LIVE: Updates as Wills Memorial occupiers leave building after 10 days

The 12 Bristol Uni students are set to walk out of the university’s main building at 12pm

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The 12 Bristol Uni students who have occupied the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building since 28th February ended their 10-day occupation today at midday.

Throughout the 10-day occupation, the students have collaborated with the UCU to negotiate with university management over cuts to university staff’s pay and an average 35 per cent cut to pensions.

Despite the university not agreeing to back the UCU pension plan proposals, the occupiers say they are proud of what they’ve achieved.

University management has agreed to spread strike day pay losses across a maximum of five days per month and it’s clarified the terms under which Action Short of Strike would result in pay cuts which the UCU believe nullifies the threat the potential pay cut posed. Alongside this, the occupiers will face no repercussions from the university. Here’s all the latest live updates as we have them:

12:31pm – Off to Spoons

After 10 days of takeaways and various flavours of Pot Noodle, the students leave with their mates and head across the road to local Wetherspoons, The Berkeley, for their first meal on the outside.

12:22pm – ‘Thank you for all the support we’ve had’

No official speech from the students but they do make sure to thank their supporters.

“Thank you for all the support we’ve had. Thank you for being amazing.”

12:19pm – Embraced by friends and thanked by staff

The 12 students walk out to loud applause as they are greeted by their friends.

“You don’t even smell that bad”, one says.

Staff are quick to also embrace them and thank them for their efforts.

Public Policy Senior Lecturer, Dr Catherine Dodds, paid tribute saying: “Our student occupiers are absolute legends, You demonstrate the civic values our university says it wants to instil. You are the educators this time around.

“Thank you for lessons you’ve taught on persistence, social justice, and civility in the face of persecution.”

12:14pm – Students emerge on the steps of Wills Memorial Building officially ending their 10 day occupation

12:08pm – Carnival atmosphere outside

The mood is high outside as the swelling crowd await the students. Shouts of “they’re coming out now” met with laughter as the crowd keep waiting for the occupiers to appear

11:59am – Supporters gather outside

The crowd outside the Wills Memorial Building is growing as university staff and students join to take part in the end of occupation rally.

11:52am – Latest pictures from inside the Great Hall

11:47am – ‘This university is for the staff and students, not a cash cow for management’

As the occupiers get ready to leave, Billie* tells The Bristol Tab: Spirits are high in here, we are glad our demands have been met.

“We are optimistic about future actions and will continue to correspond with the campus unions.

“This university is for the staff and students not a cash cow for management.”

11:36am – What’s life been like inside Wills?

Students have been keen to know what the occupiers have been up to whilst living inside the 97-year-old uni building.

The students have brought their laptops inside so they can keep up with their university work from within the Great Hall. Despite initially fearing they’d have to end their occupation early without access to toilets and food, they’ve been allowed access to a toilet directly outside the hall and have relied on supporters outside bringing them food each day which security have brought in.

They’ve used the projector to play games and watch films as well as using the wide open space for games of Ultimate Frisbee.

11:13am – Bags packed and ready to go

The students have been busy this morning cleaning the inside of the Great Hall as they prepare to leave their occupation for the first time in 10 days in just under an hour’s time.

11:03am – Could the occupation have ended sooner?

Despite their use to protect the students’ identities, the university described the action of wearing balaclavas and distressing cleaning staff as ‘unacceptable’

The occupiers had initially agreed the same concessions last Saturday and were initially set to leave on Monday following a week of what they described as “productive discussions”.

However, on Monday, the students were accused of committing “arguably violent acts” when entering the building. The university U-turned on the concessions, describing their actions as “unacceptable” and threatening to follow disciplinary procedures against the students.

When pressed by The Bristol Tab as to what these “violent acts” were, the university said it was due to the students wearing balaclavas and causing distress to cleaning staff.

10:45am – What have the occupiers achieved?

Bristol Uni has made the following concessions:

  • There will be no repercussions for occupiers of the building – specifically, “No disciplinary action for unauthorised occupation of the university premises, as long as it is peaceful.”
  • Management clarified the terms under which ASoS (Action Short of a Strike) pay cuts would be triggered. This did not meet our initial demand, but occupiers were happy to concede this point as UCU felt the removal of vagueness effectively gutted the threat the potential pay cut posed.
  • Management will spread strike day pay losses over a maximum of five days per month for present and future UCU industrial action for the current academic year.

This effectively meets three of the occupiers initial four demands. The occupiers were unable to get the university to agree to back UCU proposals to pension plans. There will be another five days of UCU strike action at Bristol Uni between Monday 28th March – Friday 1st April.

10:30am – Wills Memorial occupiers set to leave

Late last night, Rent Strike Bristol published a statement on behalf of the occupiers saying they have decided to end their 10 day occupation of the Great Hall inside the Wills Memorial Building.

They believe the concessions they’ve made are good because it “allows strike action to continue without damaging the livelihoods of staff as badly as the university intended to”.

However, they went on to say: “It also goes to show how much more could be done, and how easily the university can address these issues yet chooses not to.”

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