Manchester Students Protest After They Are ‘Fenced’ In Amid Claims Of Poor Mental Health Support

Photo Via @rentstrikeUoM
Photo Via @rentstrikeUoM
Hundreds of furious students on Thursday night tore down fences that were erected around their University of Manchester campus accommodation on the first day of England's new lockdown.
Students living on the university's Fallowfield campus said they woke up to find 6ft metal fencing being put up early on Thursday morning without any warning from the university, with one single exit guarded by security. As well as fencing off most entrance points, the university disabled swipe cards that grant entry to buildings other than accommodation.
"It caused a lot of stress, lots of people had seen students getting locked in at Manchester Metropolitan University and were worried the same was happening here," 18-year-old first year student Jenny* tells Refinery29. "No campus staff knew what was going on, and students overheard scaffolders joking about 'locking in' students."
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According to the university, the fencing was part of measures aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus. The university issued a statement via Twitter informing students that all residents should have received an email about the fencing. However, Jenny says no one received one. "At 3.30pm, an email came through claiming the fence was to 'highlight exits and display Covid signs', but some people were told it was to keep outsiders from coming in."
She adds that the university's poor communication has left students feeling stressed, anxious and worried. "It's had a detrimental effect on students in what is already a really stressful time."
Students flocked to Fallowfield accommodation on Thursday night and tore down the fences in protest against the lack of mental health support on the campus. It comes after 19-year-old Manchester University student Finn Kitson was found dead at the university's Fallowfield campus on 8th October.
"It's not just about the fence, it's about the lack of communication and care the university has shown to students," 19-year-old Emma* tells Refinery29. "During self-isolation, no one in my flat was contacted. I was left with two slices of bread in my cupboard before they sent food on the 10th day of isolation. As someone with a diagnosed eating disorder, I was on the verge of a relapse. They knew I was vulnerable yet they took no action to help me."
Emma, a second year student at Manchester University, is one of the young women behind Twitter account UoM Rent Strike, an anonymous coalition of students protesting against poor conditions in student halls, as well as the lack of mental health support on campus and high rental costs.
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"I'm part of the rent strike and they've ignored us throughout that as well, which I assume is so they can get to the point of being able to charge us rent without addressing our reasons for it," adds 18-year-old *Jasmine. "I just hope [the protests] don't get spun as us just kicking off over fences because it's been building up for a while with all our peaceful attempts to communicate concerns being ignored."
She continues: "I also find it quite funny that people are trying to discredit us by saying we're spreading COVID when one of the reasons we're so angry is that the university allowed us to move in so they could take our money and most of us got COVID within the first couple of weeks with no support!"
One international student, Marie*, who is studying architecture, a joint University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University course, believes her degree isn't worth the £24,000 a year splurge. "I'm paying £24,000 for online videos and some of them are of bad quality which hinders my education," she says. "For that, I don't think it's worth the money. I'm not even using the facilities. I was told there would be face-to-face teaching but here I am still waiting for their promises.
"I have also been dealing with UoM's very poor support which is totally unacceptable compared to the support I'm getting from MMU. A first year student recently died at the University of Manchester and they still haven't learnt from their mistakes. They should try harder to assure the wellbeing and mental health of all students because it's a tough time for all of us and especially international students who are in a new country away from their family and friends."
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The majority of the fences were taken down on Thursday night by students, while the University of Manchester apologised for the 'lockdown fence' and promised that it would be taken down on Friday.
In an official statement, Dame Nancy Rothwell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, said: "I sincerely apologise for the concern and distress caused by the erecting of a fence around our Fallowfield Halls of Residence today. This was not our intention — in fact quite the reverse.
"The fencing was intended as a response to a number of concerns received over recent weeks from staff and students on this site about safety and security; particularly about access by people who are not residents. There was never any intent to prevent students from entering or exiting the site.
"The fences are being taken down on Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately. Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols are being put in place.
"I apologise once again for the issues caused by this incident."
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463. If you need urgent help, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.

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