Thursday, September 16News For London

‘We deserve more’: Goldsmiths rent strikes back

Goldsmiths rent strike banner. Photo by Jinglin Zhou.

Appalling living conditions and deafening silence from Goldsmiths, University of London has prompted its students to go on rent strike.

Goldsmiths is the first university in London to join the ranks of rent strikers from other universities across the UK, including Bristol, Cambridge, and Manchester. 

Embed video. Video produced by Jinglin Zhou and Shiyan Wang.

A rent striker, Luke said that his room hasn’t been touched since March 2020 when previous students were sent home at the start of the lockdown.

He described: “When I walked in, there were urine stains on the floor.” Luke also listed shrivelled doors, black mould, and rats that were rampant in other rooms. 

“The room next to me, they tried to take out some medicine from the medicine cabinet and the whole medicine cabinet fell off.”

Luke lives in Surrey House Annexe and pays about £190 a week.

Students are withholding their rent for the January 2021 term until their nine demands are met including 50 percent of rent reduction, immediate removal of sexual perpetrators in halls, and maintenance issues to be responded within 24 hours. 

Another rent striker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Westminster World that the demands are fairly basic. 

They said: “The main thing is that people were told to come to Goldsmiths in the middle of a global pandemic when it’s probably not the safest thing in our interests, because the university wanted to gain money from our rent, which isn’t putting us first.”

Goldsmiths has a total of seven halls listed on their accommodations page. Three of those halls are under private management in partnership with the university namely Chesterman House, Surrey House & Annexe, and Raymont House.

Students reveal their living conditions

“People are very angry,” said Lou Cody, 18, who lives in Loring Halls and pays £177 a week for rent. “Some people have to move into our accommodation because there were rats in another accommodation, like the conditions have just been poor.”

Lou also mentioned that things have been breaking in halls, and that there was poor mental health support for those who were self isolating. 

Another student Polly Jones, 19, briefly described how the university dealt with isolating students during an outbreak back in October. 

She said: “We got given hand sanitizer. We had an email when we tested positive and it was very cold in terms of it basically said, you’re required to self isolate for 14 days.”

“A lot of us are just fresh out of school, and out of our parents’ houses. We didn’t know anyone and it was dealt with very coldly, I think.”

Sophie Gill, 18, who lives in Surrey House also added that they protested the closure of study spaces. 

“It was crucial to have the study spaces for your mental health to get out of your room,” she said, adding that the residents of Surrey House made a group chat to coordinate sitting at the study spaces while social distancing and wearing masks. 

Besides poor maintenance and lack of mental health support, students do not feel safe in their rooms with break-ins and sexual violence running in their halls. 

“A lot of my friends have been sexually assaulted and raped here,” revealed the anonymous rent striker who lives in Loring Halls. 

Loring Hall’s gate in Goldsmiths. Photo by Jinglin Zhou.

Perpetrators are not removed from halls. “It’s just something that everyone talks about and knows as fact, and these people were still just walking around like it’s nothing,” said Polly. 

“I know that there’s limited things they can do when it’s just people talking about it. But I think there needs to be more in place and these needs to be taken far more seriously.”

Gold Rent Strike

Around 100 students are part of the chat group with about 20 of them running the campaign. They launched the strike on 27 November 2020.

To date, rent strikers have set up Gold Rent Strike Twitter and Instagram accounts, done a banner drop, and organised a protest at Tavistock Square together with student-based movement Liberate the University.

Goldsmiths Student Union also supports the rent strikers and have been working closely with them to negotiate meetings with Goldsmiths’ senior management team including Warden Frances Corner. 

Westminster World has not been able to get ahold of officers to comment but sabbatical officers have managed to secure the rent strikers’ first demand on 30 November 2020: no repercussions for rent strikers.

Timeline of 2020 rent strikes in the UK. Graphic by Jinglin Zhou.

‘It’s a long journey’

Goldsmiths’ foray came in the wake of the University of Manchester’s rent strikers securing 30 percent rent reduction after weeks of occupying Owens Tower. 

But for Goldsmiths rent strikers, there’s still a lot more work to be done. 

“We’re hoping to get more people involved the organisation grow because right now it’s quite a lot of work for the few people who are doing it,” said the anonymous rent striker.

“So, we’re still asking people to rent strike so we can put pressure on all of the accommodation and act in solidarity, but that is still up in the air like that could change because we are in meetings right now trying to work out the tactic for that because it’s still early days.”

Luke agreed as he’s one of the few “does a little bit of everything” as they operate on asking for help in their group chat. He mainly helps out social media and was involved in writing the nine demands. 

More work needs to be done on putting posters up and spreading the word as Goldsmiths students who don’t live in halls have not heard about the campaign. 

Luke was also worried that meetings with the university will be for show and that students will “check out” as engagements slowed down. 

“It’s a long game, you know. I think people need to understand that it’s not just like we rent strike and then they get angry and they give us what we want,” he said.

“It’s going to be a long journey but I’m going to be here.”