By Keziah Smith
Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Durham University (Colleges and Student Experience), this morning apologised on behalf of the University for inadequate food boxes that isolating students have been given by their colleges, during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Cook’s interview followed the broadcast of a pre-recorded conversation with an unnamed first-year student at Durham, who has recently contracted the virus and is self-isolating within her catered college. The student described how in the past week she has gone to bed with hunger pains because she had not been given enough food.
The student explained that she had received a food box that was supposed to last her 11 days. It contained no fruit and was instead filled with ready meals, crisps and pot noodles. She suggested that the lack of fresh food had made her more unwell, saying “I haven’t had vegetables in over a week”.
In addition to the suggestion that inadequate food had contributed to her ill health, the student commented that feeling hungry and exhausted had made it difficult to concentrate during online lectures and seminars.
After the conversation was recorded, the student contacted the Today programme to say that she had now had her first hot meal in six days.
In response, Jeremy Cook told the Today programme that “We’re really very sorry to those students who feel that they have not been given sufficient or healthy food.
“But we’ve acted fast, we’ve listened to our students, and recognised their concerns.”
Mr Cook said that since the concerns were raised, the University has acted and is now able to deliver hot meals to the isolating students, by hiring more staff and revising operations.
When asked why the interviewed student had waited six days for hot food, Mr Cook said that the majority of isolating students had waited between 24 and 48 hours for their first hot meal.
The catering plans were revised after livers-in at Collingwood and St Mary’s Colleges were yesterday advised not to leave University campus for a week, regardless of whether they are self-isolating. Each college has around 50 residents who have tested positive for the virus and are now self-isolating with the rest of their households.
In an email concerning the new measures for food, Mr Cook said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the communities of which we are part has been our top priority throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and remains so.
“We have worked tirelessly to achieve as safe and successful a start to the new academic year as possible, including introducing a wide range of measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading and developing a comprehensive Outbreak Response Plan, which sets out how we would work with partners to respond to different possible scenarios and which has been approved by Durham County Council’s Public Health Team and the Department for Education.
“We are working very closely with partners including Durham County Council’s Public Health Team to ensure our planning is co-ordinated and we are in very regular contact with our students, staff and the local community to share the latest information and receive feedback. “
Other colleges are now following suit and providing hot meals for those in isolation.
In an email sent out to students yesterday (Thursday), Pro-Vice Chancellor Claire O’Malley said: “plans are in place to ensure that students who are self-isolating in their College can access healthy and hot food.”
This follows several major announcements regarding the local strategy to reduce cases of Covid-19.
Yesterday, a new testing centre was opened in Territorial Lane car park in Durham City. It is located just off Old Elvet, on land belonging to the University. Appointments are available from 8am to 8pm, seven days per week. The centre is pedestrian access only and will feature “better accommodation and shelter for those being tested”, according to Durham County Council.
Image of St Mary’s College, Durham: Mark Norton