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Academic success

For the facilities team at Manchester Met University’s busy student accommodation sites, COVID-19 caused severe disruption without the assistance of their usual subcontractors. Cain Smith reports on how they fared during a busy and remarkable time

For all the academic institutions in this country, the Prime Minister’s COVID-19 lockdown announcement on 23rd March posed numerous problems. According to the Strategic FM Group of the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE)(i) the COVID-19 crisis has forced FMs to find new approaches to operating buildings and services that will continue to evolve post lockdown, resulting in an environment which may be fundamentally different to what came before. It is certain that FM will play a pivotal role in helping to ensure universities bring their campuses back into operation, but there have also been more immediate challenges. On many campuses the FM team has been expected to continue to provide safe accommodation for those students unable to return home during the lockdown while also carrying out essential maintenance to ensure buildings were kept fully operational.

This was certainly the case with Manchester Metropolitan University’s All Saints and Birley Student Living campus(ii). Manchester Metropolitan University(iii) is located in the heart of the city of Manchester with the aim being to enable its students, colleagues and stakeholders make a positive impact on society. To achieve this it works closely with the city, businesses, the community and academic peers – locally, nationally and internationally – to be creative and generate great opportunities.

Following the lockdown, with academic buildings swiftly closed and teaching switched to virtual provision, the Estates, Facilities, and Capital Development (EFCD) division faced a three-pronged quandary:

  • How to react proportionately to the threat of COVID-19 in a densely populated property and put effective logistics in place to mobilise the strategy.
  • Upon the campus’ vacation; how to clean and facilitate PPM and reactive maintenance across 2,000 bedrooms and 190 communal areas, with reduced in-house staffing levels and robust social distancing measures and without deep-clean contractor assistance.
  • How to respond resiliently to the loss of conferencing revenue and prepare for an uncertain future going into the next academic year.

Within EFCD, the Student Living department – a 32-strong in-house Residential Services team – is responsible for property services, customer service, and pastoral care for 2,000 students across its Birley and All Saints buildings in Central Manchester.

The running of the campus is a co-ordinated departmental effort, also involving:

  • Estates – the University’s hard FM support; supplying electrical, plumbing, mechanical and HVAC services
  • Accommodation Office – managing bookings, financial queries and customer resolutions
  • Student Experience – organising student events
  • Security – supplying manned guard patrols, CCTV surveillance, and incident response as well as out-of-hours customer service delivery.

During a regular academic year, the majority of residents would check out of their accommodation in early July. For the rest of the summer, rooms are rented by conference delegates and the in-house cleaning team provides housekeeping and linen change services. Unoccupied properties are turned around by the Student Living and Estates teams, with the assistance of contractors for deep cleaning and remedial works.

However, with the impact of the Coronavirus lockdown, creative solutions to the pandemic problems were needed. Reacting swiftly to lockdown protocol, the decision was made to prematurely end the tenancy of Student Living’s residents. Students were contacted by the Accommodation Office and advised to vacate the campus as soon as possible and by no later than 10th April.

As a result, 1,950 students vacated the All Saints and Birley buildings within just 18 days. The residents’ departures were supported by Student Living, Estates and Security staff, with their EFCD colleagues also mobilised from shut-down academic properties.

However, with some international students unable to return home due to travel restrictions and others without alternative housing arrangements at short notice, a total of 50 students remained in Student Living properties and continued to live there until their contracts expired on 4th July.

To ensure quality property management and pastoral care could be maintained with reduced staffing levels, All Saints residents were migrated to the Birley accommodation.


About Sarah OBeirne

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