Exclusive: All Michaelmas Term formals cancelled due to staff shortage

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Durham University will pause or drastically reduce all “non-core” catering services, including halting all college formals from Monday, due to catering staff shortages, Palatinate can reveal.

Although the University insists it is “working urgently to attract extra staff and return to normal service levels as soon as possible”, it says the measures will remain until the end of Michaelmas Term.

The University is operating at around 60% capacity of catering staff and is experiencing a much larger student body after a bloated fresher intake

The decision to “amend” catering services due to “less than optimum staff levels” was communicated to Heads of Colleges, academic Departments, service Departments and catering bookings holders.

“Please be assured we are working urgently to attract extra staff and return to normal service levels as soon as possible”, the University stated. 

All evening events have been cancelled, or have become drinks-only services, whilst existing bookings for lunch will be simplified. Colleges have also been advised to seek alternative venues for events. 

Students living in catered accommodation have been assured that their meal packages will not be affected by the cancellations.

Last week, Castle MCR cited an “industry-wide shortage of catering staff” for cancelling an MCR formal. The University insisted the event was cancelled for “various reasons, primarily low ticket sales”.

Students living in catered accommodation have been assured that their meal packages will not be affected by the cancellations. 

“Our priority is the continued provision of 21 meals per week to students in our catered colleges and we do not anticipate any impact on this service”, the University said.

All University cafés and catering provisions for meetings are affected by the move, according to an email from Dr Jon Warren, Vice-Principal of St Cuthbert’s.

“The situation is under constant review”, Warren wrote.  “The University is working very hard to recruit the catering staff it needs, with a wide range of potential mechanisms being considered.”

Warren also warned that the current staffing shortages were “creating pressure” for existing staff members. 

Durham University is currently advertising several catering vacancies, including one position that offers a £1,000 joining bonus as part of a summer recruitment drive. 

The UK hospitality industry is currently facing acute staffing shortages, which industry heads have blamed on the combined impact of the pandemic and Brexit. More than 65 hospitality leaders warned the Government that the industry is “close to imploding” in a letter published in the Financial Times this week

The University of Reading has also warned staff that its catering services are currently being affected by staff shortages, in addition to supply issues. There are not believed to be any food shortages at Durham.

Maggi Dawn, Principal of St Mary’s College wrote: “We are, of course, really disappointed to have to relay this news, but in the immediate situation we need to focus staff resources onto delivering daily catering packages.”

Image: Durham University

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