At first sign, North Acton station appears prettier than most – there’s even a cherry tree in front of the ticket barriers. Travel time from South Kensington: 45 minutes 18 seconds. That’s 45 metric minutes at 60 seconds/minute, not these new 80 second imperial-Acton minutes that the college use in their 30 minute estimate for travel time.
So we’ve all heard about how terrible Acton is going to be – but how bad really is it? I took a couple of trips to find out.
Transportwise, things aren’t brilliant. Apart from the journey time, there’s a single night bus that serves North Acton, with two services per hour to Hammersmith. Given that Hammersmith isn’t all that close to campus and isn’t exactly known for its nightlife, it’s unlikely to be of much use Imperial Students. Oh, and the cost? A yearly zones 1&2 student travel card comes in at an affordable £848, or roughly 20% of my maintenance loan.
Okay, so what about safety – is the nickname ‘Crackton’ really warranted? Well, er… possibly. Apart from having almost twice the amount of violent crime as a proportion of total crime that South Kensington has, there seem to be a few issues with antisocial behaviour and cannabis farming. News headlines on the town’s website inform us that:
• Dispersal zones have been established; police warn, ‘you may be removed to your home’
• ’15 year old boy stabbed’
• ‘Man injured after stabbing’
• ‘Three men jailed for armed robbery’
And, just in case you were wondering, Ealing had a ‘record number of rubbish complaints’ in 2012 – 55,407. So assuming the intrepid freshers overcome their fears of violent crime and lots of rubbish, can they expect a good student experience?
‘Not really’, says a University of the Arts London student living in the tower block adjacent to the station. She tells me that there’s not really much to do apart from taking the bus into Shepherd’s Bush. Oh, and she sometimes goes to the local ASDA, which just so happens to be the same ASDA where the three men were recently jailed for breaking , entering and assaulting a security guard and threatening to kill him. But don’t worry, the local corner shop has installed ‘anti-burglar fog’, whatever that is.
Well, perhaps other students who already live there have different views about Acton? Or not. ‘There’s not much to do’, complains Amit Rungkwansirirog, an international student at UAL, ‘it’s inconvenient’. I caught her in her pyjamas as she wandered over to the local shop for some milk, as she expressed annoyance that the nearest big shops were four tube stops away. Westfield seems to have become these students’ saving grace, providing the only entertainment and nightlife in the area. It’s a convenient 45 minutes away by night bus.
On the plus side, there seem to be a number of gambling establishments for the betting type. In addition to the convenience store, closed coffee shop and bank there was a Ladbrokes’ and a William Hill just a few hundred feet from the main entrance to the existing accommodation. Clearly the students have found new uses for their time and money.
Determined to find something exciting to do, I pressed on. First on the attraction list is Gypsy Corner, where the six-lane remnant of the M40 careens down a hill. For traffic light aficionados, the area is definitely well worth a visit, but perhaps not for cyclists. Facing a six mile journey to College, it’s only a matter of time until a student joins the ranks of cyclists killed over the last few years on the A40.
I prefer trains to cars, so I travelled on the train line. Acton students will have a prime location for watching the high-speed services out of Euston, and, as I was glad to discover, in watching the planes come into Heathrow. Needless to say I got quite a kick from seeing not one, but two A380s coming in to land! You could almost say it was the highlight of the entire trip.
So, it really does seem as if Acton is what it’s made out to be: a commuter suburb with few local amenities or attraction, and a serious issue with antisocial behaviour. It might be okay if you’re middle aged and own a car, but will seven hundred non street-smart freshers who are living away from home for the first time in North Acton have a good experience? I think not.