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Sibly Hall at the University of Reading

Archive: Reading Students Homeless

This article is taken from The Shell, the name of the University of Reading student newspaper in 1972. This story was a front page article for the week ending Friday 8 October 1972. It cost 5p.


As many as 500 students will be without accommodation when they return to university this week.

The accommodation problem has hit a new and ominous peak. Despite efforts by the University Administration to play down the seriousness of the situation, it merges only too clearly: a large number of students will be homeless for an as yet indefinite period of time.

“All Freshers have now been accommodated,” said Mr, Samways, the Accommodation Officer, “but there are an unkown quantity of other students as yet without accommodation.” Mr. Samways was not prepared to hazard a guess as to how many this would be. He gave Shell the impression that this was not really his job.

Students expecting Hall places are pouring back to the campus only to discover that all the Halls are full. Or empty, depending on who you ask, and when you ask them. The compromise between the antiquated sexual segregation in Halls and the new struggling mixed halls programme, has aggravated an already deplorable situation. This is due to a proportionately greater influx of male students (the Science Faculty this year is much more full than in previous years). As segregationalist Wardens stick steadfastly to their policy of single-sex halls, the anomalous situation of vacant beds in some halls, whilst some students remain homeless, has arisen.

The all-female Mansfield Hall was at the time of going to press half empty, whilst at least 40 early arrivals are without definite accommodation.

Despite the fact that more students are pouring into the campus every day, there are no moves on the part of the Administration to desegregate the female Halls. Some worried parents have come up to the University especially, after receiving conflicting reports as to the state of accommodation.

Overseas Students Dumped at Station

Having had all aspects of their journey to Reading well organised in advance of their arrival, almost 300 overseas students are without certain accommodation. Howard Simmonds, Editor of the Union Handbook, and currently involved in the Freshers Conference, told us at the station:

“I have got a list here in front of me with the names of 340 overseas students. At the moment we only have 25 definite places for them.”

Later in the day he informed us that a further 16 places had been temporarily available in one of the Halls. When asked what Admin was doing to help, Howard said: “As far as I am concerned, Samways has done nothing to help us, and you can quote me on that.”

Amazed by this statement from Howard Simmonds, a phone call was made to Samways:

Shell: I’ve just had a statement from the Students Union which says we have 340 overseas students coming into the university beginning on Friday, we have been offered 41 accommodation places for them. I wonder if you could comment on that statement.

Samways: Well, I think the figures are wrong because I am quite sure we have got far more than that number in Sibly Hall alone. I can’t say how many overseas students are coming here. On the other hand I do know that the Halls are all full at the moment. The Senior Assistant Registrar, Mr. Bottomly, told me last week that he understood that there were about another 60 coming in the Faculty of Agriculture this week and a number of these are coming from overseas and … er … quite frankly, I honestly expect a number of them will be homeless for the time being. I’ve got about 10 on my landing, but I’m in the process of ringing around the Halls and trying to find some temporary accommodation in rooms in Halls of 2nd and 3rd years who will not be back till Tuesday to keep them out of hotels.

Shell: So as far as you are concerned, that statement is not true.

Samways: Well, I wouldn’t have thought so. I sincerely hope it isn’t.

In a futile attempt to clarify an increasingly muddled state of affairs, we interviewed Mr. Samways. Mr. Bell, the Assistant Registrar, also attended the interview.

“The situation,” agreed Mr. Samways, “has worsened this year. Things will sort themselves out,” he continued. “All Freshers are definitely accommodated, but we are just waiting to see how many other students arrive without accommodation.”

At this point the phone rang. A moment later Mr. Samways was busy phoning round the Halls to find places. “Of course,” he said, to cover his own inconsistency, “there are one or two places. I don’t like to tell the students this, but some of them will be taking the places of other students who have failed their examinations.”

Mr. Samways did a considerable amount of talking but no facts emerged. In an attempt to divert the issue, his running mate, Mr. Bell, started blaming the local council:

“The Council,” he said, “will not allow the conversion of houses from family to multiple living.”

From this point on Admin refused to say any more about the current situation, and shortly afterwards Mr. Bell left the room somewhat hurriedly demonstrating a high degree of agitation.

The predominant characteristic of all the statements by Admin on this issue has been their apparent inability to cope with the situation. With the streamlined organisation of Whiteknights House it is impossible that Admin could be in such a ridiculous state of confusion over the facts and figures. It would appear that their statements are an attempt to cover up the reality of the situation, which is that Admin HAS NO SOLUTION TO THE READING UNIVERSITY ACCOMMODATION PROBLEM.

National Crisis

In a telephone conversation, the President of the National Union of Students, Digby Jacks, commented: “Well the situation is very bad. Manchester, Leeds, and several others will have a large number of students without accommodation. This will probably be for a short period only. In addition to that there are a variety of other problems – difficulties with rent tribunals, landlords, etc. There are binary problems of agencies fighting each other in town, grossly inadequate plans for the future expansion of student accommodation in particular ares, and a number of other things. It’s difficult to say anything more about the situation because many of the universities have only just gone back.”

Universities Lie to Press

An article in the national press recently claimed that no serious accommodation problem existed.

One university mentioned in this context was Leeds. Martin Foster, the Accommodation Secretary of Leeds Student Union, told us:

“Well, things aren’t really OK. Last year there were about 300 people who had to sleep on the campus and we are expecting that there will be at least that this year.”

When told about the press article he was not surprised … “Our Admin have been trying to put over the general impression that there is no problem here. There is no activity at all from the Administration. Whenever we go and see them, they give the impression that they are worked off their feet and doing all they can, but I don’t think they can be. At the moment, a lot of people are pouring in looking for accommodation. We have adverts in the papers for about three weeks, but we haven’t had all that good a response.”

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