By Alexander Sampson, Features Deputy Editor
After a near two-year lockdown that branded student life housebound and monotonous, Epigram's Features Deputy Editor discusses a light at the end of the tunnel - freshers' week.
Pandemic conditions have created a perfect storm: out of the three main years of university, only the incumbent third years have had any experience of normal student life. Second years have spent their first year locked in halls, living on Blackboard and travelling to Stoke Bishop to 'go out', while the arriving freshers have spent nearly two years at home or behind masks in socially distanced classrooms.
‘We’ve been robbed of a year already, and like the first years, we should be entitled to a proper freshers’ week,’ explained, Edward Evans, a second year Philosophy and French student, ‘I’m looking forward to it, but I hope everyone knows the appropriate way to behave.’
Despite offering deferral packages of up to £11,000 to encourage successful applicants to defer, the University has still had to house some freshers in Bath and other ‘neighbouring town[s] and suburb[s]’. Many other incoming students have also had to seek private accommodation. Add this swollen year group to two cohorts with a curtailed university social experience and expect the Triangle to be heaving come 18 September.
'We’ve been robbed of a year already, and like the first years, we should be entitled to a proper fresher’s week'
Despite the incoming student swarm, some staples of the Bristol night-time scene remain unfazed: Eddie Gershon, a spokesperson for The W.G. Grace on Whiteladies Road, declared to Epigram that he knows ‘Wetherspoons are popular’ but that he doesn’t foresee any issues considering the huge influx of students expected to engage in the infamous Freshers' Week. ‘Our pubs have been dealing with freshers/students for many years, so this won’t be any different.’
Buoyed by Wetherspoons’ confidence, Epigram also spoke to Thekla, Bristol’s floating club, and spoke to their representative Alex Black: ‘It’s shaping up to be a freshers' week like no other for sure. There may well be long queues at times unfortunately; it simply boils down to a supply and demand issue. The best advice we can give is purchase tickets […] in advance.’
While Thekla is not worried about overcrowding, there are concerns that larger crowds will lead to a rampant spread of freshers’ flu. According to David Mathews, Virology Professor at the University’s School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, ‘We’re all expecting a big surge [in respiratory illnesses] because last year a lot of common colds and viruses weren’t spreading due to multiple lockdowns and all the increased observation of distancing and hand washing.’
But it’s not all bad. Crowded pubs, sweaty clubs and a crippling three-day illness form the backbone of a standard freshers' week. This year, according to the SU website, the University’s ‘Welcome 2021’ lasts from 18 September until 2 October, meaning potentially two weeks of wild hedonism that extends into the first week of the academic year. The SU has also prepared a miscellany of daytime activities perfect for the average Bristol fresher; from houseplant potting sessions to tie dye workshops, the SU has even organised a vintage kilo sale for all to enjoy.
In other news, the Freshers' Fair makes a welcome return and offers the opportunity to sample Bristol’s entire range of societies live for the first time in two years. Sprawling across the Downs over 24-25 September, the spectacle speaks for itself and remains a popular event and memory for most students.
For the first years involved in Bristol’s accommodation fiasco, the SU is also offering a non-halls mingle at the Balloon Bar for all those in private accommodation. Further mingling events provide spaces for all nationalities, denominations, sexual orientations and gender definitions to meet each other in a relaxed setting.
And so the build-up begins. New students begin to filter in for preseason, moving-in days and the dawn of freshers’ week. Returning students prepare for the new term, each sharp scratch and dead arm a fair trade off for the promise of maskless cafes, overflowing clubs and an uninhibited social life.