A group of over 50 students took to the streets on Thursday 15th January in a passionate protest against the University’s plans to gain centralised control of all nine college bars.
Organised and lead by members of the Labour Club, the group included JCR officers, non-sabbatical officers and union officers, as well as a large number of students demonstrating their support for the cause.
Beginning outside The Venue, the route taken by the protest took in Fylde Coffee Shop, Alexandra Square, University House and the Conference Centre, outside of which Tony Evans, the University’s Head of Security, asked them to move on as they were disturbing a seminar. Despite fears by the University however, this was the only serious disruption caused by the protest. Mr Evans confirmed that extra security had been laid on outside University House in anticipation of the event, to ensure that only students with “legitimate reasons” gained access to the building.
The protest march was the first event in the Labour Club’s rejuvenated ‘Save Our College Bars’ campaign, which began last year when the university’s Director of Commercial Services, David Peeks, was handed control of Cartmel, County and Pendle bars. It was recently resurrected when plans for all nine bars to come under his control were announced.
“If we don’t act now they won’t listen and will just go full steam ahead,” said Richard Bennett, Campaigns Officer for the Labour Club and one of the driving forces behind the campaign. “David Peeks doesn’t listen to students and he doesn’t listen to lecturers. We want to engage with students, persuade them of our argument, look for improvements and listen to students.”
Mr Bennett went on to itemise the Labour Club’s complaints against David Peeks. “College space has been cut to 600 square metres, a significant reduction for some colleges; events are now booked centrally, making it hard for us to organise socials, and whilst there may have been price cuts he’s failed to cut prices of the most popular drinks.”
The protest march was organised as a way to draw as much attention as possible to the re-emergence of the campaign. “I think it made a point. It certainly caught people’s attention,” said Sarah Strachan, a first-year student who came out to support the protest. Non-sabbatical officer Joss Hickson was similarly satisfied, calling it “a great start to the campaign”.
However, not everyone agreed that the march had been the best way to begin. “It was hard to get a message across without disrupting people and get people involved whilst maintaining the shock factor,” said Sam Johnson. Others commented that the march had been “too hastily organised”.
The University, in an official statement, expressed dissatisfaction with what they viewed as a personal attack against Mr Peeks by the Labour Club. The statement claimed that the University is “very concerned that a campaign against an individual member of staff, contracted to carry out a specific job, is taking place”. It called the Labour Club’s conduct “unacceptable”, adding that “the University has an obligation to take action to support employees against unfair harassment of this kind”.
LUSU President Michael Payne, previously outspoken on the issue, remained neutral. “The wide range of students who turned out on a rainy day clearly demonstrates that college bars are at the heart of student lives,” he told SCAN. “I will be watching the campaign closely and will endeavour to represent student views to the best of my ability.”