Occupy Pantycelyn: Protesters begin sit-in

THE CAMPAIGN to #savepantycelyn intensified today, after a number of residents of Pantycelyn Hall began staging a occupation of an area of the building. This follows action during last week, which included the launch of a new petition and a rally.

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The decision to occupy Pantycelyn comes following concerns that students won’t be allowed back after September. The occupation started in the morning of Sunday 14th June with 12 students representing the Welsh Language Society contingent in Pantycelyn – all students were meant to have moved out of Pantycelyn by 10am.

Gwilym Tudur, Chair of the Pantycelyn branch of the Welsh Language Society, raised concerns over the future of Pantycelyn and those currently living there. Emphasising that “the students and hall staff have been betrayed” following the University’s promise last year that Pantycelyn would stay open unconditionally.

“We call on all members of the Council not to accept the recommendations of the University to close the hall but to make a stand and protect one of the only natural Welsh communities we have.”

In the last few months the future of Pantycelyn has become unclear, following a report from Pantycelyn Working Group and the need for a short-term investment (around £1m) before the end of next year to meet the latest fire-risk assessment. The Working Group has recommended that Pantycelyn should close for at least a year to carry out renovations to make it “fit for purpose”.

An Aberystwyth University spokesman said that the University is “fully committed to providing designated Welsh-medium accommodation”. They went on to say that they “understand and appreciate” the need for a strong Welsh speaking community, stating that Pantycelyn is “part of the University’s heritage and will remain central to its vision for the future.”

The University is currently in the process of looking at providing alternative Welsh-medium accommodation for the Pantycelyn community in September following the recommendations of the Working Group. The University has already held discussions with UMCA and the Students’ Union, as well as site visits, to make sure an alternative accommodation will be provided if Pantycelyn is unavailable due to closure in September.

The University released a statement about the potential alternative accommodation in an attempt to reassure the students. “This accommodation will be at the heart of the Penglais campus and will offer generous, social and communal spaces to facilitate and maintain the sense of community among the students.”

The University Council will meet on Monday 22nd June to decide the future of Pantycelyn, which if it stays open is looking at between £5m and £11m worth of renovation works over the next three years.

Out-going UMCA President Miriam Williams and out-going Students’ Union President Jacob Dayffd Ellis were amongst those at Pantycelyn earlier this evening to show their support for the campaign to save the hall. Other supporters of the sit-in include two ex-UMCA Presidents, and a warden from Pantycelyn.

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Miriam Williams said: “The campaign is getting stronger by the day. We are overwhelmed by the continued support we are receiving from past and prospective students, staff and members of the public. Pantycelyn must be kept open as a Welsh medium hall of residence.”

As of six o’clock this evening, those participating in the sit-in received a letter from the University strongly advising them to leave Pantycelyn following recent fire risk assessments.

If you wish to support the students and their campaign, you can sign the petition at www.pantycelyn.cymru and follow the updates at @AchubPantycelyn and #AchubPantycelyn.  

The letter sent to the participants by the Residential Services Team can be found here – Letter to Pantycelyn. An English translation is available here.

Photos from Eiri Angharad.