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Reflections on College life during the pandemic

Written by Dr Lucy Taylor, posted on Monday, June 14, 2021

Dr Lucy Taylor, Junior Research Fellow in Biology, reflects on living in Christ Church for more than a year under pandemic conditions.

Dr Lucy Taylor with some of Christ Church's resident ducks in Tom QuadI have been fortunate to live at Christ Church throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On the first day of the UK national lockdown on the 23rd of March 2020, I walked out onto St. Aldate’s (the main street outside Christ Church) and was met with almost complete silence. It was both amazing and strange to see Oxford go from a bustling metropolis full of buses, cars, students, shoppers, and tourists to silence in a matter of days. The doors of Christ Church were closed, which normally only happens at night. The number of staff on site was cut down to the absolute minimum with just the porters, security, and a few essential buildings and maintenance staff, along with the lucky few of us who live here, and a small number of students who were unable to go home. It was incredible to walk into The Great Quadrangle (Tom Quad) and hear nothing but the birds singing and the gentle splash of water from Mercury fountain. It was so peaceful and calming, which was especially welcome during a time of such turmoil and worry. 

A badger photographed by Dr Lucy Taylor in Christ Church MeadowAs the pandemic progressed, there were unexpected challenges. A local heron decided in the absence of the usual students and tourists that it would try a spot of fishing in the fountain. We tried various methods to save the koi carp, including making a scare heron and putting up a fake heron, but without much success. It was not unusual to see people running across Tom Quad trying to save the fish.

I also became the unofficial (amateur) photographer in residence to help keep the students and the Christ Church community updated in the absence of other staff on site. Being a zoologist, naturally a lot of these photos revolved around wildlife. I remember one evening that I was incredibly lucky to see a badger right up close on Christ Church meadows [view a short video of the badger foraging]. I also able to share the images of Tom Tower as it was lit up in blue to honour the NHS and carers. 

Tom Tower in lit up in blue to celebrate NHS workers thanks to the efforts of the Clerk of Works, Steve BrownTowards the end of last summer, the college’s attention turned towards the students coming back. Just how do you turn a 16th Century college into a pandemic safe space? Well, the Christ Church staff rose to the challenge. Social distancing markers, one-way systems, screens, masks – the lot. Christ Church was transformed. With the help of these new measures and all the staff and students, Christ Church succeeded in keeping the COVID-19 infection rates relatively low throughout the academic year. 

Looking back, I feel incredibly privileged to have experienced how a nearly 500-year-old college adapted and changed during a period that will go down in the history books. More than that – Christ Church has become my home.