Bristol Uni freshers are organising a rent strike to get a third of their rent back

They state that they cannot access the facilities they ‘are paying thousands for’ whilst in isolation

A rent strike is being organised by first year Bristol University students in halls, and is being fully backed by Bristol SU.

The prolific activist group, “Bristol, Cut the Rent” is organising the strike to ensure “everyone has an affordable and decent place to live”, expressing serious complaints about the University’s management of the pandemic for students in halls.

The strike is scheduled to start on 24th October, with organisers demanding a 30 per cent cut in rent for the whole year for those students who decide to stay in halls.

News of this strike comes as confirmed Covid cases reached 734 today, however the University has said that it will not be publishing a breakdown of how many students in halls are affected, nor how many students are currently self-isolating.

Strikers have issued a list of demands, including “no securitisation of any halls lockdown” (use of security staff to lock down halls) and no repercussions for rent strikers.

We’re calling a rent strike!!It’s unacceptable that the university told students to come and live in halls when they…

Posted by Bristol, Cut the Rent on Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Further demands include calls for clear rules regarding access to outdoor spaces during isolation. They say that students in flats with no positive cases should “be able to go on a run for an hour”.

They add that students “cannot access the blended learning we were promised”, and also stress that they cannot access “all the halls facilities we are paying thousands for”.

This follows Bristol SU releasing its own list of demands to look after the wellbeing of students, including calling for a rent refund for students in halls, but only during any period of mandatory lockdown.

The SU also wants to ensure that students have access to sufficient food, laundry service, post, and they want the University to further publicise the student hardship fund.

Bristol SU officers Ruth Day (Student Living Officer) and David Ion (Undergraduate Education Officer) have both expressed support for the strike on social media, with Ruth Day encouraging students to share the sign-up form to as many people as possible.

Some students have started receiving fresh produce from the uni

Although hall lockdowns appear to running smoothly so far, some issues have arisen, such as a lack of food specifically for students with dietary requirements, such as halal or kosher food, a lack of time outdoors, and serious concerns around mental health.

Some residences have been unclear about the rules for self-isolating students. University isolation rules state that students are not allowed to leave their flat unless “it is for a medical emergency” or “in the event of a fire alarm”.

However, the university has been organising time outdoors for students having to self-isolate, although it is unclear whether this is being consistently applied across halls. In the case of the locked-down Courtrooms hall of residence, the Mobile Testing Unit that was located in the courtyard has been moved to University Walk on the main campus to enable those students to “get some fresh air”.

In terms of mental health, there are serious concerns about the effect of lockdown and prolonged isolation periods. One students told us that she had been “crying all morning” when her flat had to isolate, and others report finding it difficult to concentrate and lacking motivation.

A Bristol SU Spokesperson said: “We are supporting the rent strike which has been called as we hear all the concerns that students are raising. We’ll be supporting Cut the Rent by highlighting their demands to the university in the spaces that we are in, alongside the halls lockdown demands that we have already released. We will also be helping Cut the Rent to communicate with students in halls.”

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 continue with their studies online.

“Students who aren’t having to self-isolate are still able to attend face-to-face 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, but this is an issue that is affecting all universities at the moment and our actions are guided by Public Health England and the authorities to limit the spread of coronavirus.”

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