An update from the Vice-Chancellor on reopening of University buildings and an extension to the COVID-19 testing programme.

Dear all,

Reopening our buildings

It took a huge effort to close down places of work swiftly and securely at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis. The process of reopening our buildings safely, and in line with evolving public health guidance, has been complex and painstaking.

I am pleased to note that, earlier this week, the University passed a key milestone of 100 reopened buildings.

Buildings are reopening in phases, with lab-based research areas opening first. It is anticipated that the majority of research buildings, libraries and museums will be reopened by the start of Michaelmas term.

Many colleagues have been clamouring to return to the laboratories, libraries and museums that had to be shut in March. Before being certified as safe to open, each building has had to be individually checked for water, fire and lift safety, in addition to other basic safety checks. This arduous task has been carried out by a small team from the University’s Estates Division, who have been working around the clock to ensure that each and every building is safe to open.

I am immensely grateful to our Estates Division, to our Buildings Taskforce, and to the teams in Departments and Faculties that have made the reopening of our buildings happen.

Reopening our libraries

On the subject of reopening, I’m delighted to share news that on Tuesday June 30, ahead of schedule, Cambridge University Library launched a zero contact "Click and Collect" service, allowing all University staff and students to order up to five books at one time and collect them from the UL. The UL is also offering a new Book Return service so that users can more easily return books to the University Library building.

The launch of the UL’s "Scan and Deliver" service is imminent –staff and students wherever they are will be able to request a scanned copy of material (within copyright limits) from the Library’s modern collections.

Our Libraries are working hard to reopen and restore access to their vital collections, while at the same time continually expanding digital access to research materials. You can find more information about the newly-launched zero contact services here: as well as visiting for further updates and following the UL on social media.

Remixing our collections

Reopening our buildings has required careful planning and creativity. It has compelled us to examine how we do things, and why. While many of our museums have yet to open, they are undertaking a similar process of creative reflection and looking at their collections with fresh eyes.

The University of Cambridge Museums have recently launched the Museum Remix: Unheard project, which aims to reinterpret and retell the stories behind the objects in their collections. The Museums are asking all of us to contribute our takes on some of their less-known artefacts. Please visit the project webpage for information on how to take part in this exciting initiative.


The University is expanding its COVID-19 testing programme to include members of your household (in other words, anyone with whom you share a bathroom, toilet or kitchen). The following people are now eligible for a swab test if they have symptoms of possible COVID-19 infection:

  • Staff at the University of Cambridge and its colleges
  • Undergraduate and postgraduate students currently in Cambridge
  • Staff at Cambridge Assessment
  • Staff at Cambridge University Press
  • Household members of any of the above

The test involves a simple nose and throat swab and should take less than three minutes. It will tell you whether you are infected, helping you protect yourself, your friends and colleagues, and the wider Cambridge community.

We ask that you only request a test if your symptoms include: fever, persistent cough, a change in sense of smell/taste, or any other 'flu-like symptoms such as sore throat or muscle aches. You should not request a test if you have no symptoms.

Anyone displaying any of the above symptoms should call Addenbrooke’s Hospital Occupational Health on 01223 216767 (08:30 to 16:30 Mon-Fri), stating that they wish to be tested as part of the University of Cambridge’s testing programme. A nurse will discuss the symptoms and, where necessary, book a test.

Testing is currently offered at one of two locations: The S2 Pods at Addenbrooke's Hospital or at the Pod outside the Dyson Building, Department of Engineering, Fen Causeway entrance.

Please visit our website for important information, including directions to the testing locations, who to contact, and the steps that you and your household members should take. There is a page with information for staff, and information for students.

Tackling COVID-19

A recently published paper that includes colleagues in our Department of Zoology among its authors argues that humans should learn lessons from the current pandemic to avoid future environmental catastrophe

In my messages, I have been drawing attention to the stories of some of the exceptional individuals and teams making a contribution to local, national and global efforts to combat and contain Coronavirus. Charlotte Summers is an Intensive Care specialist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, and a Fellow of Selwyn College, who over the past few months has found herself dealing with the biggest challenge in her career. Her profile is here.

In the first of a new series of articles focusing on how individuals across the University have coped with unexpected experiences and identified new opportunities, Matt Rowe, Selwyn College’s Catering Manager explains what it was like to replace formal halls with a shop providing emergency supplies to students who remained in residence.

Be sure to check the University’s staff pages over the next few weeks for further instalments in the "Unexpected Experiences" series. Future stories will feature, among others, the Director of the Botanic Garden, a Master’s student who pivoted her research to study the pandemic, and the Director of the Staff Counselling Centre.

A word of thanks

This will be the last of my weekly updates for now. Unless there is an urgent need to communicate sooner, you can expect to hear from me later in the summer. I will certainly be in touch again as we ramp up preparations for the next academic year.

I would once again like to express my enormous gratitude to all of you for your efforts and your forbearance over the past few months. We speak a lot about of "essential workers" these days. In fact, all of you, in countless different ways, have been essential to helping our University adapt and move ahead.

The recovery process will be long, and we must be prepared for future contingencies. Our community’s collective response to the crisis gives me confidence that we will be able to face such contingencies with a renewed and strengthened sense of purpose.

Many of you tuned into the May Week Mega Event on Sunday – I’m told that over 10,000 students, staff and alumni joined over the course of the evening. The organisers did a superb job to capture the spirit of May Week, and create a real sense of Cambridge community. I am hugely grateful to them.

I would like to sign off today by sharing the Mega Event’s finale – a collective rendition of Bill Withers’ "Lean on me". It is a wonderful example of the collegiate community coming together. It is Cambridge at its best. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

Best wishes,


Stephen J Toope