By Emilie Robinson, Digital News Editor
The Bristol, Cut the Rent campaign has amassed 1000 pledges from students promising to withhold rent starting this Saturday, 24 October, putting it on track to become the largest student rent strike in British history.
Signups have grown as students protest the ‘lack of support’ they are receiving from the University in isolation.
Eve Whittle, a first year politics and international relations student, who is part of the team organising the strike, told Epigram: ‘When we initially informed the University that we had gone into isolation, we received no response so were unsure if we would receive the support that had been promised.
‘Our food boxes arrived late, and these food boxes contained no fresh food and did not cater to dietary requirements, with all boxes containing peanuts when one flatmate had made the University aware of their serious peanut allergy.
‘The university provided some cleaning products but no sanitary products, as we struggled to get online shopping spaces those who needed access to sanitary products could not get them.
‘We received no mental health support, in what is an incredibly challenging and stressful situation, being locked in your flat with people you barely know.
‘The University has had time to plan for these situations and it feels like we are a second thought to them.’
The group are calling for as many students as possible to stop paying rent, ‘until the university treats its students better’ and the following demands are met:
• No repercussion for rent strikers
• 30% cut of the rent for the whole year for those who decide to stay in halls
• No-penalty contract releases and deposit refunds for anyone who wishes to move out of halls
The group are also calling for ‘more of the University in terms of their response to students in isolation’, and are demanding that:
• Students in locked-down halls be guaranteed at least 1 hour of time in outside communal halls spaces
• Food boxes to be delivered to flats
• Regular mental health check-ins twice a week with each flat by Resilife
• Full transparency on the powers, role and actions of any security staff enforcing lockdown in halls
One organiser of the campaign, Connor Nicol, told Epigram: ‘I appreciate this situation is not anything the University has had to deal with before.
‘They did, however, have resources that told them that bringing students back would result in an outbreak. It does feel like we’re just back in halls purely because they needed the rent money.’
Bristol University’s Student’s Union (SU) have stated their support for the action and yesterday, Monday 19 October, held a joint workshop with Bristol, Cut the Rent aimed at helping first years in halls organise their strike.
Ruth Day, Bristol Student Union’s student living officer, informed Epigram: ‘We fully support the rights of our students to self-organise and raise their frustrations to the University in this highly important area, and we stand in solidarity with them.
‘As an SU, we have active policy to support halls rent strikes, and this is what we will be doing by providing them with advice and highlighting their demands to the university in the spaces that we are in, alongside the halls lockdown demands that we have already released.’
The University has reportedly agreed to meet with four representatives from the strike within the next week and Bristol, Cut the Rent.
The SU are also meeting with the University this Wednesday to discuss the strike.
In 2016 a joint rent strike was held by students at the University of Roehampton, the Courtauld Institute of Art, Goldsmiths and University College London (UCL), which reportedly had just over a thousand.
With four days to go until the rent strike at Bristol, it is on course to be the largest rent strike in UK history.
A university of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘We fully acknowledge how stressful and challenging it is for students living in University accommodation having to self-isolate.
‘We thank them for following Government advice to keep themselves and the wider community safe and are doing everything possible to support them. This includes providing cleaning supplies, laundry services and free food boxes with fresh goods which we understand some other universities are charging students for.
‘Security and support staff within residences are essential to remind students of the need to behave in a responsible and lawful manner.
‘Self-isolating students have full access to wellbeing and mental health support services, and our blended learning provision has been created to ensure they can still with their studies online.
‘Students who aren’t having to self-isolate are still able to attend face-to learning and move around freely within Government guidelines.
‘The health and safety of our students is a top priority, and our Residential Life teams are available 24/7 to offer help and advice. Regular support and contact with students will ensure everyone is kept up-to-date and can ask any questions.’
‘We welcome further discussions with representatives from Cut the Rent and Bristol Students’ Union.’
The calls for a rent strike come as confirmed cases of coronavirus grow each day, with cases surpassing 1,000 confirmed positive tests today among staff and students at the University.
As of today, Tuesday 20 October, the University confirmed that 1,012 people have tested positive for COVID-19.
Featured Image: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh
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