Pantycelyn: Let’s get it sorted before this fence starts chafing.

Pantycelyn is due to close in September 2014. Photo by Tomos Nolan

Pantycelyn is due to close in September 2014.
Photo by Tomos Nolan

FOR THE PAST FEW MONTHS, I’ve been on the fringes of the evolving Pantycelyn issue, and truth be told, I haven’t felt well informed or even passionate enough to form a solid opinion on it. However, it’s Christmas now, and nothing seems to be happening, neither side budging and a stalemate is on the cards. At first, I assumed I’d need to be either staunchly pro-development or anti-panty, (a phrase I implore more use of by both sides) but as an outsider who’s had the chance the be at a few meetings and hear a lot of rhetoric from both sides, I think a fence-sitting opinion might just be valid, so just put down your throwing books and megaphones respectively and hear me out.

There’s a rift, somewhere between the students, the staff and the higher ups, there’s a rift. There’s a rift which has creaked open slowly in the last four years I’ve attended this fantastic establishment, and if it continues to grow, adjectives like fantastic will cease to be used in the same sentence as Aberystwyth University anymore. I can’t possibly understand what the Welsh community are saying when they talk about losing their culture or identity, it’s their identity, their community, not mine, so I obviously can’t fully comprehend what they seem likely to lose, but seeing their passion; I’m pretty sure it means a-fucking-lot to them. I’d be wary about moving somewhere new after building up such a solid base somewhere. Sure, it’s brand new, the facilities will be arguably fantastic, but there is no spin the University can throw at the fact that it just won’t be the same, and if the risk is losing that community, then it’s not a risk worth taking. The University can say what they like about creating a “designated welsh speaking area” but what does that mean? Where are the lines? At what point should I feel wary about speaking English?

However, I don’t think the University are the only one’s with confusing statements. Having swept through a fair amount of news and comments about Panty, I still can’t quite understand crux of the argument. Countless flyers and interviews with Mared Ifan, UMCA President and Welsh Affairs Officer amongst others have reinforced the notion of the Welsh community requirements, but others within the protest have simply stated the “protests are not about nationality in any way, rather they are based on language rights”. What then of other welsh commenters who have claimed to feel ostracised from the welsh community because of their lack of language ability? That in itself is not an issue I wish to concern myself with, it is simply the rhetoric of the protest movement which I feel needs to be clarified. Is the Welsh community just the Welsh speaking community or is it all the Welsh students. I know it’s finickity, but it’s the little things that can make the difference. A single aim is far easier to aspire to than a few different ones, and hey, look at Scotland, they’re on the verge of secession and there’s been little talk about Gaelic up there.

Students handed out fliers with a list of reasons not to attend Aberystwyth University. Photo - Tomos Nolan

Students handed out fliers with a list of reasons not to attend Aberystwyth University. Photo – Tomos Nolan

The Panty protests could still have real impact, and I hope they do, but if I were to seriously delve into my own dark horrible personal opinion, I lost a little respect when they began telling prospective students not to study here. Protesting on an open day: great idea. More people to see your cause, more disruption, more likely to be heard by the higher ups, that I completely understand. Consciously attempting to lower the student intake for the following year, I don’t. Lowering student intake would certainly hit the higher ups, I grant you that, but in the end, every time our fantastic university drops a place, so does the value of our degree. It was great to have some stop their open day tours to join and protest, but do you know who won’t be at your next protest? The prospective students who took the advice. I was extremely happy to see the flyers handed out a week later primarily geared toward the cause, and informing passers by about it, and whilst I think Penglais Farm is not “totally unsuitable”, (emphasis on the totally), I’m still not 100% on the “dictatorship” description, and I think the notion of a “global tragedy” is a little too much, I have heard enough stories to warrant a step back and a small head nod at their use.

Notably, on the “unsuitable”, the lack of like-for-like provision is a major point I hear at every meeting. Panty is known for having a fair few large spaces in which to socialise and rehearse, and whilst I think the University has plenty of rooms in which you may book a weekly rehearsal, (I was in Glee for the past three years), the apparent lack of even an UMCA office in the plans for the new Welsh residence was a past pushing it. Facts like this, which I believe are changing now, provide the clear view that this Welsh community was not consulted half as much as it should have been.

I’m also wary of the new University rules and regulations which I won’t get into now, but which do mysteriously seem to have coincided with this protest movement, and following a meeting with Defend Education in which Mared Ifan attended, I was amazed to hear an older woman speak up to say that she disagreed with the protest movement on the basis that her two Welsh speaking children had been through Panty and hated it, yet she would still fight to protect their right to protest. It was a point I thought I could settle upon myself, I’ve heard it’s quite a close knit community, but I think I’m even more on the fence than that. I sympathise with the protest movement a little more. Granted, at first my reaction was akin to “What the fuck are they complaining about brand new housing for?!” But it’s not about that. It’s about being treated correctly, a point I think any student can sympathise with. Having little consultation about where you are to live next year on the assumption you’ll like it because it’s shiny? Add to that rumours about the University already having plans for Panty after the move, the seeming lack of consultation and swift progress in Penglais Farm development does have a less than elegant whiff to it.

All in all, the entire situation is a bit fucked. Panty is far from perfect and it needs some refurbishment, there’s no question about that if it’s to carry on as the Welsh Halls. Penglais Farm is massive, and it’s going to need to be filled if the Uni want to see a return on their investment. There are countless sticking points that these two need to sit down and honestly discuss, and both sides will need to make considerations. The price of Penglais Farm compared to Pantycelyn, the Welsh language influence, (of which an independent study has been brought in to corroborate), whether new halls will attract more welsh students to the community or not and what is going to happen to Pantycelyn if the move does go ahead are all points which both sides must agree on before the ribbon is cut, and I’m pretty sure a phone call to Aled Haydn Jones and the Mayor are fast creeping up the University to-do list on that one.

If you do wish to throw a book at me or get in my ear with a megaphone, I’ll be haunting the Aber Student Media office throughout December and January. It’d be great to get some more open debate going, and I’m in need of a good book over Christmas.