This Friday, students from the University of Bristol announced that they were set for a rent strike over their treatment during current lockdown.
“We’re calling a rent strike!!” the students’ union announced on their new Facebook page ‘Bristol, Cut The Rent’.
This come from a group of students of all levels, from first years to postgraduates, campaigning to cut the rent in University halls so that everyone has an affordable and decent place to live. The strike is to start on Saturday 24 October. They are encouraging as many others as possible to stop paying “until the university treats its students better.”
“It’s unacceptable that the university told students to come and live in halls when they can’t keep us safe,” the message continues. “The uni clearly just wanted students to come back so they could have our accommodation fees. We’re saying no! Withhold your rent this quarter and until the university treats its students better. We’re demanding no-penalty contract releases available for all those in halls, rent reduction across the board, and more provisions for students self-isolating. The strike will go ahead if there are enough sign ups. Here’s the form, you know what to do.”
A Zoom event called ‘Rent Strike Workshop’ is also scheduled for 18 October at 6pm.
Students report very poor services, leading to more coronavirus cases
“Despite only being called yesterday, the current action has over 450 students from Halls of Residence committed to striking, and numbers are still rising rapidly,” student Finlay told me this Friday. “The amount of money we are withholding from the University this term is approaching £1 million,” he adds. He also explained that: “There have been many well-known instances of unnecessary intimidation by security services and food boxes not turning up. If food boxes have turned up, they have often been left unlabelled at the bottom of stairs shared between flats so people have gone through them wondering if they are theirs, an outrageous danger of COVID spreading.”
The impact of extremely high rent, no food and little time allowed outdoors, on top of what is already a shameful mental health crisis at Bristol University, should be obvious, he says. “In 2019 Bristol students successfully ran a rent strike, winning £250,000 in compensation and extra bursary money, over poor living conditions and extortionate prices, which amassed only 150 strikers. We have a real chance of winning these concessions by the current action.”
The students also sent the following demands to the university for:
- Outdoor access – they say students in lockdown should be granted at least one hour outside each day in accommodation courtyards and green spaces
- Fresh food boxes should be delivered to flats and they should cater for all dietary requirements (e.g. halal and kosher)
- Regular mental health check-ins twice a week with Resilife, the Residential Life Service at the university
- Full transparency on the powers, role and actions of security staff enforcing lockdowns in halls.
A University of Bristol spokesperson replied to the call: “We fully acknowledge how stressful and challenging it is for students living in University accommodation having to self-isolate”, adding that “health and safety of our students is a top priority.” They confirmed that “self-isolating students have full access to wellbeing and mental health support services,” and our that “they can still continue with their studies online.” As for students who don’t have to self-isolate, they are still requested to attend face-to-face learning and can “move around freely within Government guidelines.”
Weeks of bad news, as the term is just starting
On 9 October, the students’ online magazine Epigram announced that “All students in The Courtrooms [a building in the city centre are being] placed into two week quarantine”. A cluster of Covid-19 cases has spiked in the halls of residence. In a statement, the University said that this measure “is an additional precaution, over and above the requirement for all students to follow the UK Government and University regulations.” See link.
The measure affects around 300 students and comes as case numbers continue to rise both locally and across the University community. Epigram also reports this Friday that “The University of Bristol has confirmed there are now 725 students who have tested positive for Covid-19 and nine members of staff.”
Connor is studying English; it is his first term as an undergraduate. He’s not in isolation but he’s very involved with the strike movement, to demand immediate improvements. “There’s a high degree of insecurity at the moment because I don’t really feel as though the university is being transparent with students right now,” he told me. “For instance, a big problem we see with isolating students is with food packages being delivered as many have reported them arriving days late and others have told us that their food packages have been left unattended in communal areas and have been subsequently raided by other students.”
Parents from Bristol, whose children study in the city or elsewhere in the country have published an open letter last week to voice their worries about the way universities are currently handling the crisis. West England Bylines published the letter here.
Ed: Here is the student’s announcement in full:
Bristol Halls Lockdown Rent Strike
Students were sold coming to Uni being promised blended learning, so many of us signed contracts with halls and moved to Uni. Now, we are finding that most of our learning has moved online and we are essentially paying thousands of pounds in rent for a room we wished we’d never signed for. Many of us are being locked in our flats without decent and timely access to food, which the Uni knew would happen. This is affecting all of us and we think that the Uni should reduce the rent for all students in halls. We cannot access the blended learning we were promised, nor all the halls facilities we are paying thousands for, so we demand of the Uni the following:
1. No repercussions for rent strikers.
2. No-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for anyone who wishes to move out of halls.
3. 30% cut of the rent for the whole year for those who decide to stay in halls.
We also are demanding more of the University in terms of their response to students in isolation:
1. Outdoor access: students in locked-down halls to be guaranteed at least one hour of time outside per day (in accommodation courtyards, green spaces or other safe alternatives).
2. Food boxes: boxes to be delivered to flats, to cater for all dietary requirements (inc. halal and kosher) and to contain fresh food.
3. Regular mental health check-ins twice a week with each flat by Resilife.
4. Full transparency on the powers, role and actions of any security staff enforcing lockdowns in halls.
We are calling on everyone in halls, whether your halls are in lockdown yet or not, to join our strike which starts on 24th October. We all need to stand together and get the compensation and promises from the Uni which we deserve.
For more information on rent striking, have a read of our FAQs: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rHS0L72N5CxSD1WStKdoXcgJzN5gQ7OP2x0w1qmRpes/