On Monday, there was really no feeling that schools may close. All schools were doing their very best to remain open and keep their classes going. The recommendation was still that students should remain in the UK for Easter so their studies would not be interrupted. Some parents had, however, started to change their mind and book their children on flights home.
For those staying, Bright World was organised, with all our students booked into host families, all of whom were signed up for our Host Family Coronavirus Contingency Plan, speedily written and circulated on Monday morning. This would mean all host families would agree to take care of students should they present with any symptoms while with them. We were astounded by the dedication shown by our host families in agreeing to this plan. The only families who did not agree to it had really good reasons for it such as underlying health conditions amongst family members.
Our residential programmes at Caterham and in Cambridge were still going to run with a healthy cohort of students in each centre.
Our daily government update told us to work from home if that was possible. Our work from home plan was going to come into action soon...
Things were escalating fast and new guidance from Public Health England made schools start announcing closures. The guidance confirmed that the Bright World policy was correct, in that if a student should present with symptoms while in their boarding house that they should stay there and be isolated and cared for in school. The boarding house is considered to be a 'household' and therefore the same guidelines apply as for a family of four. This presented a very worrying and, in some cases, unmanageable situation for some schools who would not be able to cope with potentially having to isolate the whole boarding house. One by one we received news some were closing, others still staying open - leading to much confusion. It also started to become really really busy at Bright World; busier than we have ever experienced before.
This was the last day in the office for James and Lana Foster, Lia Ferris and the Sales and Marketing Department. The Guardianship Care and Accommodation teams felt they needed to work as a team together for a bit longer.
With so many students going home suddenly, we decided to cancel our residential programme at Caterham School and move any remaining students booked in there to our Relax and Revise Programme in Cambridge. Overseas parents were very relieved to hear that we would not be charging any cancellation fees, despite the late notice for those who were pulling out. There were still, at this point, over 20 students booked into our Cambridge centre.
The numbers of students still wanting host family stay at Easter had almost halved in two days, with most booking flights to go home. We were busy letting host families know and booking airport transfers for the students instead. Emails flowing into our accounts were relentless. Guardianship Care Managers and our Accommodation team were working until late at night just to clear their emails and make sure everyone was replied to and students arrived safely where they were supposed to be.
Our Marketing Team were inundated with enquiries from parents of students who did not have a guardian in place to help; asking for our advice and assistance.
At 5pm during our daily government update from Boris Johnson, he announced all schools were to close on Friday, 20th - we wondered if this would mean all schools and boarding houses too..?
Some schools announced that their boarding houses would remain open until the usual Easter break time of 27th March or 3rd April but the majority were closing both the school and the boarding house on Friday. Things got even busier for us as guardians, as we stepped in to get students booked into host families or flights.
One by one, students enrolled into our Relax & Revise Cambridge centre were dropping out and booking flights home. By the end of the day we only had four students due to go there. Schools were closing left, right and centre and the emails and phone calls just kept on coming.
The number of students in host families for Easter was dropping by the hour. Many students were finding it difficult to get flights so a few nights in a host family were required prior to departure. Our host family network continued to astound us with their kindness and flexibility.
Arrangements that had been made had to be changed and then sometimes changed again as the situation evolved and parents reacted.
Students were arriving in their host families and at the Relax & Revise Programme in Cambridge throughout the day. New flight details were continuing to come in.
The volume of emails started to become a little more manageable by the afternoon on Friday. The Guardianship and Accommodation team agreed that this would be their last day at the Bright World office and set off home with their computers. The office now lays empty until we can go back. We think we will be working remotely for around 12 weeks from now.
Daily meetings via the Zoom app have already proved really useful for those who have been working at home all week. It has helped us to maintain a feeling of team support, working together to get through this strange and unprecedented situation.
We all wonder what next week will hold. We still have a lot of students here in the UK, either in host families, in Cambridge, or still at school waiting for flights home. Flight restrictions are starting to be imposed now so we truly hope that everyone will be able to travel. If they are not able then parents can rest assured that Bright World Guardianships will look after them and keep them safe.
Firstly, we would like to acknowledge the hard work of our Head Office team. What an amazing group of people who have all pulled together to get us through this situation. No-one had to be asked to go the extra mile - they just all did it. They worked day and night to help parents and make sure our young students were safe and sound. Every single member of Bright World has really made a big difference and it was very moving at times to watch everyone helping each other out.
We have also been very impressed with our Bright World Buddies. Our Local Coordinators have been so supportive to students and have helped with communications between us, students and schools.
Our host family network has affirmed itself as a group of really caring individuals who are genuinely committed to offering students a home from home. Never before has this been so necessary, and they have really stepped up to the plate.
Our driver network has been second to none and continue to deliver professional and caring travel services to the children under our care. Their efficiency and flexibility has shone through in the past few days and will continue to do so over the next few weeks, as everyone eventually goes home.
We thank everyone involved for getting us through this week. Let's see what next week has in store. Whatever it is, we will get through it as a team - that is for sure.