Image of A porter putting post in pigeon holes

“We couldn’t just turn off and go home”

For many people COVID-19 has meant remote working, but some jobs just have to be done in person. Our Deputy Head Porter, John Morris, is featured in a piece on the University of Cambridge website about keeping the College going during the uniquely challenging circumstances of a global pandemic.

They spoke to him about his experiences:

“Back in March it was all very surreal. Nobody really knew what we were facing or how to deal with it.  

We had a mad rush to get all the students away safely but then for months it was like Groundhog Day. Most of the college staff were furloughed or working from home, but porters' lodges have to be staffed all the time.

It was as quiet as it would be normally at 7am on a Sunday, but all the time. You could walk round the whole perimeter of the college and not see one person. Even deliveries were few and far between.   

But when the students came  back we  quickly  went from “what shall I do for eight hours” to “where did those eight hours go?!” At the beginning of term we had quite a few trying shifts, because we had to police the social distancing rules. 

We can see how things haven’t been the same for students, particularly freshers who haven’t had the chance to make friends across College and their subjects like they usually would. 

It has been very different from a normal term for us too. With all the COVID safety measures it has been harder to meet the students and get to know them compared with previous years. And it can feel like a lot of the time we have to be the ones saying “sorry, you can’t do that”. Of course we try to do it in a friendly way, but it’s a difficult situation.  

Portering is really rewarding. I try to look after people the way I’d want someone to look after my daughter if she was here and she had a problem. At Jesus we pride ourselves on having a really positive, friendly relationship between the students and the porters, and I think we’ve still got that.”

The Master of Jesus College, Sonita Alleyne, said: 

“College staff across Cambridge have gone above and beyond in their dedication to looking after the health and wellbeing of our students and ensuring that the in-person Cambridge experience can still happen in the best way possible despite the pandemic.”

The original version of this article was published by the University of Cambridge and reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.