You are a wide-eyed fresher. Your first year of university is about to come to an Extrav-fuelled and vodka-soaked end. Soon you will be doing a ham-fisted job of working out how to fit all your belongings into your dad’s Skoda as you wonder why on earth you thought it necessary to bring half of the Ikea catalogue to Bowland Annex in the first place.
But don’t worry; it will only be three months ‘til you are here again, unloading from your father’s war-torn vehicle. Well, that’s not strictly true; you won’t be here, you’ll probably be in deepest darkest Bowerham, rolling into a four-bedroom house that has been home to generations of second-years. Every year the intake is new, but the situation the same. When I arrived at my house for the start of second year I could barely remember what it looked like – the only thing that stayed in my mind was that it had a cellar, which despite dreams alas never did become a ball pit, underground lair, or brewery. The decision-making process was similar regarding my housemates. In the rush to secure a house at the end of first term I grouped with people I barely knew then and still barely knew in September. Whilst I couldn’t have wished for a better group of people to share my hovel with, it was undoubtedly a risk, but a necessary one.
Student houses in Lancaster largely go up for rent at the start of December, a time beaten by many other universities: particularly in London where the competition for reasonably priced accommodation can start three or four weeks into your degree. By Week 9 of first year I could not tell who would be good housemates – I could barely tell who were actually my mates. Assuming you pay your deposit in Week 9, and my ability to do basic arithmetic has not been corrupted by three years of studying History, you will be moving into your house about 42 weeks after deciding your living arrangements for the year. You have had to decide after knowing people for 10 weeks, whether or not you will remain friends for the next 42. The friendships created will undoubtedly change over this period, and from personal experience most will improve, but the likelihood is that by the end of second year, if not first year, at least two people under your roof will be avoiding each other with unfathomable rage.
There is no easy way to avoid this situation, but I’ll take a shot anyway. By being forced to choose so early by the housing markets you just have to make the best of a bad situation. Firstly, and most obviously, if you don’t like someone before living with them, then you will want to kill them if you move in with them. Secondly, the more people in a house, the more factions will form. Whilst a house of eight can marginalise the absolute hatred of two people, it will form an environment for bitching, moaning, and bitterness, splitting friends who actually do get on. Thirdly, recognise that you are all in the same situation. Nobody likes cleaning the bathroom, or spending hours going over the bills, but this is a necessity for everyone in a house. Either do the housework as a group, or live in a pig sty and burn your money as a group.
Whilst I have a regrets about my second-year student house – mostly to do with money and the unending pile of rubbish bags frequenting our patio – it was worth it. Satisfaction for campus accommodation is decreasing despite increasing student satisfaction for the whole University experience. I haven’t a clue whether or not off-campus accommodation is to blame, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Organising second-year accommodation later in the year would be more sensible, but the timing is not going to change; if you want somewhere to live you just have to grab your balls and run with it, and I thinks that’s part of the experience. While I have absolutely no regrets from living on campus in my final year, the pot-luck experience of second-year student housing matured me, scarred me, and gifted me with precious friendships that will stay with me long after I leave Lancaster.