Chemical Reaction

Fire! Reflections on a major incident

In the evening of Friday September 12 I received a call from our Deputy Head of Security to alert me to a major fire at the University’s Jubilee Campus. The building ablaze was the unfinished GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry and, during the hours that followed, it was completely destroyed. Fortunately no-one was injured and, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Nottinghamshire Fire Service, supported by their colleagues from Derbyshire, no other buildings were damaged.

What it would have looked like

What it would have looked like

From this point on we were in incident response mode and the first thing to work out was how this might affect our Open Day the following day when upwards of 12,000 visitors – prospective students and their parents – were due to visit the University. In discussion with colleagues in student recruitment we determined that the Open Day would go ahead and that if we did need to relocate activities from Jubilee Campus to University Park then we would find a way to do it:

Open day tweetTwitter proved to be just about the best way to get the message out and counter the erroneous ‘whole university burns down’ message from some overzealous commentators.

As it turned out, the only effect on the rest of Jubilee Campus beyond the loss of the building was the closure of Triumph Road, one of the routes into Jubilee and easily worked around.

A team of University staff met early the following morning to work on our approach. Without going into too much detail, we sought to ensure that we broadcast a message that we were grateful for all of the assistance we had received and to reassure everyone that it was business as usual, that we would rebuild and that outstanding green chemistry research would continue at the University of Nottingham. It was also important to stress that this would not affect teaching as it was largely intended as a research building.
The full statement issued later that day and subsequently amended a little:

The University of Nottingham’s Registrar Dr Paul Greatrix said: “We are terribly saddened by the major fire at our Jubilee Campus on the evening of Friday September 12, which completely destroyed our new GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry which was still under construction.
“We are incredibly grateful to our staff and students for their fantastic response in dealing with this major incident and would like to express our gratitude to both Notts Fire Service and Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service. It was the quick action of their fire crews which prevented this incident from being much more serious. We have also been extremely touched by the messages and best wishes from our close neighbours out in the community.
“We would like to thank the wider higher education community across the UK for its support – we have had many offers of help from other universities around the country, for which we are extremely grateful.
“To put this loss into perspective, we need to remember that this was one building, that thankfully no one was injured and that the fire was prevented from spreading further on to campus.
“We want to stress that it is business as usual at The University of Nottingham. We were able to ensure that Open Day 2014, went ahead as planned and was unaffected by the incident — we welcomed thousands of prospective students and their families to our campuses to enjoy a packed programme of talks and activities demonstrating our high-quality teaching and facilities.
The new building wasn’t due to be opened until next year and, as such, our chemistry department, while understandably disappointed by this loss, won’t be affected either from a teaching or research perspective in the immediate future.
This is a setback for us but one from which we have no doubt we will recover. The University of Nottingham has an international reputation for scientific excellence, underpinned by the world-leading expertise of our academics. It is upon those strong foundations that we will rebuild and renew for the future.
The GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry is a landmark building which is the embodiment of the University’s commitment to sustainability in all its forms, particularly in the area of green chemistry and we will be working closely with our partners at GSK, and the contractors Morgan Sindall, to develop a positive plan of action for rebuilding.
At this stage, we have no idea what caused the fire and may not know for some time until the Fire Service has been able to fully investigate the incident. The building was designed to meet stringent fire regulation requirements.”

A whole bunch of media interviews followed throughout the day but not everyone was wholly convinced by our line:

Memo to self: NEVER read the comments under a Mail Online article. Glee would be to understate teh general response

Memo to self: NEVER read the comments under a Mail Online article. To suggest that there was widespread glee at the incident would be to understate the general tenor of responses.

On Monday, the media wanted to do it all over again (my family was mildly impressed) and the Vice-Chancellor published a blog post on his response to the fire. After that, things went pretty quiet and, given that we are still waiting to hear what caused the fire, I guess they will be for a while yet.

stream_imgA few other points of note:

The University’s Facebook post on the fire had a huge number of impressions, I think more than anything else we have ever posted and attracted hundreds of messages of support.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff of our School of Chemistry and Periodic Videos fame posted a video commentary on the fire:

On the day of the fire I and other colleagues who are involved in incident responses (and who were all gathered round the table on the day after the fire) spent the day in a simulation exercise to rehearse how we would deal with a major incident. The scenario chosen by our external facilitator was a fire on campus…

Overall, the fire was a desperately sad situation but the response of everyone from the Emergency Services to University staff and students and from the local community to colleagues around the sector was just amazing. Despite the loss I am left with an enormous sense of optimism about the future of Sustainable Chemistry at the University of Nottingham and confident that before long there will be a world-leading carbon neutral laboratory on our campus. And we also learned a lot about our incident response plans. (It will be some time before we agree to do another simulation.)

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A suggestion for Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s, Tesco…

Sainsbury’s Local – an opportunity for rebranding

Sainsbury’s recently opened a Sainsbury’s Local store on Derby Road in the Lenton area of Nottingham at the heart of one of the most popular student districts in the city. It seems to be doing extremely good business and whenever I visit (it’s rather handy sometimes on the way home) it’s always pretty busy. This kind of development is really important as it is one way of ensuring that decent services are sustained year round in areas of high density student occupation (where there can be a tendency for some outlets to open only in term time). It is also symbolic of the value of student spend to the local economy.

Having said all that, this store has a number of key features which distinguish it from some of the other Sainsbury’s Local stores (and other supermarkets’ “express” offerings) in Nottingham:

  • The clientele is almost entirely made up of students, many of whom are wearing pyjamas, regardless of the time of day
  • There is a rather limited fresh fruit and vegetables section
  • There is a lot of convenience food and plenty of ready meals
  • No-one seems to use cash
  • There is a very large and comprehensive alcoholic drinks section
  • Cleaning products are at a premium
  • There are a lot more self-service checkouts than staffed tills.

Anyway, my simple suggestion is that they just cut to the chase and rebrand it as “Sainsbury’s Student”. This would also work with Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s and the Co-op I reckon. At least then we will all know where we stand and what product range we can expect.

(Next up in this sub-Mary Portas series – why Lidl always seem to have cycling shoes in stock.)

NB §1 I inadvertantly omitted to credit Rachel, Hester and Connie Greatrix for their contribution to this idea and to point out that they spend more time in Sainsbury’s Student (or Student Sainsbury’s as they call it) than I do. Apologies for that.

§2 All credit to Sainsbury’s PR for their rapid response to this on Twitter.

Understanding a little more about WP

An important new report on some of the biggest challenges in widening participation.

The report focuses on areas with the lowest HE progression rates: between 8% and 13% of 18- and 19-year-olds in these constituencies pursue a higher education course at a university or further education college, compared with 33% nationally.

The argument is about “embedding” partnerships according to HEFCE:

Universities and colleges need to continue to develop a strong understanding of the wider communities in which they operate in order to develop more focused and relevant interventions which will reach young people from lower social class backgrounds, according to a report published today. The report, Young participation in Higher Education in the Parliamentary constituencies of Birmingham Hodge Hill, Bristol South, Nottingham North and Sheffield Brightside, commissioned by HEFCE in 2005 consolidates the findings of four in-depth case studies which aimed to explore the factors that might lie behind the very low rates of young participation in higher education in those parliamentary constituencies.

The summary report highlights the need for universities and colleges to consider how their strategies to widen participation can be embedded directly within the educational provision for the constituencies in which they operate. While acknowledging that higher education institutions (HEIs) cannot tackle all the issues facing these communities in isolation, the report recommends that institutions do need to have a strong, sustainable presence in low participation neighbourhoods and consider ‘ways in which they can make significant and measurable contributions to the social, educational and economic transformation of these areas’.

See also detailed piece in the Guardian.

Challenging stuff.