Your Local Area’s Top Headlines, High Points, Hits of the Year, and More…
Covid Restrictions Start the Year
That depressing feeling you get when seeing the word ‘Covid’ in any media report speaks to the Pandemic’s burdening role within life during the last two years, and from the beginning of the past year, Covid has been the tale of 2021.
Covid restrictions were in full swing from the start of the year as England entered its 3rd national lockdown on the 6th of January.
In Lancaster this meant that both city and campus life got off to a rough start; Lockdown forced the closure of non-essential shops, retailers and service sector venues until mid-April as life in Lancaster and Bailrigg was slowed to a near-halt. For most students face-to-face teaching would not go ahead for the rest of the academic year, along with numerous societies and campus activities.
Rent Strikers Respond In January
In response to the lack of in-person teaching and limited available campus facilities, making campus life less desirable than what was promised to new students at the start of the year, January saw a wave of rent strikes take place. Strikers aimed to achieve a rent reduction, rent waiver for those unable to access accommodation and the improvement of facilities.
Students engaging in the strikes were unhappy with the support and facilities provided by Lancaster University, underlining the high £17.95 cost of food boxes for isolating students in the previous term, and the fact that students were being made to pay full rent for facilities subpar to those expected.
The strikes ultimately resulted in £400 goodwill payments per term from the University to students who were unavailable to access their accommodation as compensation for the campus living situation.
Renaming the Sugarhouse
Following the submission of the Renaming Sugarhouse Policy paper by the Racial & Ethnic Minority Students’ Officer, Max Kafula, and a petition held by the ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ campaign, March saw the process for renaming the SU ‘Sugarhouse’ nightclub begin.
This was due to the history of colonial oppression represented in the name derived from ‘Sugarhouse Alley,’ which was the location of a 17th century sugar and boiling house used to produce sugar in conjunction with the slave trade.
However, after an extensive period of debate, 60% of the vote defended the original name, hence on the 18th of June LUSU confirmed that they would still be calling the club the ‘Sugarhouse.’ Although the outcome of the vote was perhaps not what was originally intended when the renaming campaign began, the rise in awareness for Lancaster’s colonial past amongst the student body was a positive outcome that fed into many of the events during Black History Month.
‘Roses Unlocked’ 2021
As Covid restrictions continued through the first half of the year, Roses 2021, which was supposed to be hosted at York – rather than being completely cancelled like the year before – was held online as ‘Roses Unlocked’ from the 30th of April to the 2nd of May.
Due to the impossibility of having crowds at the events, the Universities’ Media Teams provided regular updates and commentary for both in-person events and those streamed online.
Although the first virtual Roses was perhaps not as popular as the competition had been in previous years, it marked the ingenuity of the two Universities in their efforts to prevail through the Pandemic.
‘Speak out for Palestine’ Protest
Following Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, reports of human rights abuse in these areas and protests, ultimately ended in violent suppression. During May, the Lancaster Friends of Palestine Society organised a protest in solidarity with Palestinians.
On the 14th of May, as wider protests occurred across the UK, Lancaster’s own Speak Out for Palestine protest took place in Dalton Square where supporters gathered to witness speeches, spoken word poetry and ultimately stand in solidarity with Palestinians in a bid to amplify Palestinian voices.
The UK Goes Restriction Free in July!
In July, due to the UK vaccination effort, most restrictions across the UK were lifted as we experienced our first taste of ‘normal’ since the start of the Pandemic. Restrictions had been gradually eased since the announcement of the roadmap out of Lockdown in February.
In March, schools reopened and limited outdoor gathering were permitted, followed by non-essential shops and outdoor venues re-opening in April. However, it wasn’t until the 19th of July that most legal limits on social contact were removed and venues such as nightclubs were permitted to open.
For the start of the new academic year in October, this meant that all University teaching took place in-person, and for many students was the first true experience of uninhibited University teaching since the Pandemic began.
Freshers Week 2021
On the 4th of October, Freshers Week kicked off the new academic term and was the first taste of completely unrestricted University social life for both first and second year students.
Amongst the highlights of the week was Freshers Fest, which took place on the 6th of October and was an opportunity for students to meet each other and sign up to the numerous clubs and societies at Lancaster University.
The recently reopened nightclubs were also a hotspot for students during Freshers Week; as one of the only clubs that didn’t open during the Pandemic as a table-service bar, the Sugarhouse swung open its doors for the first time since its initial Covid-induced closure in 2020.
However, amidst the reopening of nightclubs and the revival of nightlife in Lancaster, fear for student safety sparked the petition ‘#SaveOurSugarbus’ after it was announced that the free, late night bus service between the SU nightclub and the campus would no longer be running.
Although the petition was ultimately unsuccessful in its aims of reviving the service or securing a sufficient replacement, the concerns around student safety provided a platform for change as further threats to student safety emerged later in the year.
Nightclub Spikings and the Night In Campaign
Increasing accounts of drink and injection-based spiking in nightclubs during October and November sparked the ‘Night In’ Movement across UK Universities, including Lancaster.
From the 27th of October, a series of boycotts began where, instead of going out to nightclubs, women were encouraged to stand in solidarity in the hope that more stringent measures against spikings were introduced.
In Lancaster, particular attention was aimed at The Sugarhouse and GLOW, both of whom released statements acknowledging their support for the movement which underlined the pressing need for recognition and better treatment of victims in the media and in social settings.
Black History Month
October was also Black History Month, celebrated in Lancaster this year through raising awareness of Black History in Lancaster. Events were organised by Lancaster University Library as well as numerous online debates, seminars, quizzes and discussions on decolonisation organised by the Lancaster BAME forum.
Climate Action Warms Up in November
A major theme for the UK in 2021 has also been the intensifying pressure on government officials to take a more active role in fighting the climate crisis, especially towards the end of the year with the COP26 climate summit held in Glasgow from the 31st of October to the 12th of November, placing the UK at the heart of the climate action.
Lancaster also took a more active role in supporting climate action, with the ‘People’s Parade for Climate Action’ held in Lancaster on the 30th of November, which saw protesters gathering in Dalton Square and march through the city to spread awareness and convey messages about fossil fuel reduction and the rewilding of royal lands in particular.
Some of the protesters even travelled to COP26 to show their support in the protests outside the event.
Lancaster University student, Phoebe Hanson, spoke at COP26 in conjunction with Mock COP, an organisation that hopes to place young people at the head of action against the climate crisis as the problem becomes cross-generational.
Whilst government officials at COP26 ultimately struggled to implement material changes in the way that we view and use fossil fuels, Lancaster University took a firm anti-fossil fuel stance as they pledged to divest considerable funds – worth over £3 million – from fossil fuels in November 2021, making them the 92nd UK University to go fossil free.
In December, another series of protests occurred; in conjunction with UCU strikes across 58 UK Universities, from the 1st to the 3rd of December, staff strike action took place at Lancaster University in disputes over unfair contracts and pension cuts that saw a proportion of staff supporters stepping away from teaching duties.
As well as this, from the 1st of December, 64 Universities – including Lancaster – were set to take action short of strike in a five month clearance for industrial action; staff will be working strictly to contract requirements after the refusal of UCU demands.
Covid to Close the Year
The 2021 Michaelmas University term ended on somewhat of a sour note, as the breakout of the new Omicron Covid variant caused a rise in cases and resulted in increased social distancing and mask-wearing restrictions across campus from the 8th of December when government ‘Plan B’ measures were introduced.
On the 13th of December, booster vaccinations were made available for over-18s who had received their second vaccine dose at least 3 months prior in a bid to protect a larger proportion of the population from the new variant.
The closing of the Sugarhouse on the 17th of December, amidst rising Covid cases, marked the end of the term as its opening set the tone for the beginning.
However, due to the UK effort for vaccination and booster jabs, we were able to experience considerably uninhibited Christmas and New Years celebrations compared to last year as 2021 came to a much more positive end than its ghastly predecessor.