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NHS workers stay in empty UEA student rooms

Empty student rooms at the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) campus are being used to accommodate NHS staff so they can safely continue their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 68 staff from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NNUH) and Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCHC) are currently staying in student rooms and guest accommodation on campus.

Most are there either because they are isolating from at-risk family members, or for ease of commuting to work so they don’t have to use public transport.

Sarah Smith, Accommodation Manager Lead at NNUH, said: “This extra accommodation facility offered during the COVID-19 pandemic has provided staff with somewhere to stay and continue to work close by to the Trust.

“This has enabled us to provide essential accommodation for extra staff brought in, and staff sheltering away from their homes where they have family members in one of the high risk groups.”

In March the University contacted students in 4300 campus rooms to offer them the chance to be released from their accommodation agreement if they were no longer living there, so they would not have to pay for the third term.

Teaching at the University had already moved online and many students had returned to their family homes continuing to study remotely, so thousands responded and rent has been waived for the rest of the term.

But accommodation services continue to be open for hundreds of students who remain on campus, including security, launderettes, the campus shop, support services and the regular cleaning provision. Students also receive regular welfare checks by University staff.

Paul Bailey, UEA’s Head of Accommodation Services, said: “We’ve tried to be as flexible as possible with students to give them some certainty during these unprecedented times. Students have been given the option to remain, leave and vacate their rooms, or leave but store their belongings.

“I’d like to add that we do have capacity for more NHS staff to stay with us, so we’d encourage anyone who thinks they would benefit, to contact their Trust to find out more.”

The modern en-suite rooms are self-catered, include Wifi, and are a short walk from NNUH site and NCHC Colman hospital.

UEA has been able to waive fees for those no longer using their rooms as they own all campus accommodation. But this is not the case at all universities, with lots of accommodation being run by private providers. In fact, in April the National Union of Students (NUS) called on university accommodation providers to waive rent payments as students took to social media to complain.

Sophie Atherton, uea(su)’s Campaigns and democracy officer, said: “I think students will be really pleased to see empty rooms being occupied by NHS staff who need extra support in order to carry on with their roles during these difficult times. The majority of students are living all over the country right now, but knowing that they have indirectly helped the NHS in Norwich right now will no doubt be something nice for them to hear.”

If you would like to know more about the scheme, please contact Sarah Smith (sarah.smith3@nnuh.nhs.uk) if you work at NNUH, or email wellbeing@nchc.nhs.uk if you work at NCHC.