Manchester University students 'occupy' building in rent protest

Image source, Tower Occupiers
Image caption,
The students hung up a banner reading: "Put students and staff before profits."

Students are "occupying" a University of Manchester building in a protest against "extremely high" rents and a claimed lack of support during the coronavirus pandemic.

They accuse the university of "putting profits before students" and have asked for rents to be reduced by 40%.

Izzy Smitheman, 18, said they had enough food to stay there for a week but could get more.

The university said it was "already engaging" with student unions.

Ms Smitheman, who is studying English Literature and French, said she was protesting at the Owens Park Tower in Fallowfield because the university had "put us on unsafe campuses, paying extremely high rent" and she felt there had been a lack of support.

"They brought us here for profit rather than our safety," she said, adding: "We've tried protesting and withholding our rent but the university won't respond to our demands with support."

Image source, Tower Occupiers
Image caption,
The students say they are following social distancing guidelines

Last week, students living at the University of Manchester's Fallowfield halls of residence tore down "prison-like" fencing erected around their campus on day one of England's national lockdown.

Ms Smitheman said the university had tried "fearmongering and threatening" students who have not paid their rent as part of the UoM Rent Strike action group.

"This is the same university that fenced us in and told us when we were isolating to put on a mask and get to the shops," she said.

The 18-year-old added: "I thought the university would be on our side and try help us but it feels like it is us against them. They're here to take our money and that's all they care about."

"This is a fight now."

'Threatened with fines'

Another protester Ben McGowan said: "There have been so many mistakes made by the university.

"The state of the accommodation has been ridiculous with regular flooding in the rooms."

He said he wanted a refund on rent paid for December as new government guidelines meant he had to leave the accommodation, but the university had "refused to engage" and he had been "threatened with fines".

Barnaby Peter, a first year student who is also a rent striker, said he had been told his contract would be terminated if he continued to withhold rent.

"We are being charged for things like use of common room facilities which are actually shut, among other things.

"We are also not being provided adequate mental health support."

Image source, Tower occupiers
Image caption,
Security has already removed the protesters' banner

A University of Manchester spokesperson said a "handful of students" were protesting in an empty residential building and they had been told "they shouldn't be there" and they could be breaking Covid-19 public health regulations.

The university statement added: "We are already engaging with elected Students' Union representatives about many of the issues being highlighted by the protestors."

Ms Smitheman said: "We are forming a household. We are aware of Covid and are wearing masks and socially distancing.

"We're not doing it for ourselves but for every other student on campus."

Greater Manchester Police said officers would support the university "wherever necessary" to deal with those involved.

"We condemn any breaches of Covid legislation and the risk it poses to those present, the emergency services and the wider public," a spokesperson said.

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