We all know how much our working lives have had to change in the last 12 months. From mute buttons to standing desks, homeschooling to online celebrations, we’ve all had to adapt, and quickly. But for our Domestic Manager, Rosemary Saunders, things look very different to when she started at the College 20 years ago this June.
Rosemary first came to Churchill through a temping agency for the role of Master’s PA, a role that she had signed up to for two weeks. She admits that having lived in Cambridge her whole life, she had never imagined she would work for one of the Colleges. But at the end of her first day she was offered the role full time, and was convinced to stay.
Rosemary was the PA to two Masters, Sir John Boyd and Sir David Wallace, and to three Vice-Masters, Dr Andrew Tristram, Professor Alison Finch and Professor Ken Siddle. She has fond memories of the events she was able to attend, and remembers being heavily involved in Alumni & Development events, including the 50th anniversary celebrations back in 2011. One of the highlights was seeing the alumni she had known since they were undergraduates. Talking of those early days, her face lights up. “I loved them!”
When the role of Domestic Manager came up in 2013, Rosemary didn’t hesitate to apply. She had somewhat stumbled into the role of PA, and even though she enjoyed it, after twelve years, she found she missed being a manager. Having managed a team when she worked for a commercial interior design company years earlier, she knew that the knowledge she had taken from that role would be an ideal fit for refurbishments and wider design projects at the College. She applied and after two interviews was offered the job, a role she has held ever since.
Rosemary knows how essential the housekeeping team is to a Cambridge College, and wanted to ensure that the team enjoyed their work as well as raising their profile. When talking with her, Rosemary’s pride in her team and love of the role is clear. “I think the world of my team. They work so well together and I’m so proud of them. I love everything about my job and everything it stands for.”
But the last 12 months have undoubtedly been the hardest in her role as Domestic Manager, as few teams in the College have been affected by the pandemic to the same extent as the housekeeping team. While many of us are able to work from home, it’s simply not an option for them. From March to September 2020, Rosemary had a skeleton team working on site, before moving on to a new shift system when the students returned for Michaelmas term. Her team adapted quickly, with some such as Tom Willers going above and beyond by being on site every day. They have all consistently adjusted to new working hours whilst having to respond to each new government change as and when they happen. This is on top of dealing with individual anxieties around the pandemic, and ensuring that the environment was safe for staff. Even Rosemary was not immune to the mental health challenges of Covid-19, experiencing isolation whilst working from home with just her dogs Bailey and Riley for company, and quickly having to learn how to manage a team remotely.
And what next for the housekeeping team as things look to start opening up again? At the moment Rosemary usually has around nine of her team working on a rota on site, but from the 12th April, if things continue as planned, her whole team will move to a one week on, one week off working pattern. And hopefully, if the R number is low enough, they will be able to start cleaning student areas again. But Rosemary is quick to praise the Churchill student body: “They’ve been so responsible. We’ve had very few causes for concern, which gives my team the confidence to be at work”. In the meantime, Rosemary will continue to keep up morale among the team, and looks forward to the day when the whole team can be working together again, hopefully in time to celebrate her 20th working anniversary.