DURHAM UNIVERSITY remains open, and is making the health and wellbeing of its staff, students and the communities of which they are part its priority in all decision making.

The restrictions imposed on movement have meant that the university has had to move all its teaching and exams online, close many of its buildings – including its museums and visitor attractions, and ask most of its staff to work from home.

Students were invited to leave Durham early for the Easter vacation and have been advised not to return after Easter. This traditional graduation ceremonies in Durham Cathedral have been postponed.

However, the university is also lending its resources and expertise to help in the battle against the virus.

Two students, one staff member and a local member of the University’s Community Engagement Task Force founded the Durham City Mutual Aid Facebook group, which now has more than 800 members.

Tyla Danskin, one of the students involved, said: “I feel that students living in Durham owe it to the local community to offer support where we can. Although this group was fundamentally established as a way of communication, it has potential to build community spirit going forward – and will hopefully connect more students with the community.”

Elsewhere, university experts are helping local NHS trusts analyse patient data, so that medics can identify and treat patients at risk more quickly and effectively and meet national reporting requirements.

Several of the university’s departments together donated thousands of aprons, masks and other personal protective equipment that they could no longer make use of to the University Hospital of North Durham, Durham City.

Before the lockdown restrictions, the university was also able to donate food that would have otherwise gone to waste to the East Durham Trust, which provides food parcels to people in east Durham facing financial difficulties.

Malcolm Fallow, the trust’s chief executive, said it had seen an unprecedented increase in demand for food parcels and the university’s donation was “a welcome boost both practically and to the spirits of the staff and volunteers”.

John Murphy, from East Durham Area Action Partnership, added: “Great to see Durham University playing a role in East Durham in helping feed those in need during this emerging crisis.”

To help key workers, the university has made some of its car parking spaces, newly freed up as more of its own staff are working from home, available to Durham Constabulary – and hopes to extend the offer to NHS staff.

For students who have remained in Durham, the university is working with Durham Business Improvement District (BID) to enable students to shop locally and support local businesses.

Further afield, the university is contributing to the national and international coronavirus fight in various ways.

Research by Durham graduate Dr Rebecca Webster was included in the World Health Organisation’s Global Research Roadmap essential references for dealing with the virus.

Dr Webster works at King’s College London and her research looks at ways to improve public adherence to quarantine measures implemented to slow the spread of infectious diseases.

Dr Steve Lindsay, from the university’s Biosciences Department, is investigating whether specialist sniffer dogs could be trained to detect coronavirus. As part of the wider project, dogs have already been trained to spot the scent of malaria, cancer and Parkinson’s Disease.

University experts are offering advice online on topics including working from home, coping with isolation and protecting the vulnerable, and although the university’s ever-popular holiday camps have been cancelled for Easter, the camp team is offering parents daily tips to keep children entertained at home via their Facebook page.

Professor Claire O’Malley, who is leading the university’s response to coronavirus, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has meant huge changes for us as a university but we have responded quickly and I am proud of the many inspiring ways that our staff, students and alumni are contributing to the effort to combat the virus, locally, nationally and internationally.”

For more information, please visit www.durham.ac.uk/community/covid19support