Strength in our communities

May 1, 2020

Jane Robinson, Newcastle University’s Dean of Engagement and Place, explains why the civic role of universities has never been more important

Covid-19 is changing the world forever. While many of us are following the advice to stay indoors – to save lives and protect the NHS – outside we are losing loved ones, children are missing out on their education, businesses are failing and public services are struggling to survive. The collective sense of loss we are all going to experience at the end of this will be overwhelming.

At the same time we are seeing amazing examples of real courage, selflessness, generosity and community as our key workers risk their lives every day to keep the country moving and individuals like Cpt Tom Moore go above and beyond to help others.

One thing that has really struck me about this experience is the incredibly strong sense of community that has emerged. Our village, Wylam, has always had a good sense of community – it’s one of the things that we love about the place – but Covid-19 has taken things to another level, with organised groups and local businesses all coming together to support the most vulnerable and to look out for one another.

And in my own area of Higher Education, colleagues and students alike have shown resilience, camaraderie and creativity in the face of adversity.

And despite the immense personal and professional challenges we have faced in the last three weeks, this crisis has also highlighted to me how important universities’ civic role is and that our connections with our place, partners and local communities have never been so important.

I have had the honour of being responsible for co-ordinating the Covid-19 Civic Response project. Working with our colleagues at Northumbria University, Newcastle City Council and the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust, we are working together to combat the impacts of the virus locally, nationally and globally.

From contributing to the discovery of new drugs to combat Covid-19 and the development
of rapid diagnostics, to supplying specialist equipment and accommodation to support the NHS, together we are playing an important role in the fight against coronavirus.

At the same time, more than 100 of our senior clinical academics working at consultant level, and PhD students who are clinically qualified, have dropped their ‘day’ jobs and are now providing frontline care.

And at the beginning of April, almost 300 of our medical students graduated early in a virtual celebration and are now out on the front line, supporting patients at a time when the NHS needs them most.

We are moving at a pace that I don’t think anyone would have thought possible just a few weeks ago, innovating and collaborating in
new ways with our partners and making a real difference to meet the immediate crisis we are all dealing with.

And although we are still very much in the eye of the storm, we are now rightly beginning to ask the question about what the world will look like post-Covid-19.

Universities will need to play a key role in supporting the development of plans for a post- Covid-19 world, addressing what will no doubt be significant economic and social challenges.

Understanding our place, our communities and working closely with our partners is at
the heart of what we do as a University and in Newcastle we are working on a regional Covid-19 response with our Local Enterprise Partnership, Mayoral Authority, Local Authorities and Businesses.

The newly-formed Civic University Network, of which Newcastle University is a key partner, will also provide an important focus for developing and sharing best practice.

In the challenging and uncertain times that lie ahead, it’s clear that the civic role of universities will be more important than ever in helping our communities not only survive, but thrive in a brave new world.

Newcastle University
To find out more about Newcastle University’s response to COVID-19, visit:

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