Further student concern about the closure of Clayponds and the proposed changes to the Holland Club have been revealed at the discussion forum on postgraduate accommodation and social space held by the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) last Thursday.
Clayponds Village in South Ealing is currently the most affordable postgraduate accommodation provided by the College – housing 325 students in rooms with prices starting at just over one hundred pounds per week. The decision to close the postgraduate hall of residence was made in December by the College Management Board, a body that has no student members and whose reports are confidential. As it emerged at the forum, neither the central Union nor the GSA were directly informed of this decision. The plans came to light after Clayponds sub-warden Craig Court heard rumours about the closure, which were later confirmed to Union President Scott Heath. Speaking to Felix the GSA President, Robert Tang, said that he deeply regrets “the lack of communication the GSA receives regarding the College decisions on the closure of Clayponds”.
According to Tang, should Clayponds close the cheapest accommodation the College would be offering to postgraduates next year “would be en-suite rooms at Orient House, at around £199 per week”. Heath estimates that, including travel, the living costs per month at Orient House are £200 more expensive than the £600 per month at Clayponds. Rent at the newly constructed Griffon Studios in Battersea starts at £235 per week. The College is planning to open new postgraduate accommodation, Imperial West, at the old BBC Worldwide site near Shepard’s Bush, but the price that the College will charge remains unknown. There are also plans to provide a £25 per week subsidy to postgraduate accommodation, but many who attended the meeting were left sceptical whether this would be enough.
As Felix reported last month the Rector justified the decision by referring to a 2011 postgraduate focus group which revealed “that students wanted the College to provide accommodation in areas within 30 minutes travel time to the South Kensington campus [which] provides students with opportunities to socialise as they wish”, which is not the case for Clayponds. Since then many Clayponds residents have spoken out in praise of Clayponds, with one commentator on the Felix website saying that “the suggestion that there’s nothing to do around Ealing is silly, especially in light of the busy Clayponds social calendar”, and that he can make it from the hall to College in “35 minutes”. Thursday’s forum also questioned the College’s interpretation of last year’s focus group, with it being pointed out that it showed that while postgraduates were “willing to accept a commute” as long as it was under “90 minutes”, that “the preferred rent for postgraduate accommodation is £145 per week”.
Speaking at the forum Scott Heath, Union President, said that he would raise these issues with the College Accommodation Office, the Rector and the College Council. Speaking to Felix he admitted that the Management Board decision meant that getting a reprieve for Clayponds would be “difficult” but said that he “will push hard” to increase the accommodation bursary.
Views about the Holland Club, officially a private members club for non-academic staff but in practice frequented by many postgraduates, were more mixed. Heath indicated that while the Union will fight to ensure that student have a say in the running of the Club he believes that the College’s proposed renovation of the space could have many benefits, including providing a common area for taught postgraduates, who are currently barred from the Senior Common Room. Others, however, pointed out that many postgraduates are happy with the Holland Club as it is and Club manager Kevin Young complained of the lack of communication from the College. Director of Commercial Services Jane Neary did not attend the forum.
Tang has told Felix that while he has reiterated “the importance of student input in this project” he wants to emphasise to students that “the proposed plans is to convert Sherfield Building level 0 into a 24/7 PG social space with a refurbished Holland Bar and not a closure as previously reported”. He said that he believes “PG (Taught), who cannot currently use the SCR, can really be benefitted from this change and I expect the new space can be used by PGs who are not normally based at South Ken.”
Feedback provided by attendees to the forum showed that the vast majority of attendees were still opposed to the Holland Club proposals. Heath, however, pointed out to Felix out that with only 35 people of the 100 or so invited to the event on Facebook actually attending it was unlikely that the forum was truly representative of the postgraduate population. He said that “change can be a good thing if done right” and that those who did attend the forum where the ones most vocally opposed to the changes.
The Union is planning to run a postgraduate survey in the coming weeks, which will include questions on accommodation and the Holland Club. Heath hopes that he will be able to persuade a large proportion of the student population to participate, giving both the College and Union a more accurate idea of what postgraduates want.