Bar wars: A new hope as University and SU enter talks

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The Students’ Union is hoping to enter talks with the University’s Facilities department over the running of the college bars.

In a motion passed by Union Council on Thursday Week 19, discussions over the future of the bars and what LUSU and college JCR executives can do are expected to start with the Facilities department.

The two options that would be put forward to Facilities involve LUSU taking over drinks and entertainments within the college bars. The difference between the two comes down to food service: one option would involve a partnership with University catering for food, the other would mean LUSU took full control of every aspect of running the bars.

The move by LUSU to discuss the running of the bars comes after the change to opening hours earlier this academic year, and amidst rumours that the bars may face closure if they cannot be outsourced from Catering, to LUSU or an external company.

Students opposed the change to alternate weekend opening nights for the bars, and there have been some small successes. Furness bar now opens on both weekend days for a trial period this term, along with the unaffected Cartmel and Graduate bars.

LUSU is hoping to come to a resolution with Facilities as to how the college bars may be improved for students. Studies carried out by the Students’ Union showed that students had dissatisfaction with the bars as they currently operate.

In surveys and mystery shopper practices carried out by the Union to investigate current student opinion of the bars, it was found that the main alienating factor is the price of the products available.

Students asked also commented on a lack of advertisement of what was going on in the bars, a lack of atmosphere, and a lack of comfortable furniture. However, they did value events such as pub quizzes, live bands, open mic nights and Friday Fury, all of which are operated by LUSU and its JCR executives.

There was a great deal of difference in how people thought about their bars – some students, largely those on JCR executives, think of their college bar as the lounge they may lack in their own flat. Others, however, described the bars as “cliquey”.

Another aspect that students felt let down on was that of opening hours: students felt bars were not open at times when they would expect to be, and that the 11pm closing time was too early.

LUSU President, Robbie Pickles, is hoping to engage Mark Swindlehurst, Director of Facilities at the University in discussions about the future of the bars. He said: “I think that currently the college bars are being managed in a way that is not necessarily healthy to the student experience. The Students’ Union has a way to communicate with students to improve the social experience in Lancaster.”

The change of operator of the bars would hopefully result in a better student experience, and more students wishing to use the bars.

The idea of a possible LUSU running of the bars had a mixed reception among some students asked. Chris Beck, a Pendle student, said he feared the bars might lose some of their individuality. “I think that as it is there are certain bars, such as Grad and Furness, which are different to the other on campus and if LUSU took them over, they’d all just slowly turn into nine versions of the same thing”, he said.

He went on: “I guess it’s because I don’t really see LUSU doing anything innovative [for students]. [If prices decrease] maybe there is an advantage to making them LUSU owned, but I still reckon it’s okay as it is.”

In agreement with Beck was Paul Hannah, a student from Lonsdale. He felt the Union was too political an institution to run the bars adequately. “The Union already has far too much of a hand in what students do socially. This would surely only mean even more of a stigma attached to drinking, as in the Sugarhouse. At least the University has some business acumen behind it”, he said.

“While I am not happy with how the bars are standardised across campus, I believe that transferring power to LUSU would be a backwards step. I think that, if anything, LUSU needs less of a hand in all the facets of student life”, he continued.

Seeing the potential positives in the move, however, was Furnessian, Rachel Black. “I think it would be really good if people who were actually in turn with and willing to meet students’ needs were in charge of what goes on in the bars. LUSU are equipped to get input from students and meet our needs in a way that Catering have, so far, failed to do”, she said.

Another Lonsdale student, Emma Williams, also saw LUSU-run bars as a good thing. “If they’ve got room to make changes and run things how the customers would like them – which shouldn’t be too hard, as LUSU itself consists of the customers – I think it would be a good opportunity to try and boost the takings of the bars”, she said.

Martha Sprackland, Furness student and bartender at Furness bar said: “A lot of the criticisms people put forward for everything being run by Catering is that the students have no way of getting their opinions or suggestions to those in charge, even the bar staff aren’t listened to.”

She added: “Considering LUSU is student-led, that would intuitively lead to an improvement in the channels of communication between the bar staff, the students, and those in charge of making decisions about the bar, which can only be a positive thing, as far as I’m concerned.”

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