‘We can’t put on our shows’: Students petition against Senate fifth floor closure

44 societies will be at a loss from the closure as well as 170 study spaces

Students from Bristol Uni DramSoc are leading a petition to stop the closure of Senate House’s fifth floor, coming after the university’s Student’s Union (SU) plan to move their support services onto the floor to be at the heart of campus.

This change of space removes an estimated 170 spaces for student study spread across six rooms also utilised by multiple societies for meetings and performing arts rehearsals. The decision was announced on the 21st November to all students via email.

Sadie, the President of DramSoc, told The Bristol Tab that the main problem is the university’s lack of space, saying “at the moment, it’s already really tight.” Societies rely on Senate heavily as it has bookable spaces and is conveniently close to campus.

Sadie went on to say: “If these six rooms close, and are not available to use for societies like this, they could be shut down.” She adds, “If this happens, we can’t put on our shows.”

The DramSoc met with some SU members to discuss the issues with their move from the Richmond Building, asking for concrete, alternative spaces that will be made available in replacement if the move occurs which could affect up to 44 different student societies.

The SU restated in the meeting that the fifth floor ever being open for students was only temporary, and a change in its use was always going to happen, as the SU are the tenants of the floor owned by Bristol Uni.

Sadie is worried that because the booking system for these rooms is “full up every single day, which shows the demand for space”, no alternatives will be sufficient.

The SU has offered alternative spaces for societies like DramSoc to rehearse, offering halls in Hiatt Baker and studios in Bedminster, but these are far away from the heart of campus. They are also not free to use, so they aren’t seen as genuine alternatives.

Sadie adds: “It’s such a step backwards to remove the space that we’ve had, our entire society system, especially Performing Arts is built around having these rooms.”

Societies at university are valuable to students, Sadie says: “Everyone, from any kind of society will tell you, they are so important.”

The initial petition has reached over 900 signatures and a second has been created, reaching the maximum of 200 signatures within one and a half days. The university is obliged to respond because of the huge numbers of support.

After a meeting on Thursday (7th December) with the head of the Student Union affairs, she informed The Bristol Tab that “there’s empty space in the Arts Complex, which he believes we can utilize, but we just need to demand that from the university, and to do that we need to get their attention.”

Aside from arranging the meeting and sending out the petition to students, the DramSoc created an Instagram account, @stop.senate.takeover which gained almost 600 likes on their first post and 180 followers within three days.

Sadies is frustrated that the SU hasn’t been more helpful, saying “we feel a bit disappointed that we’d never been asked about any of this.

“We want to work together. But we need the SU to engage with us as well and actually listen to what we are saying because at the moment it just feels they’re being quite unfair”

Whilst there isn’t a lot of hope for being able to stop the Senate takeover, this group of students don’t seem to be backing down: “When we know that this space will replicate everything that the fifth floor is, then we will stop.”

Speaking on behalf of her society, and everyone involved, Sadie concludes by saying: “We do have steps that we can take to further escalate this.”

A spokesperson for Bristol SU said: “Since we announced the upcoming move of some Bristol SU services to Senate House at Easter, we know some students and student groups are concerned about losing activity and study space, and what this might mean for them going forward.

“It is worth stressing that the current use of the 5th floor of Senate House has only ever been temporarily available to students. In no situation would the space currently remain as it is. The University’s plan has always been to repurpose the space and if we weren’t to take the space for our offices, then it would instead go to a university department.

“Our move is the only scenario in which the future of Senate House rooms 5.20 and 5.22 for student group activity space remains secured. With a growing University, the alternative is student groups lose access to all six Senate House spaces as the University takes over the whole floor.

“For now, we are working hard to find alternative study and social spaces for students and are actively lobbying the university to free up some of the 500+ teaching spaces that are infrequently used after 6 pm. As soon as we have a solid agreement on this, we will share it with you – as we understand how important this space is for our student groups.

“We have reached out to those student groups that have raised concerns about our move to have further conversation. Anyone who has concerns is equally welcome to reach out to us if they would like to discuss anything else. For more information on our move, please see our webpage and FAQ.”

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