A look inside the ‘reclaimed’ Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre

From an ‘anti-people-being-dicks’ team to Super Smash Bros on the Switch, here’s what’s going on inside the occupation

The student occupation of the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre is well underway, with the students having already spent four nights in the building.

During the day, the building is open for any students to come in and take part in numerous events and activities organised by the occupiers, in collaboration with the Edinburgh Staff-Student Solidarity Network, Edinburgh Youth Resistance and Edinburgh University Justice for Palestine Society.

The planned events calendar for this week’s occupation

The student occupiers have made full use of the lecture theatre, with designated areas for sleeping, food storage, and hosting events.

The Edinburgh Tab visited the space to get a look into how the occupation is being run, as well as talk to those who have been living there since Friday night.

Health and safety concerns

One of the first things the occupiers showed us was their thorough Covid policy. Anyone staying the day or night in Gordon Aikman is required to take a negative lateral flow test before entering, and the group have multiple boxes of LFTs on hand by the entrance.

Masks are recommended but not required by full-time participants, however any students not staying in the building are required to wear masks during events.

Upon entering the lecture theatre, we were also told to scan a QR code for Covid contact tracing.

The biggest concern that the university senior leadership team has with any occupation is fire safety. Anticipating this to be a major source of conflict with the uni, the occupiers pointed out their policy in case of a fire. Furthermore, there is someone whose job it is to keep a tally of numbers inside the building at any one time.

Both the Covid and fire policy are stuck on the wall by the main entrance.

The Covid and fire policies

Food and cleaning supplies

Even though the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre does actually have a kitchen, the occupiers are not able to access it as it is behind a locked door. This means that they have been relying on people bringing food in for them.

So far, they have received food donations from multiple sources, including the Wanderers Kneaded pizza van and various members of staff across all levels.

The food is shared out equally amongst all those staying in the building, and it is kept on a table by the back entrance.

The group’s cleaning supplies are also kept here, with one of the university cleaners even unlocking a supply cupboard for their use.

The group’s cleaning and food supplies

How the occupation is being run

The occupiers tell The Edinburgh Tab that it’s important that everyone is equal and there is no hierarchy. This means that all decisions are made as a group, and no one is seen as the ‘leader’.

In order to protect their identities from the university, all those participating have chosen a code name to be called during the duration of the occupation.

Every morning, everyone must sign up for a cleaning duty before 10am on a whiteboard placed near the entrance. There is also the “anti-people-being-dicks-team”, which is there to combat anyone who might try to cause trouble or harass the occupiers. Earlier today, we were told that “a Holocaust denier came in and tried to harass one of our Jewish members”. However, the situation was quickly diffused without any conflict breaking out.

The sign-up sheet for daily duties

The occupiers also take turns guarding the doors, keeping count of who enters/leaves, and manning the stall outside for any curious passers-by.

The space

The Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre is actually a bit of a maze, with many hidden rooms alongside the actual lecture theatre.

As the building was designed for Fringe performances in mind as well as university lectures, there is a small dance studio and a shower room.

The occupiers are using the dance studio to host events, such as a daily open art space from 12pm to 1pm.

The main lecture theatre is where the students sleep at night, and they have made full use of the big screen – using it to play Super Smash Bros on the Switch amongst other things.

During our visit, students were also getting on with their uni work in the main theatre, as it wasn’t being used for an event. However, many of the week’s events will be held inside the theatre.

Sleeping bags in the main lecture theatre

Another feature of the space is their art wall. Anyone who attends the open art hour is able to take their creation home with them or leave it for the ever-growing gallery. A lot of the artwork is a reflection on the causes supported by the group, but is also serves to “brighten up the space and add more colour”.

The art wall on Monday morning

What’s it like living inside the lecture theatre

Speaking to The Edinburgh Tab, one student who has spent every night inside Gordon Aikman said: “It’s been an amazing space with a great atmosphere. We’ve all got really close and formed a little community which has been such a great experience.

“We all take on responsibilities of cleaning, organising, helping out, looking out for each other and making sure that everything is peaceful and runs smoothly.

“We’ve had some really great events and sparked some really crucial conversations about activism and how best we can achieve the goals of the three groups that make up our coalition.

“We aimed to be an open and welcoming space to all, unlike some past occupations, and the sense of community we’ve created here has been amazing.”

Another student who has also been inside the building since Friday added: “The support we’ve received from people outside the occupation such as from some university staff, the people working at the Covid test centre, and other students and businesses has been brilliant”.

Banners in the main lecture theatre

In terms of the actual living conditions, one student did admit that: “The nights in the lecture theatre can be pretty cold, but it’s really not as bad as you might think.

“Things improved after the first night, as we took more measures to combat the hard lecture theatre floor and the cold. On Saturday, we got our friends to drop off extra blankets and yoga mats, which has really made a difference.”

The occupation is planned to last until Friday, and anyone is welcome to attend any of their events.

A spokesperson for The University of Edinburgh said: “We support the right of people to protest lawfully and peacefully and are working with the students to ensure their safety and provide for their basic needs.

“The University also has a duty to its entire community to keep any disruption to a minimum, and so we are working to relocate affected teaching and other activities to other areas.

“We are listening to concerns about pensions, workload and pay. Many of the issues raised are common across the higher education sector and are negotiated nationally. Where we can, we have implemented a number of initiatives to address aspects of employment conditions for our staff.”

Keep following The Edinburgh Tab for more updates as they come.

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