Categories: Sanger Life24 June 20204.5 min read

Restarting Science

The Morgan Building at the Wellcome Genome Campus

The Wellcome Genome Campus closed for all but essential activities in late March. Now, we have started a phased return of more researchers, technicians and scientists to laboratories and estates staff, in line with government guidance.

Critical COVID-19 science

Since the initial closure in March, around 175 people have remained on site, out of a total of just under 2,500. This includes staff working on essential COVID-19 projects, staff from security and estates teams, as well as those caring for the animals in our research facility.

To keep staff safe, the Campus Incident Management Team has implemented social distancing measures, including one way systems and reconfiguration of shared collaborative spaces like canteens. There is also enhanced cleaning and increased facilities for handwashing.

New signage on Campus

Phased return 

The return of more staff is being managed in stages, with 250 now on Campus. All activities on site undergo a ‘COVID safe’ risk assessment before any work starts and all staff returning have a ‘COVID Secure’ induction and training.

The staff who have returned over the last two weeks are working in laboratories such as DNA pipelines, which provide central services for the Sanger Institute. The aim is to get data flowing again – from samples to sequencing. Plans are in place to get the sequencing pipeline up to 70 per cent of pre-Covid-19 capacity, enabling more research to get back underway.

This will be followed by a further 100 staff returning every ten days (in small incremental increases), until we reach our next socially distanced occupancy levels – which is about a third of previous occupancy for most buildings. Projects are being prioritised by an operational review group that includes representation from across the organisation.

Staff that are able to work at home will continue to do so for the rest of 2020. For those aiming to join the Sanger Institute at this time, all interviews will take place online.

“I kind of felt a bit lost, on the first day back, like a new starter. It has been quiet, not the usual hustle and bustle. But it is a special place to work, and after a couple of hours of being on site, seeing familiar faces it brought a sense of calm, and with it some normality back to life.

Michelle Starling, Grounds Team

Wellbeing and mental health

The wellbeing and mental health of all staff is a priority, whether they are working on site or at home. Leadership at the Sanger Institute and associated organisations on Campus have worked to provide a range of support for staff – whatever their circumstances may be. Many services existed already and have been expanded or made accessible online, while others are new support offerings.

Staff have been offered support through dedicated counselling services (both professional and peer-to-peer), helpdesks and one-to-one health check-ups. Training programmes are moving on line and the student population are being closely supported and offered extended time to complete studies at this critical stage in their career. Virtual social events and free exercise classes are helping to keep people connected. HR have set up a query and incident helpdesk and are undertaking regular wellbeing surveys to gather needs, and using the feedback to shape their services and support.

It seemed very strange first of all going from a busy campus to very few people in the space of a week or so. Washing hands frequently, applying hand gel, giving everyone a wide birth when passing in conjunction with a big smile soon became second nature. More recently, one way systems have appeared, face masks have been introduced, lab occupancy limits have been set and only certain desks can be used. Whilst these measures are sometimes frustrating, I do appreciate being able to focus on the important work we are doing whilst continuing to feel safe to be here.

Other members of staff that I have been working with during this time, whether on-site in a socially distance manner or from home have been a great support which has helped enormously during a period that has been intensely mentally demanding.

Naomi Park, Senior Staff Scientist

Team work

The close down, and subsequent planning and return has been overseen by Sian Nash, Associate Chief Operating Officer at the Sanger Institute and Wellcome Genome Campus, and the Campus Incident Management Team. The team meets every day to discuss, plan and initiate the processes and systems we require to get safely back to our work on Campus.

“There are many elements that need to be managed. For example, we are currently considering the nursery re-opening, social distancing technology, monitoring PPE stocks and supplies, sickness levels in our community, considering COVID-19 staff testing and the plans for the next phases of re-opening. There is also the need to respond to new Government announcements and developments every day and assess if there are repercussions for us.”

 “I’m incredibly proud of our teams - everyone has worked extremely hard to manage the running of the site. Being flexible is key, as plans have had to change - overnight in some cases. Decisions have had to be made very quickly. We now have a careful, phased reopening in place, which will allow much of our science to restart, whilst keeping everyone safe.”

Links for more information