“Lancaster SU’s Nightclub will remain named as Sugarhouse”: Democracy or Ignorance?

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“I would like to thank all students for casting your vote and making your voice heard” – Max Kafula, LUSU Racial & Ethnic Minority Students Officer

On the 18th June, Lancaster Student Union confirmed the Sugarhouse would remain the Sugarhouse following the referendum. This was certainly a shock after what had appeared to be a popular petition demanding recognition for the controversial club name’s ties to the slave trade. It only takes a quick google search to realise why students, especially ethnic minorities, may find the name offensive with the nightclub being located on the site of the 17th Century sugar house and boiling house used to process sugar and other produce grown and harvested on slave plantations in the West Indies. Hence, to have 60% of the vote defending the Sugarhouse wasn’t the expected outcome after months of student support for the petition.

When the petition for the renaming of the Sugarhouse was first introduced back in February, there were three motions. Firstly to “launch, fund and promote an annual educational programme (perhaps specifically during Fresher’s Week) which discusses Lancaster’s history and also brings up the Sugarhouse”, secondly to “allow students to put in name suggestions which will be reviewed by the Union staff alongside the help of volunteers, such as academics, who can help formulate a shortlist to subsequently be put forward to the student body” and thirdly, “make the renaming of the Sugarhouse an official part of SU policy so that all future FTOs are also held accountable in regards to this matter, until the renaming and rebranding takes place”. Despite the referendum outcome failing to rename the Sugarhouse, the Student Union still “plans to work with others to highlight Lancaster’s colonial history and are committed to investing and implementing educational programmes to all students and staff.” How Lancaster’s colonial history will be highlighted has yet to be confirmed but the fact this motion will be moving forward despite the referendum result is an excellent step in the right direction, especially with previous statements from LUSU Racial & Ethnic Minority Students Officer, Max Kafula, criticising the SU for “telling half-truths” and “intentionally leaving out its colonial and slave trade links” by only acknowledging the Sugarhouse as established in 1982.

However, despite releasing this statement confirming a continued campaign for the recognition of Lancaster’s colonial past, doubts have already begun to be verbalised with the WIMCW – Why Is My Curriculum White? – expressing in their statement that “we have yet to see any evidence that the Students’ Union are committed to raising awareness or educating on Lancaster’s historic ties to a brutal and repressive slave-trading past” and that they are disappointed “with the Students’ Union’s failure to engage better with the issue”. WIMCW acknowledged the Student Union’s verbal support for the renaming but claimed to have seen “little engagement with the campaign from many of the officers”; the Union officers were approached for comment on this matter but no response was received.

In regard to the second motion The Student Union did comply, allowing students to put in “name suggestions” however, these options were put forward alongside the Sugarhouse after a motion regarding “the membership believing the renaming of the Sugarhouse to be a contentious issue” was passed at the AGM forcing the Sugarhouse to remain an option in the referendum. Despite this motion passing and the Sugarhouse remaining an option, the Student Union continued with reviewing student suggestions in preparation for voting, whittling them down to nine options to “give students greater choice”. In hindsight, having multiple options was the best way for the entire student body to feel represented, allowing them to still comprehend the club as their own however, now the vote has passed there has been criticism in this decision with students making comment on the Instagram confessions page @onlylancs asking, “what was the point of having so many options on the ballot? Just split the anti-sugar vote”. Upon discussing this with Max Kafula it was expressed that, “within the first round of voting over 50% of students did in fact want to rename sugar” and that his suggestion for his successors “if they wish to have another election would be a straight yes/no referendum on the Sugarhouse renaming”. Max acknowledged that a “yes/no referendum should have been the decision back in March”; if this had have happened, the outcome could have been very different.

Whether or not the Student Union will “make the renaming of the Sugarhouse an official part of SU policy” is unclear at this point. There is certainly still support for the renaming of the Sugarhouse with the Student Union stating the “students have the ongoing capability to bring about change at the SU by submitting ideas or petitions to lancastersu.co.uk/ideas”.

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