Almost universally we are uttering the phrase ‘Hi, I just called to check in on you. How are you?” or “How can I help – can I do anything for you?”. We are finding ways to bridge the gap of social distancing and are forming new, dynamic micro-communities with an energy and generosity that is quite extraordinary.

As a college, we exist purely to enrich and serve our community, leaving no-one behind. I have been exceptionally proud of the work our staff and students have volunteered to do in order to support our community. Hundreds have volunteered to join the NHS community workforce. Several have started support groups in their communities. 

Students have volunteered at care homes and, whilst there, helped relatives set up digital communication systems to allow them to stay connected to their nearest and dearest. They have made fresh bread and other food essentials to deliver to vulnerable people in the community.

As a college, we have developed extensive resources and activities which parents can access online to support children who are being home schooled and we have donated masks, cleaning supplies and protective gear to NHS front line staff. We have also offered up the college as facility for the NHS to use should they need to; and we hosted teams from the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust to give them a safe space to deliver essential training to staff.

In a matter of days, we rebuilt our entire college operations online. Creating virtual classrooms, course study groups, webinars, vlogs, audio lectures and a system of support meetings to ensure students have continuity of education and wrap-around support. The college’s animal studies department live-streamed to over 1,200 people from across the globe; giving ‘self-isolating’ people the opportunity to connect, tour the centre, meet the animals and learn about their care and post questions.

I have been astounded by how quickly teachers have turned to online and social platforms to create really exceptional distance delivery; and education leaders across the country are united believing this period of ‘self-isolation and social distancing’ will have a transformative effect on the way we approach and offer education in the future.

We are in uncertain times, but I am also so proud to see our community, and the college as a pillar of the community, uniting together in the face of this pandemic and creating an ever-stronger, supportive community which leaves no-one behind.