The Sugarhouse Sale

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Everything you need to know so far.

Lancaster University Students’ Union has entered negotiations with a developer to potentially sell its decades-old student club and venue “The Sugarhouse”. According to the Union, the sale aims to provide affordable student and key worker housing in the city.

As the Union is a charity, profit is reinvested in the facilities and services provided by the Union. Assuming The Sugarhouse turns a profit, selling the club would presumably reduce the Union’s long-term budget. In turn, this would hamper its ability to fund its student facilities and services. A Union spokesperson stated, “We will invest proceeds from the sale in a range of facilities and services that would be of lasting benefit to the student body as a whole.”

Students need not worry about freshers’ week though, “Nothing is happening in the immediate future. The Sugarhouse will be open for Welcome Week. We have spoken to our staff, and we have guaranteed work for our student staff until at least Christmas.”

The Referendum

Lancaster SU will hold a referendum on the Sugarhouse debate. The decision was made on 17th September 2019 in a meeting held by the Union’s Board of Ex- ecutives in a unanimous vote in favour of giving students a say on the debate.

This was decided following a presentation given by Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, Labour City Councillor and creator of the ‘Save Our Sugar’ campaign.

He said to the Board, ‘The petition on the SU website now has well over 1000 signatures and over 4000 on Change.org. There has never been an issue which has activated and interested so many students.’

The Board also voted unanimously in favour of conducting a General Meeting to discuss the matter, which O’Dwyer-Henry argued would allow for trustees and officers to be held accountable for their decision.

Some of the members of the Board in attendance included Student Union President George Nuttall, VP Welfare and Community Grishma Bijukumar, VP Union Development Hannah Prydderch, VP Campaigns and Communications Lewis Marriott and VP Education Bee Morgan. VP Activities, Ben Evans, sent his apologies. Tim Clark, Cartmel JCR President, was also in attendance, as well as PTO’s Womens+ Officer Lydia Moodycliffe, LG- BTQ+ Students’ Officer Mitch Boocock, and Students with Disabilities Officer Sarah Pennington.

According to Lancaster SU’s Articles of Association, ‘a resolution may only be passed by Referendum if at least 10% of Student Members cast a vote in the Ref- erendum and a simple majority of votes cast are in favour of the resolution’.

Chair of the meeting, Vice President Union Development Hannah Prydderch said, ‘I’d like to thank everyone for coming, I’d like to thank SCAN and LA1TV for getting involved. It’s something I really want to push for this year, making sure the Student’s Union is accountable and transparent. Hopefully, by live streaming and live-tweeting this is another step in that process.’

There is no date set currently for the referendum.

Resignations

Shortly after the news was announced about the potential Sugarhouse sale, Laura Davies (Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees at the time of the vote) re- signed. Jane Riley, another external trustee, shortly followed Davies.

Laura Davies was previously the Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees for University of Cumbria Students’ Union (UCSU).

Jane Riley was previously the finance trustee of the Board of Trustees for University of Cumbria Students’ Union (UCSU).

Laura Davies’ LinkedIn account was changed on Thursday evening, displaying her as having been “Vice-Chair Of The Board of Trustees Lancaster University Students’ Union Jun 2015 – Sep 2019”.

At around the same time, Davies posted a statement on LinkedIn outlining her resignation, “This evening, I’ve resigned from the position of vice-chair of the Lancaster University SU Board with immediate effect. I will continue to support colleagues in the HE sector as well as my wider network.”

The following morning, the Lancaster University Students’ Union “Trustees” page was updated. Neither Laura Davies nor Jane Riley are now present.

A Union spokesperson soon addressed this: “We can confirm that Laura Davies (Vice-Chair) and Jane Riley (External Trustee) have resigned from the Trustee Board. Laura has stepped down to focus on other opportunities, and Jane has stepped down for personal reasons. We would like to thank them for their invaluable contribution to the students’ union, and we wish them well for the future.”

The Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees is the Union’s governing body, whose responsibility it is to make decisions about the charity’s business. The Board is comprised of six officer trustees: the president & vice- presidents of the Union, who are elected students. Also on the Board are up to five external trustees and two student trustees. At the time of the vote, these were: Laura Davies; Graeme Osborn; Mark Alexander; Jane Riley (external trustees); Kathy New; and Jenna Higham (student trustees). External trustees and student trustees are not elected.

A majority is required for any motion discussed by the Board to pass. The Board’s composition at the time of the vote was as follows: six officer trustees; four external trustees; two student trustees. As such, if officer trustees voted in solidarity against the negotiations, then a majority required to enter negotiations would not have been achieved.

Student Comments

SCAN asked students what they thought of the Union’s decision. Responses which best represented the views of students were selected.

“I would hope that this goes to a referendum […] because this is something that the student body must decide.”

“Who are the Board of Trustees? As students, we expect the Students’ Union to represent our voices, not a group of people that we have never even heard of.”

“Those that supported the decision should come forward […] so that they can be fully held to account and explain why they think that removing the biggest night out and 150 jobs from Lancaster would be in the interests of the student experience.”

“The sale of The Sugarhouse will be an incredible loss to the majority of students and will increase the hostile relationship between the student body and Students’ Union that is already present.”

Union Q&A

SCAN interviewed a Union spokesperson who has responded to questions submitted by students on social media. This is what they had to say.

Why has this decision been made, and what is the SU’s rationale behind it?

I think that was set out in the initial statement that has gone out on our website, the changes to the area around the Sugarhouse with the growth of more accommodation there along with the changes to student habits and things like this. With the growth in accommodation, it makes the Sugarhouse’s long-term future more questionable, and that the Students’ Union has to consider offers like this as the procedure, as part of its duty towards the best interests of the students. Not just now, but in the long-term, and any profits from the sale will be put back into student services. 

Following from that, if the money from the sale will go back towards the students, can you give any indication of what those student services or experiences will be? 

I don’t have an answer to that, and at this point, it’s too early to say what shape they might take. I know that there is an intention to consult the students about how the funds from the sale can best benefit them, so I think there’s a desire to have student input into that going forward. 

You mention that you will consult students on what to do with the money from the sale, but as the petition on the SU website has now reached enough to hold a referendum, will student’s get a say in whether the Sugarhouse is sold or not?

Well, there is a procedure for holding a referendum, and the Students’ Union will follow those procedures correctly. 

And will those procedures involve a consultation with the student body at all? 

The Chair of Executive Committee can confirm the receipt of the petition submitted via the Students’ Union website and that it has passed the 150 signature threshold for the matter to be debated at the Executive Committee.

Whatever the procedures are for a referendum and the outcome of a refrendum, they have been referred for discussion. They will follow the normal procedures that any referendum would take at Lancaster. 

Is there a timeline on these plans?

This process is a negotiation, so it is commercially confidential, so it’s not something we can put an exact timeline on. As far as I’m aware, it’s business as usual for the immediate future, for freshers week and so on. 

Concerns have been raised about the safety of students on nights out, as Sugarhouse is currently the only student-only nightclub. What plans do the SU have to address this?

I think that’s too early to say; this is still at the negotiation stage. Going forward, the Union will be talking about how any proceeds from the sale are spent for the wants and benefits of students. 

Why did the SU continue to promote sugar at the recent open day to future applicants with the knowledge that it will be closing?

At the moment, the Sugarhouse is opening; we are only in that negotiation stage as I said. A sale hasn’t occurred, and the Sugarhouse is still there. 

Is money the primary motivation for this sale?

No, the motivation is for the long-term interest of the students, not just current students but students going forward from this. And that is the duty of the Students’ Union, to look after the interests of students, now and in the future. Certainly not motivated by money.

If the motivation was for the benefit of students, why were students not consulted about the potential sale of Sugarhouse?

Students are represented on the Trustee board, that is their voice there. So students were represented through that.

This is a developing story.

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