What do we all want to go back to in Sheffield after Freedom Day?

The government has announced the end of pandemic restrictions as of Monday July 19.There are mixed emotions for us all: relief, delight, perhaps continuing worry.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 12:00 am

Covid is not over: as the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid has said, as a society we are going to need to learn to live with Covid-19 in the future.

Clearly, he isn’t wrong: Covid-19 is just the latest coronavirus in global circulation.

Four coronaviruses cause around a quarter of all the world’s common colds. Each was deadly when it first made the leap to humans, but societies have learnt to manage them.

Car belching out fumes from its exhaust.

Government policy has changed from public health rules to individual responsibility for taking precautions.

Decisions about, for example, wearing masks in crowded environments or on public transport are now for each of us to make.The past fifteen months have been remarkable for everyone.

The impact has been huge. Any graph makes the point. The story of the 2020/21 pandemic is there in front of us.

There has been a sharp fall in economic activity, the disappearance of traffic congestion, a hiatus in carbon emissions, the collapse of international travel.

From the trivial to the serious, the pandemic has been a global shock which has impacted on every single individual’s experience.

No other recent event has had the same concentrated impact.

Because we live in a globally inter-dependent world, the virus impacted simultaneously the world over.

Most other recent epochal events have not had the same range or immediacy. Other epidemics travelled more slowly.

Big political or economic events left some parts of the globe untouched. The 2020/21 pandemic has been a “one world” experience which has affected every single one of us.

That, alone, makes it remarkable. Some things will return to ‘normal’ more quickly than others.

Some of the most depressing figures are on carbon emissions.

They are almost back to February 2020 levels, even though we know they need to go down rapidly.

Emissions may even rise more, as people continue to avoid public transport. Other things will not return anywhere near as quickly.

There has been an irreversible shift towards online purchasing. That spells real trouble for already struggling shopping centres.

I guess we are all now asking questions about what we want to go back to, what we want to change, what fresh starts we want to make.

At Sheffield Hallam University we’ve been asking those questions about everything we do.

I know all organisations across and beyond Sheffield are doing the same. The answers are not always easy.

So over the last few months, we’ve listened hard to staff and students as plan ahead. We know we have great experience to build on, and we also know that the pandemic has taught us a lot. We are looking hard at how our students learn.

This is a great university at the heart of a great city, so in-person face-to-face learning is vital to what we do – and we know we do it well. We also know that we offer a fantastic range of learning opportunities.

Not just learning by teaching but also learning by doing and collaborating in specialist laboratories, studios and workshops.

All our students also learn through engagement with real-world work experience and work-based projects – something which is special about this university.

They learn through independent study in our fantastic libraries and resource bases.

And, accelerated as a result of the pandemic, they also learn digitally by using apps and technology tools.

What will change, and what will stay the same in our lives as a result of the pandemic?

It’s an impossible question to answer. The past year has told us that things can change in an instant.

The apparently impossible becomes familiar. The familiar becomes unusual. We’ve all navigated a huge amount of change and learnt so much.

The real challenge now is to use what we have learned to help shape a better future for our students and our region.

A Sheffield Telegraph poll asking readers if they would continue to wear face masks after July 19 showed that