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Midlands Innovation universities - supporting communities during the COVID-19 crisis

Staff and students from universities across the Midlands are doing all that they can in supporting the fight against COVID-19.

Midlands Innovation partners are working with the NHS, Government and local communities at this time of crisis, drawing on their people, resources and expertise to provide help to those in need.

Providing frontline support for the NHS

Medical Schools within the MI partnership, which includes the universities of Aston, Birmingham, Keele, Leicester, Nottingham and Warwick, have enabled over a thousand medical students and student nurses to join NHS frontline services in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, universities are also freeing their Medical School staff from academic duties to focus upon clinical care within the NHS frontline. In some universities, research nurses who usually oversee academic clinical trials have switched to serve on wards in hospitals, fighting to save lives, while others are supporting the urgent training and upskilling of healthcare workers including nurses and physiotherapists.

Many university students and staff working in medical and healthcare fields are also taking on volunteer roles in hospitals and GP surgeries. Others, such as staff at Cranfield University, and postdoctoral Life Science researchers and staff from the Universities of Leicester and Birmingham, are offering expertise to support the running of COVID-19 diagnostic tests at Milton Keynes testing centre and the new NHS Nightingale Hospitals. 

Universities are also providing help for the NHS in the form of space and facilities. Some are offering accommodation for NHS staff working in local hospitals, for new staff coming into the area and for those whose families are self-isolating and cannot return home. In addition, the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham are also offering free car parking at their campuses for NHS workers.

Warwick Medical School owns and operates a set of “Clinical Sciences Research Laboratories” located in a building adjacent to the University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust’s Coventry hospital. It has now made all those laboratory facilities available to UHCW to help support the hospital’s COVID-19 clinical laboratory work.

Category 3 laboratories at the University of Birmingham have also been transformed to enable their team to deliver up to 10,000 same-day tests of frontline NHS staff per day, supporting University Hospitals Birmingham to upscale their testing capacity during the outbreak.

Student doctors and nurses from across the Midlands Innovation partner universities are supporting the NHS in the fight against the coronavirus

Helping Hands

Hundreds more students from across the Midlands Innovation universities are also volunteering to provide support to their communities at this time. Over 1000 University of Birmingham students, and many at Warwick have volunteered for the ‘Helping Hands’ initiative supporting NHS workers. Some of the work they are doing includes providing help with childcare, shopping for key workers and vulnerable people, collecting donations for Food Banks, delivering prescriptions and food, and even volunteering as dog-walkers for key workers.

At Keele University, students donated food and provisions from their cupboards, prior to them leaving the campus, which the university collected and donated to the homeless and those in need via the Newcastle-Staffs Trussell Trust Food Bank. They are also encouraging their students with spare time to volunteer in the local community, helping elderly and disabled people, as part of the Staffordshire iCare scheme.

At Aston University, the Nourish catering team have also been donating food from the campus to ‘The Real Junk Food project’ which offers food at much reduced prices for people on low incomes.
The University of Warwick Conferences teams have also donated a significant amount of fresh food to Emmaus (a charity that supports the homeless people get back on their feet). They have also donated 12 catering boxes of food to Coventry Food Bank, and around 150 toiletry items to the YMCA including shower gels, shampoo, and body wash.

At Loughborough, the university, together with Loughborough Students’ Union have launched a campaign to support students facing financial hardship during COVID-19 crisis through an Emergency Hardship Scheme which has already raised over £23,000. At Aston University, students have established a Virtual Campus on Facebook to keep students connected and to provide support and entertainment for them during this time.

Across at Keele University, Professor Peter Ogrodnik, a biomedical engineer, is leading a project in collaboration with the Institution of Engineering Designers to enable engineers, designers and institutions to collaborate on challenges sent from the NHS or from other care providers.

Finding innovative new ways to help

Students and staff are also finding ingenious ways to use their skills to help. Two students at the University of Birmingham have established a ‘hackathon’, bringing 2,500 technologists and scientists together to focus on four themes for their inventions: supporting those quarantined or at risk; creating new technology to improve health; finding ways to improve remote working; and improving awareness and behaviour.

At Cranfield University, Geographical Information Management student Nnenna Nkata has created a dashboard giving information on the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria, creating something for her country which is now in public use.

Loughborough University is also providing food and clothing to charities through its Giving for Gold scheme, while the University’s alumni team has also set up virtual running and cycling clubs to enable former students to keep in contact and undertake challenges against each other.

Physiotherapy and sports rehabilitation students at the University of Nottingham are also helping people to stay fit at home through a programme called Quarantrain. Quarantrain is a student-led healthcare project to help provide information and resources to stay fit and well during periods of isolation. The students are contributing to the content, admin and technical support of the programme. Warwick Sport at the University of Warwick are also providing online daily workouts, advice and activities.

The University of Nottingham has issued a free online e-learning resource has been launched to help those working in healthcare cope with the stress of dealing with Covid-19 and help maintain their psychological wellbeing during and after the pandemic.

Universities are also helping businesses too. At Aston, the university’s business school is delivering a podcast, providing regular advice and information for businesses on how to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Cranfield University and the University of Leicester have both signed up to the Government’s C-19 Business Pledge, an initiative to mobilise the business response to COVID-19 and demonstrate how organisations are supporting employees, customers and communities. Cranfield’s School of Management has also launched the Knowledge Hub Platform to help businesses navigate current challenges.

Speaking about the work that the MI universities are doing to support their local communities and healthcare workers, Professor Alec Cameron, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University and Chair of Midlands Innovation, said: “At this time of crisis, students and staff at all of the Midlands Innovation universities are coming together to do all that they can to support the fight against COVID-19.

“I am very proud of the way in which our staff and students have risen to the challenge - from the new medical and nursing graduates now working on the frontline in the NHS; to the army of student and staff volunteers helping key workers by providing food, childcare and other support; to the university staff who are providing and delivering PPE to local NHS trusts and all of the other students and staff who are using their initiative in so many ways to support the lonely and vulnerable in our communities. I want to thank them all for the magnificent work they are doing.”

As well as following the updates on twitter, people can sign up to receive a regular eNewsletter from Midlands Innovation, highlighting what partners are doing to support efforts to fight the coronavirus, and other initiatives that are taking place.

To discover more about the work of the Midlands Innovation universities, follow the Twitter account @InnovationMids, or visit www.midlandsinnovation.org.uk/covid19

To read about further COVID-19 support that's been undertaken by our partnership, click here.


Notes to Editors
Journalists wanting further information about a particular institution’s COVID-19 support efforts are welcome to contact that partner’s PR Team directly, or to contact:
Sarah Alton, Public Affairs Officer, Midlands Innovation, on: +44 (0)7817 061386 or: sarah.alton@nottingham.ac.uk or
Nick King, Midlands Innovation Communications and Marketing Manager, on: +44 (0)7964 391057 or nick.king@era.ac.uk

Midlands Innovation