By Cara Hene, Second Year, Politics and International Relations
A growing number of student societies have voiced their opposition to the Student Union’s update to Senate House.
The change, scheduled after Easter, would involve the movement of a number of the SU’s services from the Richmond Building to the fifth floor of Senate House, including their Welcome Desk and Staff team.
The expansion of the Centre for Academic Language Development will see the replacement of the SU offices, as well as the loss of the Gromit Room for students – both of which are currently located on the third and fourth floor of the Richmond Building.
Senate House's fifth floor has been available to students for 5 years – alongside study spaces its main function is the use of its six large rooms, available for reservation by student societies.
The SU states that the move would bring services closer to campus and highlights that two of the six rooms will remain available for societies’ use. It has also guaranteed students the use of the Carpenter Room during the exam season next calendar year.
Since the announcement, students have expressed their opposition. Especially prominent are performing arts societies, those most affected by a potential loss of rehearsal space.
The president of A Capella Society, Aaliyah Butt, has written an open letter to the Student Union, gaining 114 signatories. It argues that the repurposing of the Carpenter Room for PAF societies during the day “ignores the demand of evening rooms, as day time rooms are more available as everyone has university”.
It concludes, “Overall, we are beyond shocked at the lack of feasible alternatives to rehearsal spaces and the lack of acknowledgement regarding the impact this will have on all PAF societies. Furthermore, for this decision to have been made without any student society consultation is beyond insulting. As a society, we want the SU to provide a more coherent and extensive alternative to the reduced rehearsal rooms and to actively include the PAF societies in all consultation”.
The Student Union has responded to criticism, maintaining that “since the announcement we have consulted with student groups and will be using their feedback to fight for new student groups spaces”. They assure students “Our Officer Team will continue to lobby the university for more permanent, purpose-designed study spaces”.
In addition, members from Drama Society created @stop.senate.takeover on Instagram, with 646 likes on its first post: “SAY NO TO THE SENATE HOUSE UPDATES: SAVE OUR SPACES”. The account’s petition - ‘Oppose the Senate House Update’, has now over 1000 signatures.
The petition reads: “The University already lacks study space, 5th floor senate currently provides study space for over 164 students. The Carpenter Room is a sports hall, not fit for study purpose… it is not being done in the interest of students”.
President and Secretary of Drama Society are behind the creation of the account. In speaking to Epigram they said that if there were no “concrete” alternatives offered then they would continue to oppose the move outright, highlighting the negative impact the update would have on their society’s ability to function
The pair felt the SU had shown little transparency regarding the role of the University, saying that the original announcement cited student feedback as the driver of the move, while subsequent information states it is a university-led initiative.
Epigram reached out to Bristol SU for a comment. They responded, saying:
“Since we announced the upcoming move of some Bristol SU services to Senate House at Easter, we know some students and student groups are concerned about losing activity and study space, and what this might mean for them going forward.
"It is worth stressing that the current use of the 5th floor of Senate House has only ever been temporarily available to students. In no situation would the space currently remain as it is. The University's plan has always been to repurpose the space and if we weren't to take the space for our offices, then it would instead go to a university department.
"Our move is the only scenario in which the future of Senate House rooms 5.20 and 5.22 for student group activity space remains secured. With a growing University, the alternative is student groups lose access to all six Senate House spaces as the University takes over the whole floor.
"For now, we are working hard to find alternative study and social spaces for students and are actively lobbying the university to free up some of the 500+ teaching spaces that are infrequently used after 6 pm. As soon as we have a solid agreement on this, we will share it with you – as we understand how important this space is for our student groups.
"We have reached out to those student groups that have raised concerns about our move to have further conversation. Anyone who has concerns is equally welcome to reach out to us if they would like to discuss anything else. For more information on our move, please see our webpage and FAQ.”
Featured image: Bristol SU
What do you think about the Senate House Update?