On the 31st July, the Senior Common Room (SCR) served its last cooked breakfast to Imperial College London staff and students. From the 1st August, the SCR has removed cooked breakfasts from its menu as part of a wide-ranging series of changes to campus services, affecting a number of areas.
As well as the removal of the cooked breakfast option, a number of changes are being made to menus and pricing across on-campus outlets. From the 1st August, prices have increased across all outlets operated by Campus Services, who state that the price rise “has been kept to a minimum”. Campus Services – the branch of College that deals with accommodation, catering, and sport, alongside other responsibilities – are also reviewing their portion sizes, which they are likely to cut, citing excessive food waste.
Felix spoke to multiple members of academic staff who were unhappy about the price increases. “According to the College, ‘the rise has been kept to a minimum’” one staff member told us, “you can imagine my surprise when I now have to pay £1.32 for a "pain au chocolat" instead of £0.98 – an increase of more than 30% – with many other items increasing substantially in price. The fact is catering is now less varied and less affordable.”
Another staff member cited similar concerns about increases in price, telling Felix that “ it sounds like [when the College talk about] “reducing their cost”, it’s really coming out of our pocket.”
Further changes are being made to the options available to staff and students: the salad bar in the SCR restaurant will only be available to those who want side salads to their main meal, and there will be a reduced range of options in the SCR and Queen’s Tower Rooms (QTR). Throughout the week, Eastside Bar will be serving pizza-only in the post-lunch period until 8pm.
The news that the SCR was to stop serving cooked breakfasts to staff and students was met with criticism from a number of individuals. One student told Felix that they were ‘disappointed’ by the changes: “I used to get breakfast there regularly. The food was of good quality and, as a student, it was a great way to start a busy day of studying and lectures." A staff member said that the changes were “outrageous” since “most of my students use the breakfast option, and it is one of the most affordable food options around the campus. Many students and staff in my department are unhappy about this.”
However, throughout the summer the SCR will continue to serve cooked breakfasts to those staying at Imperial summer accommodation – residents may have a cooked breakfast included as part of their package, or pay £6 per day on top of accommodation costs. Campus Services, which described the scheme as “very successfully operated”, said that due to the number of B&B residents, there will no longer be space in the SCR to serve Imperial staff and students breakfast; the tills will only be processing B&B vouchers, and individuals will no longer be able to pay with card or cash.
Again, Felix spoke to a number of academics who were upset about these changes. One staff member cited concerns about a workshop he is organising very soon: “for this yearly workshop, we usually meet over breakfast for informal discussions and networking. About half the attendees will be staying in Imperial summer accommodation, with the free breakfast, but the dozens of Imperial staff who participate will be excluded. What are we supposed to say to our colleagues? That Imperial doesn’t provide cooked breakfast for its staff? It’s very embarrassing.”
Changes to Opening Hours
A number of college catering outlets will also be reducing their opening hours, both during term-time and outside it. The SCR Café, Sir Alexander Fleming (SAF) Café, Junior Common Room (JCR) QT Shop and Deli Bar, Eastside Bar, and Fuel – the take-away outlet next to the JCR – are all cutting their opening hours. The changes amount to 10 fewer hours a day during term time, and 7.5 fewer hours a day outside term-time. Other outlets, such as College Café and the Business School Café, will retain the same opening hours.
Students and staff were not consulted regarding these changes. In a statement on their website, Campus Services said that “it wasn’t possible to meaningfully consult on all these changes...where possible we are trying to highlight changes as early as possible, and we will be reviewing the impact of the changes carefully over the coming year”.
A College spokesperson told Felix that “the Campus Services team aims to provide the best possible service and experience for our staff and student community, through everything from catering outlets and hospitality services, to sports facilities, student accommodation, the Student Hub, and Early Years provision. These services operate at a loss – they are subsidised by millions of pounds a year – as part of the College’s investment in a high quality staff and student experience.” They stated that changes were being made “where reinvestment can demonstrably be made to the wider benefit of the community, against a minimal impact on staff and students”
One Imperial academic told Felix that the reasoning was “completely unacceptable”: “they have to provide the best option for students; they are a university at the end of the day, and not a 5-star hotel making profit out of catering!” In their most recent publicly-available accounts, from 2015-16, the College reported surplus income of £84.5 million.
For those concerned about the loss of a cooked breakfast, a College spokesperson told Felix that “hot breakfast options are still available on campus, in the College Café, the Library Café, and the SAF Café. These outlets offer a range of options, from English breakfasts to bacon baps and breakfast toasties.”
Similar changes are being made in sports facilities at Imperial, with Ethos – the sports centre open to staff and students – reducing its opening hours outside term-time. While previously there was no difference throughout the year in opening hours, from 17th July Ethos will close two hours earlier during a weekday (at 8pm), and four hours earlier at a weekend (at 4pm) – a weekly reduction of 18 hours. Normal opening hours will resume on 30th September.
The College initially planned on cutting the opening times by three hours each day; however, following complaints Campus Services opened a public consultation, which was carried out in July, and saw over 2000 individuals voting for the new opening times. There was no option to keep the opening times the same. In correspondence with Ethos users, the College cited a 40% drop in attendance outside of term time, with significantly less evening use, as reasons for the change.
For staff, there will be changes to the membership available for Ethos. Staff who wish to use the swimming pool – who could previously pay for one-off sessions as part of their free membership – will have purchase bolt-on access to the swimming pool, at £21 a month. Staff wishing to purchase gym memberships for their partners will also need to purchase two memberships at the same price level, whereas previously they could have different ranges of benefits. These changes will be effective from 4th September.
Ethos was closed last weekend, as part of their building works to change how students and staff access the gym. From 4th September, a touch-in system will replace the check-in at reception, with college card-operated turnstiles at the entrance to Ethos, the gym floor, and the swimming pool. These changes mean that guests can no longer be accommodated.
One staff member we spoke to cited concerns about both the changes at Ethos and the changes to on-campus catering: “my staff experience at Imperial since my arrival more than ten years ago is unfortunately worse and worse; I wish that Imperial would care more about the health and wellbeing of its employees”. A recent staff survey, carried out earlier in the year, found that only 54% of staff surveyed felt that Imperial cares about their health and wellbeing.