Castle bar changes leaves students unemployed

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In an email to University College students at the start of September, it was announced that Castle’s Undercroft Bar would undergo changes ahead of the 2023/24 academic year, leaving some students who worked for the bar last year unemployed. 

This is after students were given three days to reapply for their jobs, after learning about the changes on the 5th September, with more positions being available after the start of term. 

The first change is that the bar will be led and managed solely by professional catering staff, meaning that all current students who work for the Undercroft must reapply to work for a newly recruited and trained team consisting of both undergraduate and postgraduate students with at least 40% hailing from other colleges. 

Palatinate understands that the Undercroft has operated for several years with full time non-student supervisors on every shift however this has not been to the detriment of students in the past. 

Other measures will be implemented to ‘professionalise’ the bar. These include a new till system and Code of Conduct for the new staff team who will also be required to wear a uniform. 

In an attempt to improve customer experience, the new management plans to introduce CCTV, a queue system and ‘secret shopper’ visits. They also plan to have a new college bar committee consisting of both staff and students who will meet each term. 

With the announcement of these changes coming close to the start of term, the measures are leaving many students, who previously relied on working at The Undercroft as a means of steady income, jobless. 

Students received the correspondence on the 5th September, with the deadline for staff reapplying being on 8th September – giving them just three days to attempt to keep their jobs. Although, students were also told that additional positions would become available later in Michaelmas term. 

Students were given three days to reapply for their jobs, after learning about the changes on the 5th September, with more positions being available after the start of term

The training for new staff was arranged for 18th September meaning that applicants who were successful would have had to ensure they were back in Durham, two weeks before the start of term, potentially having to change plans at short notice and before the start of letting agreements in College accommodation. 

One former member of bar staff told Palatinate that the necessity to be in Durham for this date prevented them from reapplying for their job and is now left very worried by the loss of income. 

Another former member of bar staff told Palatinate: “A lot of students are concerned as this was a significant form of employment to support their university life.” 

This means that “[their] peers who are returning to university next year are without subsidiary income in a cost of living crisis.” 

They went on to say that “no student had been formally fired but instead refused work which abuses the zero hour contracts clause.” 

They also described the new measures such as CCTV and ‘secret shoppers’ as “creating an accusatory working environment” 

Professor Wendy Powers – University College Principal – has told Palatinate “bar team positions will reopen shortly. The first round of recruitment was to ensure a team was in position and trained for Welcome and Orientation Week.” 

“The College has signposted unsuccessful applicants to the wide range of vacancies available via the Careers service.” 

In relation to the concerns raised around the cost of living crisis, Durham University told Palatinate, “We have introduced a range of measures to support students with the cost of living.” 

These measures include increasing the Durham Grant Scheme for students from low-income households, by ten per cent in 2022/23 and more than doubling the Student Hardship Fund.

Image: Matthew Hoser

One thought on “Castle bar changes leaves students unemployed

  • Sounds troubling. If (former) staff are members of UCU they should write to for advocacy or contact me individually through my Durham email address (I am the anti-casualisation officer for the branch and I regularly talk to HR to sort out issues with contracting and payroll for hourly-paid and other casualised staff.)


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