Drink to social change

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Why we need to question the reasoning behind Sugar sale.

The Students’ Union needs to give up their ‘reasons’ for selling the Sugarhouse – they’re beyond laughable.

In 1982, Michael Jackson injected Thriller into the charts, his jumpy voice in the title song chanting: “No one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike”. Three days later, Sugarhouse in Lancaster opened its doors to students.

It’s undeniable that any nightclub spanning four decades must be doing something right. It’s a number you’d stick on banners, leaflets, and parade around on t-shirts on Open Days.

It’s no coincidence then that the Students’ Union stops peddling Sugar’s unique history the moment they want to sell it out to make way for more accommodation.

The Union’s September statement claiming that “we understand students, past and present, have become very attached to the Sugarhouse” comes off as patronising, at best. They think they understand. They think the backlash to this decision is because we need somewhere to party. In reality, it goes considerably beyond that – many people go to Lancaster University because they feel it’s a safer campus and city than many other equally reputable universities.

Owning a nightclub that you can only get into with a valid student ID, with free public buses that go to and from the campus, provides an environment that makes people feel safer. It makes those unsure about nightclubs feel safer, it makes those unsure about alcohol feel safer, and it makes those who feel unsure about travelling at night feel safer.

For the Union to deliberately brush over this, and to tell us that their decision is driven by ‘the best interests of present and future students’ is misguided, at best. The body that is supposed to represent each and every one of us is failing us by making this decision. They’re not doing this in anybody’s interest other than the building companies’ that the plot will be sold to.

I live in London, and the amount of green space being taken up by housing companies peddling the ‘we want to increase affordable housing’ line to the council is extortionate. It’s no different to what’s happening here. The moment you go along to discussions with building contractors behind the scenes, going to extreme lengths to keep the details of it under wraps, you lose all trust with local people and, in this case, the students who prop you up.

The lost trust is exacerbated by the obvious lack of awareness held by the Students’ Union about its own student body. This is reflected in the recent claim they made, around how “student social behaviours are changing with fewer drinking alcohol and late-night socialising, which has increasingly made the Sugarhouse position challenging”.

This clearly isn’t true. The queues into Sugar on any given Wednesday or Friday are enough evidence that no, large percentages of students are not going to bed at 8 pm every night and refusing to drink anything from a can other than a Pepsi Max. In fact, there are so many students trying to get into Sugar that some have to be turned away due to full capacity.

Since the Students’ Union didn’t provide any statistics to support their statement, I thought I’d provide some for them. A National Union of Students (NUS) survey from 2018 found that 4 out of 5 students still drink alcohol, and 79% think that getting drunk is part of university culture, clearly contradicting the Student Union’s unfounded claim.

I’m not a heavy drinker myself; I’m not drawn to the feeling of everything spinning frantically whilst I clamber up the stairs to my gorgeous (some might say minimalist) Pendle apartment. I haven’t even been properly drunk since starting university three weeks ago.

There’s nothing less funny than a drunk person who thinks they’re hilarious. This is why many local residents who live near universities across the UK, claim that the high streets are becoming student-only zones on nights out, feel that student drink culture overtakes their entire town.

Drunk students roam about Lancaster, yes. You will have to dodge the crossfire if you dare enter McDonald’s past 1 am. But you have a Sugar bus that parks directly outside the venue to transport the cattle of drunks straight back to campus. Fewer students roaming about waiting for taxis = less unhappy residents. It’s an easy solution, and it’s one that has worked incredibly well up until the Union decided that it didn’t.

On top of this, I’m still not buying into the claim that Lancaster is full of mostly sober people like me. There’s certainly a lot (I would feel completely out of place if there weren’t), but that statement is making such a broad and unjustified claim, that I feel the need to call it out.

Parents read about the Sugarhouse (and hear enough about it when you namedrop it over and over again at Open Days, even when you’re in the process of negotiating its sale) and see that it offers possibly the conceptually safest environment to experiment with alcohol, nightclubs, and past-midnight adventures. They know how dangerous taxis, public buses, and getting lifts home can be. They know that, no matter how angelic and pretty-princess their little darling is, they will almost certainly give it a go, and not have the slightest clue what they’re doing or how to keep safe.

This is why the Sugarhouse offers such a unique appeal. It offers a way for the nightlife of the university to be experienced within the relative safety of closed walls.

Dear Students’ Union, your decision shows no respect for any parent or student who chose Lancaster based on this system. You think it’s just another entity – just another leaflet – that somehow drains money and energy from you and your ‘student representation’ meetings. You want to sell out student safety because you can’t be bothered to put up a fight against contractors. You can’t deal with their headache of “Sugar is so loud two nights a week for the accommodation blocks we built right next to it” or “Don’t you care about having more affordable housing?”. It’s almost despairing that no one can really do anything about it, aside from sign a few petitions that probably won’t go anywhere beyond a ten-minute meeting.

Sorry, Sugar, but you know what M.J. said. No one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike.

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