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12th November 2020

Student action group UoM Rent Strike stage occupation of Owens Park Tower

Breaking News – Student action group UoM Rent Strike have begun an occupation of Owens Park Tower in protest of the uni response to the pandemic
Student action group UoM Rent Strike stage occupation of Owens Park Tower
UoM Rent Strikers have barricaded the front doors of OP Tower as part of an occupation. Photo: UoMRentStrike

Members of the UoM Rent Strike alongside the campaign ‘9K 4 WHAT? MCR’ have begun an occupation of Owens Park Tower in Fallowfield Campus.

A representative of the group told The Mancunion, “We have been forced to undertake this drastic action because of the University’s refusal to meet the very reasonable demands of the Rent Strike.

“We are also concerned about the University’s constant prioritising of profit before students and staff. We are disappointed that it had to get to this point, but we are prepared to continue this action until the University meets our demands.”

Protestors hung a banner from the windows of the top floor stating “This building is occupied”. Photo: @TheMancunion

The group have stated that they have occupied the first two floors of Owens Park Tower and will not leave until the following demands are met:

  1. The University of Manchester has agreed to meet with us and agree to our original demands.
  2. The UoM commits to no more staff redundancies until the end of the pandemic.
  3. For the University to maintain consistend contact with the UCU.
  4. No penalties for students taking part in the occupation or rent strike.

The action group was set up by University of Manchester students last month, in response to high rates of Covid-19 in halls, the lack of face-to-face teaching, and what the group perceives as a inadequate support for students in halls during lockdown.

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We are aware of the protest by a handful of students in an empty residential building. We have made it clear to them that they shouldn’t be there and that they may also be in contravention of current national Health Protection Regulations.

“We are already engaging with elected Students’ Union representatives about many of the issues being highlighted by the protestors. The University is fully committed to freedom of expression.”

When asked about whether the University would pursue legal action against students who are not paying their rent in an interview last week, UoM Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell, told The Mancunion that they are “not taking that step at the present time.”

UoM Rent Strike’s original demands, announced on October 5th, are as follows:

  • A rent reduction of at least 40%, for the remainder of the academic year 2020-21.
  • To offer all students no-penalty early release clause from their tenancy contracts, for both this and next academic years.
  • Increase the standard of support for students in Halls of Residence, this includes; Food, laundry and post for isolating flats; better security; faster responses to complaints about standards of living e.g. broken fridges.

Earlier this month the University announced that students would be able to leave their halls contracts without a penalty at any point for the duration of the pandemic.

A programme was also set up to deliver food packages and post to students who are isolating in Manchester, however students reported that organisational issues meant that food was sometimes delivered after the isolation period.

“Overall,” argue UoM Rent Strike, “the preparation and response to the halls’ situation has been unacceptable… we are therefore demanding compensation and are willing to go on rent strike until these demands are met.”

Occupation UoM Rent Strike
Students set off flares from the top floor windows of Owens Park Tower as the protest began. Photo: UoMRentStrike

In response to the original demands of the group, a University representative told The Mancunion: “All students have an informed choice as to whether to study in person in Manchester. The UK Government advice for Greater Manchester, is that students are strongly encouraged to remain in their current accommodation and not return to their family home or other residential accommodation.

“If in exceptional circumstances students wish to return home for a period and no longer require their University accommodation, we will work with them to make sure they can safely leave the campus. Details of how to do this were emailed to all halls residents on 9 October 2020.

“We have put in place a comprehensive support package for all students who are self-isolating, which includes a partnership with a major food retailer, delivery of parcels, wellbeing support, and assistance with practical matters such as arranging for laundry and prescription medicines. All students have been sent this information which includes clear guidance on the circumstances under which they are able to leave their accommodation whilst self-isolating.

“We continue to provide support for all students in our halls of residence, and students can contact their local ResLife team for help and advice, at any time.”

A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said: “We are aware of a small gathering in an unused tower block on Fallowfield Campus.

 “Officers continue to work alongside the university and will support them wherever necessary to deal with those involved.

 “We condemn any breaches of COVID legislation and the risk it poses to those present, the emergency services and the wider public.”

Anja Samy

Anja Samy

Editorial Advisor and Head of Manchester Media Group.

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