Disgruntled students of St Cuthbert’s have begun to lay banners to protest the University’s increase of accommodation costs.
These banners have been laid in front of the Bill Bryson library, outside Elvet Riverside 1 (which has since been removed), and on the gates of the Vice-Chancellor’s house.
The #RippedOff campaign was set up in May 2017 after a policy was passed at the SU Assembly. Inspired by the campaign’s activity, Caitlin Guibout and Jack Pearce submitted a motion to create a separate #RippedOff society at St. Cuthbert’s. Guibout is now the sitting President of the society, and Pearce holds the position of Social Secretary.
As well as these two roles, they also have a Treasurer and Secretary, and on Thursday they elected a Campaigns Rep, Bailey Rep, and Parsons Rep.
In an interview with Palatinate, Pearce explained the necessity of the campaign: “In some colleges, as little as 30% of the accommodation costs actually go towards improving the accommodation.
“If the accommodation rent is raised, then the landlords in the local area raise their rents as well.” Pearce stressed the fact that “this isn’t a partisan issue- this affects everyone.”
The #RippedOff team at Cuth’s were very persistent in their encouragement of others to set up similar campaigns at their colleges. Caitlin said at the Committee’s OGM on Thursday, “In terms of seeing change, the best way is to urge everyone to start a #RippedOff society in their colleges.”
This isn’t a partisan issue- this affects everyoneJack Pearce
Currently, Durham has some of the highest accommodation costs in the country outside of London.
Their ideas for activism include the creation of more banners, distribution of informative leaflets, and ‘chalking’, which involves marking the cost of University accommodation with chalk on the outside wall.
The team has been fighting hard to get their message heard, largely because they don’t want to be forced to consider a rent strike.
A rent strike is enacted when students pay their accommodation costs into one large private account, and then a representative holds this money in the account until the University formally agrees to lower accommodation costs.
Rent strikes have proven remarkably effective in the past. University College London and Goldsmiths both agreed to lower accommodation costs after some of their students went on strike, and in Goldsmiths, accommodation costs were even cut by 35%.
However, the #RippedOff team is only considering this as a “last resort”, as it can cause harm and financial insecurity to college staff and JCR exec members.
As well as their main campaign, they have also endorsed other housing-related initiatives. Guibout has been particularly supportive of Cuth’s Welfare’s ‘Take Time to Sign’ campaign, which encourages students to wait for a house such that they don’t get taken advantage of.
Photograph by Naomi Clarke