Bar Wars Episode One: Attack of the Catering Clones

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The battle between University and students for the college bars began in 2008. Union Council – the governing body of the Students’ Union – passed policy in order to campaign for the college bars to be run independently by their corresponding college, when it became clear this privilege was under threat.

By August 2008, however, three of the college bars – Cartmel, County and Grizedale – were taken over by Commercial Services, the department responsible for the University’s non-academic, profitable facilities. The remaining colleges were left with the promise that the other six bars would follow.

The Director of Commercial Services, David Peeks, was already in charge of Barker House Farm, The Venue and Fylde Coffee Shop, and students felt that college individuality was under threat by the takeover.

At the time, LUSU President (2008-2010) Michael Payne said: “The independence of the nine colleges has yet again been undermined […] The college bars are more than just places to drink… bringing them under the control of Commercial Services will deprive them of any character of sense of community.”

By the beginning of term in September 2008, Pendle had also been taken over by Commercial Services and Grizedale had been closed for refurbishment. At the time it was reported in SCAN that the bars had been taken over and that the licensees were to be centrally managed by the University in order to diversify the bars, and to include food and drink provisions.

Lancaster University Labour Club had been campaigning to save the college bars in the previous academic year, by organising ‘drink-ins’ and getting over 800 students to sign a petition over the takeover.

By the third issue of that year, SCAN had also become heavily involved in the campaign. In the lead article of the issue, SCAN claimed Peeks had made losses within his department before the takeover of the bars, and that Commercial Services was “haemorrhaging money.”

A month later, after SCAN was threatened with legal action by Peeks’ solicitor, an apology and clarification was printed, explaining that though Commercial Services under Peeks had not hit its targets, it had still made a profit and he was not, in fact, a “loss-maker” as had been claimed.

By January 2009, with the election of the new JCR and, at the time, Non-Sabbatical Officers, the campaign was restarted. 140 officers attended the New Officer Training Conference of January 2009, and worked together with LUSU to give the campaign a new lease of life.

The tradition of satirical pantomimes performed on the last day of the New Officer Training Conference centered around the bars takeover that year, with now LUSU President Robbie Pickles taking the role of Michael Payne the woodsman in Three Little Pigs, in order to defeat David Peeks, the wolf.

At the conference, a boycott of University Catering venues was suggested. Bowland Café, the Environment Centre Café, The Venue, Fylde Coffee Shop, The Hub Café and Barker House Farm were successfully boycotted, along with all vending machines, and students were encouraged to eat at independent food outlets on campus by the new officers.

By late January, the campaign had reached its peak. A group of approximately 50 students took part in a protest organized by the Labour Club, which passed by all University Catering outlets and culminated in Alexandra Square outside University House. Extra security had been put on the doors to University House in case protestors tried to enter the building.

In February of the same year, Paul Wellings, the Vice Chancellor of the University, created a working group to discuss the future of the colleges, whilst touching on the subject of the bars, though it was agreed that would be largely left up to the Bars Advisory Group.

Over the Easter vacation of that year, the remaining college bars were taken over by Commercial Services. No JCR officers were consulted before the takeover, and they were surprised that the plans had been changed from those the University had initially told them.

Due to the takeover of the bars, the University was able to hire the spaces out for private functions, though it was insisted that this would not happen without the permission of the college Principals.

On the first day of Summer Term, a wedding was held in Pendle bar. The porters, and later, the police were called to the event, which was during the official quiet period in Summer Term, in preparation for end of year exams because of an altercation.

In the 2009-10 academic year, prices at the bars continued to increase, but the campaigns and protests fell by the wayside to indifference. It remains to be seen whether the new closure proposals will reignite the campaign spirit of previous years in an effort to reclaim the bars for the colleges.

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