‘We go days without food’: We spoke to freshers self-isolating in Edinburgh Uni halls
“The majority of us are still kids trying to make it through in a new place, ripped away from home and everything we know.”
Edinburgh University is currently experiencing a large spike in COVID cases in first year student accommodation. The University has confirmed cases in Pollock Halls, and just yesterday, Vice Principal Colm Harmon sent an email to students announcing that Ewing House in Pollock was being locked down.
Following the outbreak, both University and Scottish government responses have thrown students into absolute chaos. The Scottish government attempted to ban students from pubs and restaurants, students in Pollock are getting food that goes against their religious dietary requirements, and there’s even a twitter account called Pollock Prisoner detailing the madness that is being a student in Pollock Halls.
The Tab spoke to five students in Pollock Halls and Kincaid’s Court about what it’s like in first year halls in Edinburgh at the moment. The responses all said the same thing: this isn’t what these students signed up for.
‘The information we were getting was spotty and inconsistent’
Hannah*, a first year currently self-isolating in Holland House in Pollock Halls said the beginning of her quarantine was foggy at best. She told The Tab: “For the first 48 or so hours, the general vibe was incredibly nervous, as the information we were getting was spotty and inconsistent. A lot of students were quite angry at administrators, especially in the confusion of whether all of Holland would have to quarantine.”
Apparently in the uncertainty of the beginning of the rise of cases, many students in Pollock simply decided to leave. Leila, a first year also isolating in Holland, said: “We were told that the most probable situation would be that all Holland blocks would go into isolation, so loads of people packed their bags and just left halls to go back home or stay in an Airbnb in Edi.
“The next day they decided not to lock down all of Holland so people had panicked and left for no reason.”
Sarah*, a first year in Chancellor’s Court which is Pollock’s largest house, said to The Tab: “I’ve seen countless students from Pollock leave to go home instead of staying here, it’s so quiet now. Now everyone’s so on edge, we feel like we can’t do anything but we’re trying to make the most of it.”
We asked the freshers if residents were being good about following the rules of self-isolation. Gemma*, a fresher currently self-isolating in Kincaid’s Court, a self-catered accommodation in Cowgate, told The Tab: “I’d like to hope people are following to the best that they can, but that’s definitely not happening. My flat mates often bring people over for drinks or to use the bathroom as they’ve been outside in the courtyard.”
As of right now, our three requests for the university are; 1. Genuine and active mental health aid and support for students. 2. Safe and edible food, catering for all dietary requirements. 3. Daily exercise or time in fresh air for those in isolation. @EdinburghUni
— pollockprisoner (@pollockprisoner) September 29, 2020
Freshers also aren’t seeing a lot of restrictions being enforced. Gemma added: “People in Kincaids are still going to other flats every night and are often in the courtyard singing and socialising until four-ish in the morning most days. Although the RA does come out, it doesn’t seem to help.”
Hannah said about Holland House: “There are signs posted at each entrance where it says things like ‘Should you be self-isolating? If so, think twice before leaving the building’ and stuff like that. I have yet to see an adult in the hallways doing anything other than delivering food or vacuuming the hallway. At most, I hear kids outside getting small fines for gathering with those outside their household, but nothing for the self isolating kids. No one has gotten caught doing anything.”
Sarah said in Chancellor’s Court, “We currently have RAs for sections of each corridors as well as a warden for each block. The police are often brought into Pollock to threaten us as well, often for not a good enough reason or without explanation.”
‘I signed up over a day ago and I still haven’t been brought any food’
The University is also struggling to provide consistent meals for its isolating students. The meals they are providing are poor to say the least. Reese, a first year also isolating in Pollock, told The Tab: “As students paying up to £9,000 per year [for accomodation] what’s happening here is unacceptable.”
Gemma explains: “I signed up for the food service that the uni is providing for free, and I’m very thankful for it even being offered to me. However, I signed up over a day ago and still haven’t been brought any food.”
Leila said: “The other day my food came at 2:45 PM. Today, it’s currently 1:20 PM, and I still haven’t been given breakfast or lunch.”
Reese says he feels forgotten about as a student. He told The Tab: “Isolating students like myself are frequently forgotten about, and we frequently go days without food.”
When the food does come, it’s not nearly the standard that students are paying for. Hannah tells The Tab: “The food itself ranges from bland to downright disgusting. Multiple meals I haven’t been able to eat on account of the fact that it just looked unappetizing and usually tasted worse. I paid for hot meals, didn’t I?”
Leila says: “I’m Muslim and vegetarian and have been given bacon crisps, a ham sandwich and a ham salad.”
She adds: “The veggie meal options are just small salads. I was delivered five salads yesterday. The breakfasts are so un-nutritious. It’s a Mars bar, a sliced mandarin syrup pot which looks like baby food, and a croissant and apple.”
Gemma even says: “One of my friends who is isolating just received food today [the 29th] that was out of date on the 27th.”
The worst part is these students have to rely on the University to provide them with food, especially those in catered accommodation.
Reese said to The Tab: “We don’t have kitchens, so we can’t cook for ourselves, and we can’t get groceries delivered. Takeaway for three meals a day each and every day for a fortnight just isn’t possible or acceptable.”
Hannah adds: “I’m also lucky enough to be able to order delivery, which I try to avoid because I hate spending more than I have to. Again, I’m in catered accommodation. Why should I be paying more for meals I actually want to eat?”
‘Instead of being supported we are being blamed for this’
Reese told The Tab that it’s increasingly difficult to get support while isolating. He said: “I typically resort to the immediate assistance hotline as Residence Life phone numbers do not work.”
He added: “I’m so disappointed by the University’s response (and lack thereof). When Pollock Halls students brought concerns to administration in a Town Hall, they were dismissed as ‘disrespectful rumors.'”
Hannah is experiencing a similar issue. She said to The Tab: “The Uni has not been the best in terms of freely giving support. Most of the emails and numbers they give you to contact anyone rarely work, and response times are almost painfully slow… It worries me about how little adults are actually keeping tabs on us.”
On top of all of their current struggles, these students are still just freshers in the second week of University: scared, overwhelmed, and looking for support.
Hannah said: “At a time when all of us really need guidance and compassion from adults, we are receiving none. It’s quite difficult, socially, mentally, emotionally, and physically to deal with this kind of thing.
“My family is 3000 miles away, my friends are all very new to me, and the idea of being kept in a 12×12 box in such an amazing city is really disheartening for me. I was so excited to come here to be in Edinburgh, but I’m left seriously considering why I’m staying. this doesn’t feel like what I was promised, or what I would want my first year to be like, even in circumstances like these.”
Sarah sums up how it feels to be a fresher thrust into the mad world of self-isolating in halls. She says: “There really hasn’t been as much support as is I thought there would be, a lot of us feel as if instead of being supported we are being blamed for this.
“If we break it down, the majority of us are still kids trying to make it through in a new place, ripped away from home and everything we know.”
The University told The Tab Edinburgh in a statement: “Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students continues to be our absolute priority. We have teams of staff working 24 hours a day to provide those who are self-isolating in our catered and self-catered residences with three meals a day – including ready-to-heat meals – in line with their dietary requirements and preferences. Essential items are also being delivered on request.
“On the few occasions when students needs have not been met, we have addressed this as quickly as we can and are working hard to improve our systems.
“We know that this is a very challenging time for our students, especially for those who are self-isolating. We are offering a range of support, including daily check-ins and pastoral care. Our Residence Life team is also on site to offer students direct support both online and in-person.”
*Names have been changed to protect students’ anonymity