FELIX

"Keep the Cat Free"
02/10/14

Clayponds in crisis

Residents at postgraduate campus react to potential closure
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clayponds.jpg
Clayponds is located in South Ealing, and houses over 300 postgraduate students
- Credit: Tommy Allieri

Students have expressed their concern at the planned closure of postgraduate hall of residence Clayponds, with Imperial College Union President Scott Heath expressing his "disappointment" at an alleged lack of communication between the College and the Union with regards to the College's decision. 

Clayponds, located in South Ealing, is a student housing estate containing 136 houses and flats and providing accommodation for 325 postgraduate students. Like undergraduate halls of residence, Clayponds has its own wardening team, and social and sporting activities are regularly organised for its residents.  

The wardening team was made aware of the College's intention to close Clayponds in December, leading to current and past residents expressing their concern at such a decision. An email sent directly to Rector Sir Keith O'Nions by subwarden Craig Court resulted in a personal response confirming the aim to close Clayponds, while outlining the reasoning behind the decision. 
 
Mr Craig's email placed emphasis on the affordability of Clayponds, claiming that new postgraduate accommodation such as Clapham's Griffon Studios or Imperial West appeals to "a completely different demographic" in terms of accommodation costs.
 
"If Clayponds is closed, replacing it will be impossible," he continued. "Finding a self contained site with 136 properties of flats and houses in zone 3 with good transport links via the Piccadilly Line straight into college is unrealistic.  Converting those properties into student accommodation, including common room facilities and offices for hall supervisors would also be expensive.  Clayponds provides for some of your poorer postgraduate students the accommodation they need, just as it has been doing for around 20 years."

 

Finding a self contained site with 136 properties of flats and houses in zone 3 with good transport links via the Piccadilly Line straight into college is unrealistic.

Craig Court – Clayponds Subwarden

 
The Rector's response aimed to provide some background to the College's decisions, beginning with a reassurance that "we care very much that safe and affordable accommodation is provided for students whilst they study at College." 
 
The response details that a focus group was held in February 2011, "which returned a clear message that students wanted the College to provide accommodation in areas within 30 minutes travel time to the South Kensington campus and close to public transport for increased security, particularly in the evenings."
 
"Postgraduate students stressed that, unlike when they were undergraduates living away from home for the first time, they wanted an independent living experience but with opportunities to socialise as they wish. The College developed its postgraduate accommodation strategy with this feedback as a key focus."
 
In addition, the Rector raised concerns about the suitability of Clayponds in the long term, citing an "over 50 minute travel time to South Kensington, in an area with little to offer students in their leisure time."
 
"Through selling Clayponds the College will be able to raise in the order of £25m-£30m. This will be reinvested in the provision of bursaries to all Imperial postgraduates students that choose to live in GradPad accommodation [Griffon Studios in Clapham or Imperial West at Wood Lane]; the bursary will be in the region of £25 per week for postgraduates in 2012-13. This subsidy will enable Imperial’s students to live in better quality accommodation, much closer to South Kensington, than Clayponds currently offers."
 
Past and present residents of Clayponds have contacted Felix in response to these statements.
 
Lauren Clark was a resident at Clayponds for one year, until September 2011, and believes that the loss of the accommodation there would "greatly detract from the experience of future postgraduate students". Writing that "the availability of affordable student housing was instrumental in making my time at Imperial enjoyable," reference is also made to the estate's social side: "Clayponds Village also provided a great community atmosphere and culture that can not be easily recreated." In response to the longer commute and activities, she continues: "while the commute time is something I did gripe about, I'd have to strenuously disagree about the surrounding area having little to offer. Kew Gardens and Richmond are a single bus ride away."
 
Séverine Maréchal, writing in an open letter, also emphasises the community of the site, or "Clayponds identity" – "the dynamism and enthusiasm of the wardens and staff… fostered by numerous activities and a constant on-duty presence." Also highlighting the affordability of the location in comparison to Griffon Studios, she continues: "Personally I would not have been able to join Imperial, would I not have had this accommodation option".
 
John Castle, resident at Clayponds for the 2010-2011 academic year, recalls an "amazing year", again highlighting the "superb community feel". Rubbishing claims that the area offers little to do for leisure, Mr Castle highlights the local eateries, pubs and opportunities for sport in the nearby Gunnersbury Park.
 
"The way that these plans seem to have been kept quiet by the senior management has really annoyed me. Clayponds is an Imperial institution well-loved by its current and former residents, many of whom return to visit. A rationale adequate for closing such a successful part of the College needs to be quite spectacular, and yet it has not been forthcoming."
 
Union President Scott Heath has actively stated his concern with the closure, claiming that the "consultation [the Union] had [with College] was absolutely zero". Expressing his "disappointment" with the lack of contact with College, especially in light of the "direct impact" that such an event would have on the student body, he continued: "the one-year bursary scheme is a clear sign that College recognises that Grad Pad is pricing out a large number of students. Unfortunately this level of bursary is not enough to ‘price in’ students." 
 
"We currently have no fit for purpose postgraduate accommodation if you want to replicate what Clayponds offers. Maybe a few years down the line we will have postgraduate accommodation that has the same community spirit, but until then College must provide low-cost accommodation if they have any care or consideration about making life affordable (comfortable)."
 
"This whole situation is reminiscent of last year's Life Sciences restructure and a sign that the Union needs to have the chance to consult Management Board papers."
 
The College's Management Board, which is chaired by the Rector, is delegated authority to approve projects with a total value of less than £5m. Hence, the selling of Clayponds, which could generate over £25m, must also be approved by the College Council. Imperial College Union, while not sitting on the Management Board, do sit on College Council, who will meet on 10 February. Heath indicated that he will “use the position in Council to voice the opinion of the Student Body and apologise to all members that neglect of Management Board to consult us means that such comments must be aired there.”

Update [12:26 – 20/01/2012] – A statement from Deputy President (Welfare) Nicolas Massie: "I have two primary reservations about Griffon studios and the new accommodation at Imperial West, particularly when contrasted with Clayponds:  one, the lack of provision of pastoral care and two, the price. Postgraduate students are not immune to homesickness or ill-health. They do not arrive with bands of friends knowing where to find the local shops. They do not necessarily have the support networks, certainly within the first few months, to help them through difficult times. The lack pastoral care provision in the new halls of residence would appear to assume this. These areas of difficulty when combined with potential stress brought on by unusually high costs could, to the pessimist, spell disaster.

"I appreciate that Griffon Studios, and the new halls at Imperial West may well represent ‘good value for money’ but perhaps it is time to consider that students are students and that perhaps they need something that is simply of lower value. I applaud the efforts College is now putting into ascertaining exactly what students need and want in terms of accommodation but I think in the meantime it would be a great pity to close and sell something that is working while opening something that is untested and just might not."

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Comments (24 comments)

Ruby Childs

Friday January 20 2012 10:53

Really terrible news if they chose to close Clayponds. I am currently a postgraduate and am paying for everything myself. I could not remotely consider either of the other postgrad accomodations due to their expense, and would expect that I probably wouldn't be entitled to any bursaries (due to self funding). On top of that why would you want to live in either halls when Clayponds has created a community. We have regular events and people you can go to with issues - things I've heard are lacking in other postgrad halls.

Konstantinos Glaros

Friday January 20 2012 11:38

I have lived in Clayponds for several years. The loving and amazingly fun community is what I will always value and remember the most, a community that allowed me to feel welcome in London and build a new life here. I would have never been able to experience this in private accommodation, which would have been my only option if Griffon Studios and Imperial West were the only halls. 210 pounds a week (with the "subsidy" if Clayponds is sold!) is simply ridiculous for a PhD student with typical income rates of £1300 a month, let alone for self funded MSc students. My other option of course would have been to opt for another university, which would provide me affordable housing.
With this decision Imperial simply removes any accommodation support for poorer postgraduates, putting shortsightedly, once more, short-term profits ahead of providing a welcoming, comfortable and enabling environment for its students. When they realise a happy student makes a better student it'll be too late.

Miles Mulholland

Friday January 20 2012 11:56

Does this university have ANY affordable accommodation? Post-graduates have to eat too you know. I can't see the funding boards offering any increases to postgraduate stipends any time soon.

If the alternative they're trotting out is Griffon Studios, starting at £235/week, it's an utter joke and insulting. I had friends who were put off Imperial because of expense as undergraduates - if we're going to get this reputation for how we treat our postgraduates, then we'll drive away good students from our university.

Kostas Glaros

Friday January 20 2012 11:21

How conveniently picking and choosing! The "consultation" the Rector's e-mail refers to, was one meeting with 15-20 volunteer postgrads, organised by the GSA in reaction to publicity about Griffon Studios. Asked on their desired accommodation, many talked about half an hour's commuting time, but, what the e-mail conveniently leaves out, no one at all was ready to pay more than 130 pounds a week (a reasonable Zone 2 rent in the private sector)! The director of the College Fund also explicitly stated that Griffon studios is aimed at a "niche market" and not all postgraduates. This one-hour meeting is all the "consultation" that has been had on the matter, simply to justify already made decisions.

Nick

Friday January 20 2012 11:45

Ah consultation by focus group. That's the way you do it these days. Ask a load of leading questions that prove your point, report back that everyone agrees with you, job done.

Omer Nebil Yaveroglu

Friday January 20 2012 12:15

Anyone who stayed in Clayponds for at least one term would agree that this decision is ridiculous. I have been staying in Clayponds in the last two years. As a partially funded overseas Ph.D. student, Clayponds is one of the limited places in London that I can afford to live in. Paying 210£ per week is totally impossible for me (which is more than twice I pay right now). My decision on accepting to study in Imperial would definitely be different if I was offered an accommodation for 210£ per week. I am sure that there are (and will be) many students sharing my thoughts on this.
Clayponds does not only offer cheap accommodation but also a nice place to socialize with postgraduate students of Imperial. I can simply explain this argument by saying that most of my friends in London are from Clayponds NOT from the college. The warm welcome that Clayponds offer for international students on their adaptation days to London worth to note.

Anon

Friday January 20 2012 12:30

I seems to me that this is being done to force PG's into the overpriced GradPads, combine this with the attack on the PG and Staff bar, the Holland Club, you have to wonder how much the College values it Post Grad Students.

Mike

Friday January 20 2012 13:00

If Clayponds didn't exist I would have had to live in the private sector, because there was no way in hell I was paying £235/week minimum to live in the overrated Griffon Studios. That's all this is going to do, force poor international students like me to move into the private sector and try and figure out accommodation before arriving to London from another country (and probably get scammed along the way).

Why don't they just raise Clayponds to £130/week and take that £25 to give a subsidy to those rich kids at Griffon studios... surely that's more reasonable....

Clayponds Resident

Friday January 20 2012 13:14

This decision is simply farcical. For fear of repeating the many comments on the financial and pastoral consequences, might I suggest that the college is simply ignoring the human issue at hand. A college with the reputation of Imperial knows that regardless of cost it will fill most academic positions due to demand. By forcing high living costs onto postgraduate students it may severely limit the feedstock of the worlds bright and brilliant coming to the college. The college has built an outstanding reputation on research carried out by these post graduate students and ultimately only the college will suffer as a result.

The college wants to close down this outstanding facility because of a 20min tube ride? ...Suit yourselves...

Mark

Friday January 20 2012 13:20

Here is a theory:
They build Griffon Studios at £250/week but have trouble filling it. Now that Imperial West is being built exactly the same they know they will run into the same problem. Instead of admitting to a mistake, get rid of the accommodations that make them look overpriced - Clayponds.
But no one wants to live at Griffon or Imperial West when it costs as much if not more than private sector accommodations. So they will be left with a bunch of empty overpriced flats and no affordable housing, But at least it won't look like they made a mistake. It is pretty obvious it was a poorly administered focus group. For example compare the questions "Would you like to like in a private flat near campus?" (what they are citing) with "Would you be willing to pay £250/week to live in a private flat near campus?" (reality)
The deal being offered (offering £25 off of £250/week to make it the same price range as £100-150/week) is ludicrous and stinks of ulterior motives.

ruby childs

Friday January 20 2012 17:51

I just thought I now understand why Imperial doesn't belong to NUS....

DENCH

Friday January 20 2012 21:00

i feel sorry for those post grads that live at the clapham junction one - that's a rip

Nilotpal Addy

Friday January 20 2012 22:03

this is ridiculous..apart form the price being a major issue..the environment and the setup here is fantastic!!!

David Robertson

Saturday January 21 2012 12:34

All good points being made in the comments here. A few points to pick up on:

- The suggestion that there's nothing to do around Ealing is silly, especially in light of the busy Clayponds social calendar. As long as you're willing to hop on a bus for 10 minutes you can be at Kew Gardens, Chiswick for comedy, there's 6 pubs in walking distance, Gunnersbury Park is literally over the back fence and Ealing Council has one of the best summer festival programmes of any area in London.

- Clayponds is not '50 minutes minimum' commute from South Ken. When pressed for time, I've made it door to door in 35 minutes, and that's without running!

Little gripes like that aside, the whole decision smacks of out-of-touch administrators attempting to correct an expensive mistake (GradPad) by punishing those who can least afford it. My year in Clayponds was fantastic, and as a self-funding international student I simply couldn't have afforded any more than £130/wk or so.

.

Saturday January 21 2012 16:03

"This whole situation is reminiscent of last year's Life Sciences restructure and a sign that the Union needs to have the chance to consult Management Board papers."
yes

ASI

Saturday January 21 2012 17:11

It is no doubt that the administration is bad but closing it is the worst.

Madhulika Ravichandran

Sunday January 22 2012 17:26

I lived in Clayponds Village for a year (2009-2010). This place holds so many wonderful memories...the warm welcome, helpful wardens, the fun community and atmosphere, the get-togethers, day trips,...I don't think I would've enjoyed my stay in London as much if I were staying in any other hall. I disagree with the transport issue - although I studied on the Hammersmith Hospital campus, the commute to South Ken would take, at maximum, 40 minutes (on a really busy day). It's a shame to hear such sad news about a beautiful place, with warm, welcoming and fun-loving people being closed. Clayponds Village was not just any other 'hall', it felt like a separate colony, living independently in houses and getting together to have fun. I am glad to have had the opportunity to stay in such a wonderful place. I do hope they revise this decision and allow many other students to enjoy staying in Clayponds Village.

Thanh

Sunday January 22 2012 18:54

Just recently stayed with a friend who lives here and left wondering why more universities don't have the same affordable housing for postgraduates?! Postgrads deserve low cost accommodation (esp. those who don't have any other means of support other than their stipend) as their hard work underpins the university's reputation and attracts and generates income that drives research. Taking into the account the current reputation of Imperial, they should treat their workforce with a bit more respect and set an example for the postgrads they hope to attract in the future.

Nick

Monday January 23 2012 16:07

You might wish to look at the Council minutes of 10 July 2009
https://workspace.imperial.ac.uk/secretariat/public/Council/Council100709.pdf
Page 375 iten 53

The ICU President, Ms. Morgan, asked if the College would be selling the Clayponds residences in order to fund the purchase of this site and the consequential refurbishment works. Dr. Knight said that the Clayponds residences offered very poor quality accommodation a long way from the College’s main campuses; once the new postgraduate accommodation was available, he suggested that the College should give serious consideration to disposing of Clayponds. However, given the current state of the market, he did not believe that the College would obtain a competitive price for Clayponds at present. Selling it was therefore not a prerequisite of proceeding with the proposed purchase of the Woodlands site. Ms.Morgan then said that students valued having a variety of accommodation at different price levels to choose from; if this new accommodation was all pro

Mark Tyrer - Former Warden

Monday January 23 2012 22:30

I cannot adequately express my disappointment to this news. Clayponds remains a vibrant and very viable community of which the college can be justly proud. I have seen numerous College residences close since the 1990s, some were dilapidated and some were too small to be viable. Clayponds is neither of these things and has benefited from considerable investment by the college over the last ten years. To see it sold without an established replacement seems very short sighted. Our post-graduate community has steadily grown by 6% per year and provision of suitable accommodation is an important asset to Imperial; especially in the Masters-level sector, where overseas students need the support of an established residence. I can only hope there is a part of of some grand plan of which I am unaware.

Chris - Former resident

Tuesday January 24 2012 19:33

"I can only hope there is a part of of some grand plan of which I am unaware."

A plan?! At Imperial?! Don't be so silly....

On a serious note, this is very disappointing news which clearly shows how out of touch the uper echelons of college are with the wider student population - none of the current post grad students I have spoken to would take the alternatives being proposed by college, they would simply find private accomodation in the £100-£150 similar price range (without the social activities Clayponds provides)...

Has a member of the IC Management Commtittee/College Council actually been to the Clayponds site recently? The postgraduate student experience would suffer greatly if this decision is to go through - the hall is vibrant, highly socially active and from all accounts actually quite profitable for the college! The news of a bursary to "bribe" students into taking up the alternatives also seems very short-sighted and hardly a good use of IC capital funds.

Marcus Shepheard

Wednesday January 25 2012 12:18

I wonder how many of the postgrads in this focus group were drawn from the South Kensington Campus, rather than the large departments in Hammersmith and St.Mary's hospitals which are far better served by accommodation in an area such as Ealing than Battersea. The only campus which Griffon Studios serves is South Kensington, for all others it is prohibitively remote, not to mention ludicrously expensive and asocial compared to alternatives in the private sector. The college seems quite content to forget the several thousand postgrad students who are not based at South Ken and never actually have any work-related reason to visit there.

As for the Wood Lane accomodation, I'm sure that will be nice and all, but it doesn't actually exist as of yet.

Manuel Picaud

Thursday January 26 2012 23:01

I am currently a resident in Clayponds.
The Rectors implies discreetly there is “no opportunities to socialise” in Clayponds . The Rector has apparently never been to Clayponds. I just don’t have the time to participate to all the frequent and varied activities proposed by the wardening team. What happened last weekend ? Just a trip to Edimburgh… “An area with little to offer students in their leisure time”. There are football and rugby pitches, large green areas (Gunnersbury Park) 100 meters away !
There is clearly no need to highlight all the advantages that offers Clayponds, and the reasons to sell it are obviously not the area itself, as the Rector pretends. It is regrettable that the real reasons, the failures of Griffon Studios and the the anticipated failure of Imperial West are not provided.
Selecting students by their bank account is obviously not fair and sane, and the College reputation will probably lose much in the short and long term behaving like this.

Lucie

Thursday March 01 2012 00:33

I was at the focus group meeting about accommodation and what the Rector is saying here is completely misrepresenting what the postgrads at the meeting were saying. The meeting was actually called because postgrads were outraged at the price of Griffon, and we were particularly outraged that this accommodation was advertised by the College as "affordable", which it absolutely isn't, given the level of PhD funding (and most MSc students are self-funded so they don't have more money available either). The main point we were trying to put across to the College at that meeting is that we need MORE affordable accommodation options for postgrads, NOT less. There were people from Clayponds at that meeting as well and they all expressed that they were pretty happy with what they were getting for their money.

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