Pop-up venues with space for up to 600 people have been created at the University of Bath for a taste of a normal student experience during the global pandemic.
Student union president Francesco Masala said outbreaks in Scotland and the United States showed what happened if students were not given a safe alternative.
The university has turned a campus car park into the “East Village”, with Bath businesses running bars and marquees available to book for other activities.
Mr Masala said the university is thinking of students’ mental health and the vast majority are complying with the lockdown but they have been “made a scapegoat” by the government.
Speaking during a webinar on Covid-19’s impact on education organised by Bath MP Wera Hobhouse, he said: “We knew it was going to be nothing like the freshers week that there used to be. We were in a way lucky to see what was happening to those institutions that were ahead of us.
“We saw what could happen if they were not provided a safe alternative and there would be a massive spike in cases locally, outbreaks such as we’ve seen in Scotland in the United States – we wanted to make sure that that did not happen at Bath.
“The East Village is a massive venue with all the social distancing and with the tables of six very well marked. It can host around 600 people at capacity.
“We brought businesses to the campus to make sure they could provide that safe but fun alternative to students.”
The East Village has four marquees that can each host 150 people. Bath nightclub Moles and comedy club Komedia have been invited to help run the pop-up venues, along with student union bar Plug.
They host events every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night that end at 10pm in line with the curfew. Food is delivered directly to each table, ordered via a mobile app.
If you are staying on campus at @UniofBath this weekend be sure to come visit us at the East Village for some great drinks & tunes. Tonight we have once again teamed up with @thesubath to bring you The Big Cheese from 6pm
Book a table here https://t.co/vMH7r40hxQ pic.twitter.com/34Eq6KBGtL
— MolesBath (@MolesBath) October 16, 2020
Other marquees on campus offer activities like yoga, meditation and fitness classes.
More than 200 people at the university have tested positive for Covid-19.
Mr Masala said: “We cannot control the behaviour of every single student but we are making sure that students are supported if they have to go into isolation.
“We have a solid disciplinary system in place if students do violate the health and safety regulations of the university or the law. We are finding that a great majority of our students are complying compared to what we have seen nationally.
“We’re doing everything in our power to keep all of our communities safe.”
He said students had to come back to ensure the financial stability of universities and prevent “mass redundancies” but the government had used them as a “scapegoat for pretty much anything”.
“It fosters a lot of confusion, competition and hatred between students and the local communities they inhabit, when students, universities and student unions are trying their best to make sure that there can be one cohesive message,” he added.
University of Bath deputy vice-chancellor Professor Bernie Morley said: “We’ve tried to reduce the number of students who are on campus at any one time – essentially they’re only on campus for four hours a week for in-person teaching.
“We have to make sure that [education] is there for them, because if we don’t we are disadvantaging a whole generation.
“It was also very important to look at how we helped our students deal with all the social interactions that they would have normally had and many of which they couldn’t have.
“We’re trying to do as much as we possibly can to keep our students happy.
“If they have the misfortune to go into isolation – and we have quite a lot of students in isolation at the moment – then what we’ve been doing is supporting them really well.”
Students who are self-isolating are being sent food packages including ready meals and fresh vegetables, plus weekly treats – Wednesday is pizza day and on Sundays they get a roast dinner.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter