By Poppy Atkinson Gibson @colourofpop
There can be no doubt that college dining has changed during the pandemic. I have felt this particularly at St Benet’s Hall which is deeply proud of its dining atmosphere in normal times.
Normal day to day dining at St Benet’s consists of a common table where everyone sits together. This means that students can rub shoulders with tutors and academics as well as people in other years. This is really nice and allows you to get to know everyone really quickly so it expands your friendship group and your horizons because the conversations are so varied and interesting.
A common table also means that there isn’t a high table as there are in almost all other colleges. This is where academics and college staff sit and can usually be found on a slightly raised dais, separate from the rest of the students.
Now that COVID has come to stay (although hopefully not for much longer) dining at St Benet’s has altered quite a bit. Instead of us all being crammed in, elbow to elbow. We now sit in a zig-zag with plastic screens separating place sittings. Instead of all queueing up together and helping ourselves at lunch, places are pre-set and our meals served to us by servers at one end of the dining hall. Usually at dinner, Fresher’s would serve everyone else, taking it in turns subject, by subject. Now, kitchen serves make up dinner and hand it to us before we take out spaced out places to eat.
The plastic screens and sitting far apart has reduced meal capacity and so not everyone can eat a meal at the same time. Conversation too, has been made more difficult due to the plastic screens and I often find myself having to ask people to repeat things. The jolliness and light-hearted atmosphere has also dissipated which is a shame and meals feel a little more sombre than they used to.
It’s not too different in some ways though. There’s still no high table and so you can still find yourself chatting away to academics and people form other years which is a welcome relief from the monotony of conversation which can sometimes arise from staying in your household bubble for weeks on end. Overall, I think that Benet’s has adapted really well and enabled people to still come in and dine and enjoy people’s company yet remaining safe. Nevertheless, I’m glad to hear that the UK is on track to ease restrictions. I’m looking forward to a time when the dining hall can be full to the brim again with loud chatter and laughter, rather than spread out and separated by screens.