Spotlight On: Nick Kuenssberg OBE, Chair of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

As someone who BC (before coronavirus) worked largely from a home office in Glasgow’s west end, this new world hasn’t been a total surprise. However the working day was punctuated by anything from one to four meetings out (often in the Jack Bruce space), a lunch in the city and often a seminar, talk or dinner in the evening; all of these activities have either been canned or replaced by Zoom interactions.

There is no doubt that my inadequate communications technology skills have improved as we interact with family members, friends, work colleagues, the local community committee and book club. We had a family quiz with 25 players in four countries and three time zones on Zoom!

This is me in my office (left) where I am very much at home but with a totally different regime AC. The timetable is normal, i.e. it can start at 7.30am and finish at 11.30pm, but it is much more organised. I save hours in travel (even a meeting in the RCS requires a full hour’s travel) and there is undoubtedly more discretionary time.

That is except for this week when I have been heavily engaged in one of my regular meetings with Principal Jeff Sharkey (dominated by C-19 arrangements and contingencies), a two-and-a-half hour meeting with other HEI chairs (scheduled for Dundee with a pre-meeting session and a post-meeting dinner), planning committee and board meetings with secretary Lindsey Shields, all on RCS duty.

At the same time, I have been engaged in heavy fundraising for one of the companies that I chair (complicated by the participation of a business angel syndicate, the Scottish Industrial Bank and a significant investor currently self-isolated in Israel) and the other company that I chair which has been on the edge of either failure or success for 18 months and needs careful and opportunistic cash management and shareholder management. All of this has been carried out from my home office.

The discretionary time sounds attractive but is quickly used up by walks with my wife and occasionally a somewhat longer one along the canal to Bishopbriggs or Bowling with a neighbour’s Labrador, local shopping, undertaking a fair share of the household chores, checking in with the extended family which includes six school-age grandchildren and one ill spaniel, and communicating with siblings and friends in a much more meaningful way – real and added pleasure which I hope that we will keep up.

What would I like to do with these months of isolation? I have learnt enough languages during an international career including Italian (though the fortnight in May/June in Tuscany is already off the agenda and that for end August pretty unlikely). My wife is learning the piano courtesy of Ancuta Nite-Doyle, which is massive, while I would like to revert to the writing of a book that I have promised myself and colleagues for some years.

However I have fifty years’ worth of box files to work through and clear up and perhaps this is the time to undertake that task – and create some much-needed shelf space. Time alone will tell as, without the external pressures of what was the normal programme, there is a curious lack of shape to each day with no distinction between weekdays and the weekend. It is a time for self-discipline to establish that routine, but I haven’t got there yet.

I feel for RCS staff and students. The difficulties for our staff, distinguishing between full-time and part-time, are unimaginable. Management has to cope with a totally unrehearsed situation balancing multiple demands, full-time staff have to accelerate the process of converting face-to-face teaching to on-line in as imaginative and innovative a way as possible and part-time staff have to do this and look for other opportunities in what threatens to become a cultural desert. It is up to the RCS with RCS at Home and RCS Presents to populate that desert alongside the BBC and other media services.

Our students, particularly final year students, have a series of personal uncertainties on top of the institutional challenges to face. The staff are working their socks off to mitigate these complexities, but nobody could have prepared for the problems created as a consequence of the C-19 lockdown.

Whether it is the stresses of online learning, the cancellation of the Fringe, the availability of staff, concerns about finance or doubts about the future, these all have to be weighed up and coped with.

We must remember that we will, however, get through this dark period eventually and must allow and indeed force ourselves to look beyond the next few weeks and months and to shaping our future through the medium of our respective arts.

Meantime, at this appallingly difficult time, I am thinking of all RCS staff and students and hope that you and your families will enjoy good health.

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