Pantycelyn to stay open

Pantycelyn is due to close in September 2014.

Pantycelyn was due to close in September 2014 – Tomos Nolan

ABERYSTWYTH University today have agreed to keep Pantycelyn open.

The plans to shut the Welsh language halls of residence were announced last year after the final plans for Penglais Farm (Fferm Penglais) were released. Fears were raised soon after that a move to a halls of residence where only a quarter (250 out of a total 1,000) of the rooms were to be allocated to Welsh speakers. However, the move to self-catered and self-contained flats of 6 or 8 students was questioned by Welsh students as possibly having a detrimental effect on the Welsh community.

The price difference between the single rooms for Penglais Farm and the Pantycelyn accommodation caused further controversy, with Penglais Farm costing £11.55 more per week, amounting to £1268.00 more over the full contract, without the inclusion of food.

Jim Wallace, Director of Campus services, said at a consultation on the future of Pantycelyn in September last year that the University could afford to have rooms empty in order to have a wholly Welsh-speaking hall, so there are currently overseas or ERASMUS students living in Pantycelyn. Pro Vice-Chancellor for Welsh Language and Culture Rhodri Llywd Morgan, at the same meeting, said the loss of the Welsh identity in Aberystwyth “cannot happen” and would be a shame as the Welsh are a unique species.

The University have now agreed to work on a business plan for the future use of Pantycelyn as a Welsh Language and Cultural Centre, which will act as a hub for the Welsh-speaking community, including students, staff and  the wider community.

Photo of frustrated Save Pantycelyn supports on one of the previous strikes in efforts to save the halls.  Photo - Tomos Nolan

Photo of frustrated Save Pantycelyn supports on one of the previous strikes in efforts to save the halls
– Tomos Nolan

This news comes after the announcement earlier this week that a group of 37 Welsh students were to undertake a 48-hour hunger strike which was due to start yesterday (3rd) – although it was postponed after the University agreed to meet with student representatives to come to a conclusion.

This academic year, students have protested numerous times against the closure, including protests at Open days and the University Court, questioning the move, saying it would damage the Welsh community in Aberystwyth and the principality as a whole.

Miriam Williams, UMCA Officer-elect said “I am ecstatic that the voice of the Welsh students and beyond has finally been heard. After months of hard work and commitment from all the campaigners and their supporters, it’s amazing to see the campaign pay off and the assurance that Pantycelyn and it’s heritage will be here for many years to come. I’d like to congratulate Mared and her team, as well as all of the campaigners on their achievement. Now begins the hard work of establishing this centre for generations to come.”

Eiri Sion, Welsh Language Officer, echoed Williams’ sentiment, saying “I am absolutely thrilled at what the students here in Aberystwyth have achieved. We’ve managed to secure a fantastic Welsh medium halls for our prospective students, and I’m so glad that next year won’t be the last chance for Welsh speakers to live in and experience Pantycelyn.”

UMCA have expressed their delight with the success its campaign, and have released the following statement:

“UMCA is very happy to announce that its campaign to keep Pantycelyn halls of residence open has succeeded. In a meeting this morning with senior University officials and representation from the Aberystwyth branch of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, a plan was agreed to keep the building open as accommodation for Welsh-speaking students and those who are learning Welsh.

“There are also plans to establish a Welsh Language Cultural Centre as part of the building, to boost the Welsh language community in Aberystwyth for students, staff and members of the public. Assurances were given that the Cultural Centre will have no detrimental effect on student accommodation.

Students protesting the closure of Pantycelyn halls in February - Alex  Tanton

Students protesting the closure of Pantycelyn halls in February – Alex Tanton

UMCA President Mared Ifan said, “We are delighted and very much welcome the University’s decision. Thanks to UMCA members for their hard work, and to all our supporters. This is a massive achievement after all the work that went into the campaign. There is strength in union.” A Working Group and a Welsh Language Staff and Student Forum will be established to progress the discussions. UMCA representatives look forward to being part of these developments.”

The University’s full statement can be read below:

“Aberystwyth University welcomes the agreement reached today with UMCA (Undeb Myfyrwyr Cymraeg Aberystwyth – the Aberystwyth Welsh-speaking Students’ Union) to work together on the development of a business plan for the future use of Pantycelyn as a Welsh Language and Cultural Centre.

This will include providing detailed options for the continuation of Pantycelyn as catered accommodation for students that are Welsh speakers and Welsh learners.

In response to these concerns, the University has developed the proposal that will see the University work closely with UMCA on the Business Plan.

The University’s hope is that the new Welsh Language and Cultural Centre will act as a hub for our entire Welsh-speaking community, including students, staff as well as the wider community.

Aberystwyth University is firmly committed to attracting Welsh-speaking students and to promote access to the expanding Welsh medium provision, together with widest possible range of Welsh-medium social and cultural opportunities.

The development of high quality Welsh medium accommodation as part of the £45m student residences at Fferm Penglais has always been driven by the desire to ensure that Welsh speaking students could enjoy some of the best accommodation and communal facilities on offer in any university.

The Fferm Penglais development has been a clearly defined ambition for the University for nearly 6 years. Student representatives, including the UMCA President and the Students’ Union President, have been fully involved and consulted at every stage of this process.”