Freshers at St. Cuthbert’s Society have been facing major disruption to college catering and accommodation as their time at Durham begins.
A gas leak in the cellar of 12 South Bailey caused the closure of the college kitchens and the shutdown of the boilers which provide heating and hot water for Houses 12 and 13. The discovery of asbestos in the cellar has caused delays to the repairs and continued problems for the affected students.
For the next two weeks, there is no hot water or heating for the two affected halls, and mealtime arrangements are disjointed. Breakfast and dinner are now both taken in St. Cuthbert’s dining hall, but the food is being cooked in the kitchens of St. Hild and St. Bede College before being driven down. Lunch is being provided either at Hatfield or University College.
The freshers’ week welcome formals were also cancelled but were re-arranged on two successive Wednesday evenings. This meant however that only half of the first year students were present at each of the formal evenings.
Angus Scott, living in House 13, said: “I know we get food and hot water in other houses and colleges, but we pay to have it in our house.”
Scott’s roommate, Harry Appleby, added: “We pay for it to be on our doorstep, not up at Hatfield.”
The gas leak was reported on 4th October in the cellar of 12 South Bailey. Heating engineers were brought in immediately but were unable to repair the leak because of the presence of asbestos in the cellar.
Due to the urgent circumstances, the University has arranged for the company removing the asbestos to work 24 hours a day while carrying out the works.
House 12 contains the dining hall, staff offices, college bar and accommodation for 10 students. House 13 is also home to 25 students.
The college has taken numerous steps to ease the situation for the first years. Those living in Houses 12 and 13 have been provided with electric heaters and extra duvets. The college also gave them the option to move temporarily to the college’s other site at Parson’s Field on Old Elvet or other colleges, though the offer was not taken up by a single student.
The society’s staff have worked hard to ensure that a regular programme of meals is provided, with the vast majority being served in the dining hall. The students have all been kept up to date with regular emails from the Bursar, Chris Finnemore.
Appleby acknowledged the college’s efforts: “We can’t fault what Cuth’s have done. They’ve given us all these duvets and really good heaters as well as the option to move down to Parsons Field.”
“The workers are also visibly here 24 hours a day.”
Sharon Richardson, Acting Principal of the Society, said: “This is a difficult situation for all staff and students involved but we are keen to ensure that college remains open and that we provide as much of a service as possible.
“We are very grateful to the students for their understanding, patience and good humour.”
Despite the college’s efforts, the problems have caused a number of different problems for students, all of whom are just starting their time away at university.
Several students have complained to the society’s management, explaining that they are not receiving their money’s worth for their accommodation fees.
A few have asked for a refund for some of this term’s fees, although there has not yet been any response from the college. The matter of accommodation fees is a University not a college issue, as the fees are standardised throughout Durham.
The disruption has had knock-on effects throughout the college. The lack of hot water in the two houses has meant that the 35 affected students have been using the showers in House 8, a short walk up South Bailey.
Charlotte Trundley, from House 8, explained: “Everyone came and used our showers which meant there was no hot water.
“When they tweaked the boiler to compensate for the numbers, the temperature shot up. It was like a sauna.”
Becky Prifti, also from House 8, praised the college’s reaction: “As soon as we complained it was fixed straight away.”
The changes to the location of lunchtime meals has meant that those living at Parsons Field have been eating at University College, while those living on the Bailey have been eating at Hatfield. Those living at Parsons Field are either self-catered or receive a partial meal package, so would not take breakfast in college anyway.
When asked, students did not believe that the disruption had a negative effect on meeting people from both sites during the early weeks of term.
Angus Scott said: “I haven’t really met that many people from Parsons yet, but that’s because of the two sites and how they keep to themselves. Freshers’ week was really well organised and I met lots of people.”
Although the asbestos will not be fully removed from the cellar until December, the college is aiming to re-open the kitchens and have hot water and heating in the affected houses in around two weeks.