Chester preparations to welcome students for the start of new academic year

Chester preparations to welcome students for the start of new academic year

First year students will start to arrive in Chester this weekend. The University is working closely with Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Public Health and Environmental Health teams to ensure precautions are in place in response to COVID-19. 

Businesses, community representatives from the Chester Residents’ Associations Group (CRAG) and the Council have joined together to welcome students to Chester as the new academic year begins.

The presence of students is extremely positive for local businesses in the city who benefit significantly from student spending in shops, bars, restaurants and cafes.  The University of Chester contributes more than £410 million in Gross Value Added (GVA) annually to the economy nationally, [SOURCE: University of Chester Socio-economic Impact Assessment, by Hatch Regeneris July 2019] £150 million of that in west Cheshire and many of the city’s retailers are dependent on the ‘student pound.’

Chester BID manager Carl Critchlow said: “Students support our city not only as spenders but also as employees. Just as the high street has adapted over the summer, the welcome programme for students has also evolved. The Grosvenor Shopping Centre for example is running its popular student event again this year but rather than students queuing for hours for one night only, they are running Fresher’s Fortnight, in which students can win shopping vouchers and prizes from Chester bars and restaurants in a safe way. 

“Even before COVID-19, safety has been a priority in Chester. The city has achieved Purple Flag status for three years in a row, recognising Chester as a safe and diverse city, offering an enjoyable night out. Students come to our vibrant city to experience the culture, dining and entertainment in a safe and welcoming environment.” 

Ian Ashworth, The Director of Public Health for Cheshire West and Chester Council said: “This year, students will be experiencing a very different way of life, with strict procedures in place to ensure that the risk of COVID-19 is minimised in the student population and beyond.  

“Cheshire West and Chester Public Health Team and Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group are working closely with the University to develop testing access for students with symptoms, or those who have been advised to have a test.  

“Students will also be able to access the Local Testing Site in the Little Roodee Car Park. The new walk through testing facility next to the Riverside Campus and within walking distance of the Parkgate Road and Queen’s Park campuses is now open seven days a week for tests without an appointment. Clinically vulnerable students are also being asked to notify staff of their health concerns before they arrive.” 

The University has adopted a ‘blended learning’ model.  This means that students will access most of their lectures online and there will be social distancing between all students and staff in tutorial and practical sessions. There are increased hand sanitiser stations in all University buildings, protective screens, enhanced regular cleaning routines and the wearing of face coverings is required in all communal areas.  Gazebos are being erected on all main University sites for safe, socially distanced mixing outdoors and students have been advised to bring warm, waterproof clothing. Sport will be played to socially distanced ‘Chester rules.’ 

There is a click and collect systems for library books, to help avoid touch points, and students will receive a ‘Campus Kit’ bag with face coverings and a hygiene handle to open doors. Click and collect for catering and the shop also serves as an internal track and trace, aligned with the NHS service. Only essential visitors are permitted. 

The University has developed a compulsory module for all students (new and returning) to undertake.  All students have been contacted to complete the online course before arriving at the University.  The module includes details about the changes that have been made on the campuses and an explanation of the student’s responsibility in adhering to the University Statement of Expectations. They are also advised about the steps they need to take if they believe they have symptoms of, or have tested positive for, COVID-19. 

There are welfare arrangements in place for any students who may become ill with COVID or if travel restrictions mean they need to self-isolate on arrival. 

The very clear message is also going to students living in the community that COVID-19 rules are still in place and different student households shouldn’t be mixing. This is also the case with those living on campus. The ‘know before you go’ message is still the case with pre-booking required in cafes, pubs and restaurants plus a restriction on group sizes. Chester Students’ Union has also launched a ‘Keep your distance’ campaign and is promoting the Rule of Six for meeting socially. 

The University has been working closely with partners including the local residents’ association to ensure that everyone is informed about the measures that have been put in place.   

Mike Hogg from the Chester Residents’ Associations Group said: “CRAG warmly welcomes both new and returning students to Chester. Students make a positive cultural, social and economic contribution to the city alongside residents and visitors. 

“The Coronavirus pandemic adds a new and strange backdrop to the 2020/21 academic year, but as long as we all fully observe the guidelines and rules and look after and respect each other we will survive and thrive as a community.” 

Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council said: “Starting university, probably the first time living away from home and meeting many new people is daunting enough without a worldwide pandemic to also deal with.   

“I am confident that our new students will feel very well supported and know where to seek help if they do develop symptoms. Keeping our residents (including students in their new home), businesses and visitors safe is a priority and there is a very clear message for everyone sharing the city to respect two metre social distancing where possible, regularly clean their hands and wear face coverings indoors and when using public transport. 

“The University has a range of control measures to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in University buildings and accommodation.  These measures alongside how to report symptoms are being extensively communicated to students and staff through a variety of methods.” 

Cheshire West and Chester Council are a beacon authority for the national test and trace programme, one of only eleven areas nationally chosen to help support the development of the national test and trace programme. 

Professor Eunice Simmons, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chester, added: “This academic year will be very different, but we have been working very hard with our Students’ Union and our invaluable local health team to ensure students, as Chester residents, are benefiting from the latest local and national guidance and to make 2020/21 memorable for everyone for the right reasons. 

“Our new Strategy focuses on the role the ‘Citizen Student’ has to play in the bigger picture of the communities in which the University sits. There is no better time to highlight the importance of this. Throughout the pandemic, our students have been busily contributing to the COVID response, from providing healthcare on the front line to volunteering in-person and virtually. And the government has identified universities as key drivers in the UK’s economic recovery.”

Published: 10th September 2020

NOTE: Photo taken prior to lockdown