By Holly Beaumont, Co-Editor-in-Chief
In line with the start of the third week of UCU strike action, 12 students entered Wills Memorial Building this morning and have occupied the Great Hall in protest, barricading the doors.
One of the occupiers told Epigram that they were protesting due to the pension disputes as well as the so-called ‘Four Fights’ : pay, workload, equality, and the casualisation of contracts.
The student occupiers first entered the building as it opened at 8:00am, as the site porter Gary explained.
🚨BREAKING: the University of Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building is currently under ‘peaceful’ occupation by students in solidarity with the UCU strikes pic.twitter.com/wahgXFVPKp— Epigram (@EpigramPaper) February 28, 2022
‘They came in this morning as soon as we opened the doors and they came in and started padlocking all the doors. They got chains and padlocked everywhere. The cleaners were inside and they were doing their nut. They said, well what if a fire happens?’, he said.
Gary described the group as ‘all in black, with balaclavas on’. He continued, ‘We asked them whether they were students but they wouldn't tell us either way. It's like, if you're a student, you can protest freely, but as soon as we said that they looked at each other and ran up into the Great Hall’.
🚨🚨🚨THE WILLS MEMORIAL BUILDING IS OCCUPIED. Security are going heavy handed, and threatening to call police. RETWEET RETWEET RETWEET🚨🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/GykIdbL8FB— Anna (@anna_lrtgrn) February 28, 2022
The entrance to the Great Hall, which is not typically guarded, is now blocked by three security guards who said they will be there for the ‘foreseeable’. They seemed confident that they might be there for a number of days.
One of the occupiers confirmed to Epigram that their ‘initial plan is for three days’, but said, ‘If we can get food and water in and access to toilets, then we can keep it going indefinitely’.
The security at the building were not allowing anyone in to speak with the occupants, however a different sentiment was expressed by the occupier we spoke to.
SUCCESS! Occupiers have access to water and toilet facilities and supplies are being allowed in. This wouldn’t be possible without the crowd massing outside the Wills Building. Occupiers pass their thanks onto @Bristol_UCU and everyone else for their support ✊#WillsIsOccupied pic.twitter.com/POonPGVQ5j— Anna (@anna_lrtgrn) February 28, 2022
‘We definitely want press to be allowed in. We want to speak to press because it's about demands and about putting pressure on the Uni to meet those demands. So, the more pressure from the outside we get, the better.
‘We are not just here to cause trouble abstractly. If they meet those four demands, we will leave at any point’, he continued.
When asked about their experience thus far, he said, ‘When we first came in, they threatened to call the police on us. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. But security are being quite cooperative now’.
They have offered us a toilet. It’s behind one of our barricades which we haven’t taken down yet because it’s kind of suspicious but I think we will eventually. We were a bit suspicious of it at first but I think we can take them at their word for that’, he continued.
He explained that they have not had any contact with university staff, other than security, and that they would welcome contact from management.
‘We haven’t actually had any contact from management. We would like contact from management because we would like to discuss our demands’, he said.
He told Epigram that they chose Wills Memorial Building as their protest location for a few reasons: it's easy to occupy due to its size, the fact that it's a ‘symbol’ of the university, and because of an upcoming open-day.
‘As far as we know, there's an open day happening here on Wednesday. So, in terms of publicity, we want this to be as public as possible. That's kind of the point.’
A University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘We are aware that students are currently occupying the Great Hall in the Wills Memorial Building.
UPDATE on student occupation of Wills Memorial Building: Security at WMB says ‘trouble is, they’re messing about with the screens, if they break any of that it’ll cost in the thousands’. @EpigramPaper #UCUstrikes pic.twitter.com/uBAUNzQyvt— Holly (@holly__beaumont) February 28, 2022
‘The action follows similar occupations at several other universities in which students are supporting the ongoing industrial action by lecturers and academic staff which is part of a complex national dispute over staff pay and pensions.
‘Students have access to toilets and amenities. We have never taken action against students for peaceful occupation and will not do so in this case.’
The occupant explained that the group are in good spirits and have ‘plenty of food’. They have sleeping bags and are set to remain in the Great Hall until the University listens to their demands, or until they no longer have the means to stay.
The UCU strike action is set to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and could continue beyond then, if no agreement is reached.
Image credit: Epigram
Are you in solidarity with the students occupying Wills Memorial Building or has it gone too far?