Postgrads forced out of UCL accommodation mid-term

Additional Reporting by Sabah Hussain.

UCL is forcing postgraduate and international students to leave their accommodation by 18 March to facilitate “exploratory work”. An email was sent by the UCL Accomodation Team on 26 February to all residents at Hawkridge House, in Kentish Town, informing them of this decision. 

The email emphasised that “Hawkridge House is safe to live in, and meets all regulatory safety requirements for residential accomodation with the legal safety measures in place.” The email also said however that UCL Estates is planning to carry out “intrusive exploratory work in advance of possible major enhancements to the building,” and the relocation is intended to “prevent major disturbance to [residents] during a vital time of [their] studies.” 

Postgraduate hall Hawkridge House, based in Kentish Town

An inside source told us that they have been led to believe the reason behind the relocation is not due to renovations but because “the building is about to go out of date with the fire code.”

In response to this allegation, a UCL spokesperson said, “This is not true. Hawkridge House meets all regulatory safety requirements for residential accommodation with the legal safety measures in place and has passed all recent fire and safety inspections.”

The accommodation team confirmed that “alternative accommodation within a UCL or UCL nominated site, which will be of a similar or higher standard to Hawkridge House,” will be offered to residents, and the “new Hall will be located in either the same TFL zone or closer to main campus.” London Student has been told that only floors 0 – 4 have so far been reassigned, despite promises from the accommodation team that they would be told on Wednesday (4 March), with “floor 0 and 1” getting assigned to “really sh*t rooms, some even worth less than what [residents] are paying now for rent at Hawkridge.” 

A full copy of the email can be found here

The source has also told us that “those on the ground floor and first floors have been placed into undergraduate flats at Max Rayne House” which reneges on “a written promise” by UCL to only place students from [Hawkridge House] into halls that exclusively house graduate students.” 

A screenshot showing UCL’s description of Max Rayne House, which was said to house “Undergraduates only”

A UCL spokesperson told London Student that Max Rayne has designated rooms for postgraduate students in addition to rooms for undergraduates. They stated: “There are currently PG students living in Max Rayne since the beginning of the 19/20 academic year. Students at Hawkridge were communicated to that they will be offered alternate accommodation in PG housing and we have not reneged on this as Max Rayne has designated rooms for both PG and UG students.“

Diana Morales Aristizabal, a Hawkridge House resident, said the email was very “sudden” and “the students started to talk about what would we could do.” She said, “To me, it’s weird, because I don’t know what  they’ve found to move over 300 people.”

Residents have expressed disappointment regarding this decision due to a loss of community and friendship. “We already have our friends here, I share food and groceries with them. Some people even share university materials and books,” Diana told London Student

A student from Hawridge House who requested anonymity got in touch with to discuss “the utter devastation of having to separate from flatmates [they] have bonded with and live in a new neighbourhood within six months of first moving in.” She believes that “the university is taking advantage of our status as international students and non-UK citizens.” She said that between the UCU strikes “last term and this term” and this relocation, “UCL seems less trustworthy of an institution the more time” she spends in it. 

She also wanted to note that “many of the students living in the dorm are stressed from this eviction notice.”

The front of Hawkridge House halls

Hawkridge House has not been a perfect accommodation, according to those who have lived there since September, with issues relating to hot water and heating. Diana “arrived at the hall at the beginning of September” and “three times the hot water stopped working in December,” but she and others were previously told that “the site manager has said they can’t do anything about the problems.”

Another anonymous resident talked to London Student about their issues with cleanliness and severe flooding at Hawkridge House:  “In term 1 my flat was flooded and the carpets were never properly cleaned after sitting in warm water. Walls had visible water damage that was never addressed. My flat was without lights for approximately five-six days.”

Laura, another resident, told us a similar story: “UCL Accommodations have consistently failed to meet the residents’ expectations at Hawkridge. Periods of no hot water, no electricity, and various maintenance issues have been disregarded and the severity has been minimised by staff.” 

Laura’s disappointment is now focused on their “final failure” in “relocating us with minimal notice and no explanation in the middle of term. She told London Student, “Students will be split up and scattered across London, severely impacting our micro-communities that we’ve built over the last 6 months. It’s devastating for us, as international students, to be removed from the setting in which we feel most comfortable and supported. For me, that’s in quiet Kentish Town with the friends that I have made here. It is evident that there is little consideration for the well-being of the students impacted by this decision.”

Kentish Town tube station

Laura wanted to emphasise that “Hawkridge staff had nothing to do with this decision. They found out the same time we did, and they’ve been very helpful.” 

The inside source told us, “The anger is borne out of a feeling of disrespect that UCL is moving us without providing the justification necessary within our leases to do so,” echoing the thoughts of both Laura and Diana. 

Speaking of the disruption to student’s lives, the insider also said, “UCL Accommodation does not care, and does not pretend to.”

A petition has been started by student representatives outlining the disruption caused by this relocation, which emphasises that all residential contracts for Hawkridge Hall say that forced relocation will only happen “in the case of catastrophic failure of services or the destruction/inoperability of part of your building necessitating closure.” This calls into question the reasons behind the move, as the UCL Accommodation Team has said that the halls are safe to live in.

Petition set up by Hawkridge House

The petition seeks a number of demands: an explanation, the ability to choose Hawkridge residents in groups, financial compensation and the choice of new accomodations before committing to the move. The petition shows a desire from residents to strike out against UCL as a result of this disruption, stating that they “will refuse to move out… until given evidence that [Hawkridge] is inhospitable” and “will commence a rent strike on all remaining fees due to UCL Accommodation.” 

In response to the petition, a UCL spokesperson claimed that the petition “contains highly inaccurate information” and they are “working closely with both the residents and the Students’ Union UCL to alleviate any concerns this has raised.”

The spokesperson also provided London Student with the following statement:

“Hawkridge House meets all regulatory safety requirements for residential accommodation with the legal safety measures in place and has passed all recent fire and safety inspections. 

“UCL continually carries out safety reviews of all its buildings and we have decided to carry out exploratory work ahead of possible major enhancements to the building.

“As a result, we are relocating students living in Hawkridge House to equivalent alternative UCL accommodation from next month with similar travel times or distance to campus. All removal arrangements and costs will be met by UCL.

“UCL is in close contact with all students at Hawkridge House. We are listening to all concerns raised and will assess these on a case-by-case basis. We recognise this decision may be unsettling and we will do our best to minimise any disruption for our students.”

Sources later told London Student that UCL Accommodation is “refusing to let students enter the new building and see their accommodation and shared living spaces, even where students have previously set up times to do so with the leadership of their new buildings.”

Update: UCL has contacted students informing them that the relocation has been cancelled due to concerns about Covid-19, and that the “invasive work” will be postponed until next year. This would allow students to continue living in their accommodation until September. One source told London Student that “It’s a rollercoaster of emotion for all of us. Some people have already broken contract and moved out. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to them.”

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