Tag Archives: COVID-19

How will house design respond to the ‘new normal’ after COVID?

With many employees reporting they would like to continue working from home after lockdown restrictions ease, Mike Bassett, an architectural technology lecturer at Inverness College UHI, explores how COVID-19 may change house design of the future.

Our lives have changed so much in the last year, changes which will permanently affect our approach to work. Working from home is likely to become an integral part of how many of us will spend our time, so how can we ensure that we separate our employment from our family lives?  The way we use space at home will become fundamental to remaining effective in our work and keeping a positive work/life balance.

House design must respond to the changing face of employment. A space which can be dedicated to work requires a quiet environment with natural light, heat, ventilation, high speed broadband and sufficient spatial separation so that we can focus our minds. Most of us have muddled through the current COVID crisis without many of these. The kitchen table has become the office, but with kids and dogs running around, doorbell and telephone interruptions, ad-hoc IT arrangements, these are not long-term solutions.

Most people cannot move house to solve these problems, so the solution must often be found within the existing home accommodation with minimal compromise to the domestic arrangement.

It is likely then that the architectural design and construction industry will be called upon to create innovative solutions which are constrained by the existing building fabric, space and services. The design skills of these professions must include a good understanding of how new technology can be implemented practically and cost-effectively. And building technology will continue to develop and expand in response to this demand.

This places a responsibility on the architectural profession to remain current and authoritative through education, training and continued professional development. Our architectural technology courses at Inverness College UHI provide this service, enabling students to gain their qualifications each year.

But there are other things that all of us can do ourselves to make worthwhile improvements. 

As long as an appropriate, dedicated space is available for home-working, we can improve our environment with some targeted changes. Ensuring that our home is easy and affordable to keep warm is a major factor. Adding loft insulation, draft-proofing external doors, replacing old single-glazed windows and updating to a modern efficient boiler will all make a huge difference. These changes will make your home more comfortable and provide usable working space, but will also save you money on your heating bills. There may also be financial assistance available to help cover some of the costs.

If an appropriate space cannot be found within the house, there are solutions available which can provide dedicated home office facilities in a modern, modular building located in the garden. In many cases this will provide a ‘turn-key’ ready solution and may be within ‘permitted development’ meaning that planning consent does not have to be sought.

As with any changes you make to your home, make sure you get expert advice first.

Health libraries’ vital role in supporting the COVID response

To mark World Book Day on Thursday 4 March, Rob Polson and Chris O’Malley highlight the contribution the Highland Health Sciences Library is making to the COVID-19 response.

The Highland Health Sciences Library is one of thirteen libraries spread across University of the Highlands and Islands partnership. The facility is based in the Centre for Health Science in the grounds of Raigmore Hospital, although staff have been delivering services remotely in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well as serving university students and staff, the library, along with Lorn and Islands Hospital Information Service and Library in Oban, also provides support to NHS Highland health and social care staff. Our work aims to ensure that students and health care staff have access to up to date evidence-based information so they can provide patients with high quality health care. Generations of student nurses, doctors and allied health professionals have passed through and used the service to become managers and experts in their field.

Library staff have made many contributions to consumer health information, both at home and abroad over the years. We have helped to set up and support the specialist Scottish Toxoplasmosis and Lyme Disease laboratories in Raigmore and, further afield, we have contributed to the development of mental health services in Ghana and Zambia and helped with child health in Amazonia.

Historically, the Highlands is the home of some significant and noteworthy health innovations. The Highlands and Islands Medical Service, the model for the current UK NHS service, originated in the area. With the development of accessible electronic resources in the 1990s, the Highland Health Sciences Library was one of the main proposers of an electronic repository of books, articles and professional development materials – making them accessible 24/7, irrespective of staff location. This proposal initially became the NHS Scotland eLibrary and has since developed into the main clinical and educational knowledge support tool for the NHS in Scotland.

In essence, we are here to link people with evidence, so they can conduct evidence-based education, research and practice in health sciences. Traditional forms of this work involve developing collections of resources like books on shelves and, more recently, electronic journals, eBooks and other online resources. We also teach staff and students how to find evidence for themselves and we collate material for those who are short on time, those working on high quality academic research and practice, and those providing specific clinical care.

During COVID-19, the library has been working closely with NHS Highland’s public health department. We provide information to help the department plan for dealing with the pandemic. In the early stages of the pandemic, health services had to act quickly and didn’t really know what was going to happen. We set up alerts to help model how the virus would develop in the area and how best to deal with possible scenarios. Alerts were also set up to deal with specific problems resulting from treatments, for example, how to support the psychological needs of people leaving intensive care. We continue to set up alerts as things progress, including information on how best to deal with the long COVID legacy. Ongoing horizon scanning of how the virus is developing also allows the department to plan for contingencies, such as the problem of vaccine hesitancy – the reasons behind refusing vaccination.


Image: WHO/ Sam Bradd


Feedback from this work indicates that the library service is seen as frontline. It allows public health professionals to focus on their decision making, with the library service providing condensed, best evidence in a manageable controlled flow – gifting time to staff and increasing the value of their work. In addition to this, the library has contributed to developing similar sets of resources for NHS Scotland and has fed into the COVID-19 work of the World Health Organisation.

In preparation for the next pandemic, this element of providing condensed best evidence in a manageable, controlled flow using artificial intelligence and machine learning is being looked at as a project in the university’s computing department.

Libraries play an important role in saving their users money and time. A study by the Highland Health Sciences Library showed that staff could save an average of six hours per query by using the service. This equates to a saving of £200 per query for their employer.

Stereotypes of what we do in the library, like a librarian as someone who stamps books in and out all day, are outmoded now. Our real role is supporting the wide information needs of our varied user groups across the university partnership and NHS Highland.

In this maelstrom of change, the goals, strategies and standards of academia and health sciences remain the structural underpinnings of the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how’ of what we do. The ‘where’ has changed for now in these COVID times, but we have adapted and continue to support the needs of those the service is designed to support.

Rob Polson and Chris O’Malley, Specialist Librarians, Highland Health Sciences Library