UMCA Office to be incorporated into Penglais Farm development

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

Pantycelyn is due to close in September 2014 with Welsh students moving to the new Penglais Farm development
Photo by Tomos Nolan

AN UMCA OFFICE is to be included in the new Welsh halls of residence on Penglais Farm, after a vote at a packed meeting on Monday 30th September. An informal vote, initiated by Adam Jones, was then referenced by Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, PVC for Welsh Language and Culture several times afterwards, indicating that there will now be room made for it in the plans.

The meeting, requested by UMCA, was attended by over 100 students, lasted for two hours and saw questions posed to Jim Wallace, director of Campus Services and Llwyd Morgan on the provision for Welsh students on Penglais Farm and the future for Pantycelyn.

A feasibility study for the future of Pantycelyn was also announced, which will look into future uses of the building if students move from there to Penglais Farm. However there was some resistance to the move away from the traditional home of Welsh students in Aberystwyth, and with the rally on Friday this might continue for the coming year.

The strength of feeling was acknowledged by Llwyd Morgan who said that the University had previously been too reliant on formal consultations in general, saying he had been “chased away” from some meetings because there hadn’t been a realisation of the strength of feeling from some people.

Wallace presented a video to start the meeting, with images of what the new complex will look like at the top of Penglais Hill, with the hub being the central area for students. 1000 rooms are to be built, all of which will be en-suite and the area inside the estate will be completely pedestrianised.

Of those 1000 rooms, 250 are to be for Welsh-speaking students, 10 less than the current capacity of Pantycelyn, but Penglais Farm will have no twin-rooms whereas Pantycelyn currently has 30. Wallace also pointed out to the room that due to the block nature of Penglais Farm, the halls for Welsh students can expand or contract to meet the demand for Welsh speakers.

However, different to the current arrangement at Pantycelyn, the new halls will be self-catered with a kitchen and lounge with TV being provided to each flat of six or eight. A student asked why this was to change from the current catered, open corridors of Pantycelyn, and spoke of the potential detrimental effect that it might have on the Welsh community at the University. This was supplemented by Mared Ifan reading a statement from a Welsh speaking student in Bangor at the new JMJ halls for Welsh students, where they had changed from the open-corridor system to the enclosed flats that are spoken about for Penglais farm, and the adverse effect that it had on the Welsh community there.

Wallace said that the national trend had been away from catered halls to self-catered, and referenced statistics saying that there were more fluent Welsh speakers living in other halls than living in Pantycelyn, showing that the open corridors aren’t what everybody wants.

Jacob Ellis, former Welsh Officer at the Students’ Union, asked whether Penbryn had been considered as a potential hall for Welsh students, with it having catering facilities and believing that this would help fulfil the wish to make the campus more “Welsh” by moving the Welsh halls of residence up the hill to Penglais Farm. Wallace replied by saying that Penbryn is nearly the same age as Pantycelyn and it was felt that Penglais Farm would offer a better standard of accommodation to Welsh students.

Jim Wallace also gave statistics provided by Information Services, saying that out of 1100 students that have identified themselves as fluent Welsh language speakers, only 173 are living in Pantycelyn this year, with 325 living in other halls of residence, showing that there isn’t as huge demand as students think to live in Pantycelyn style halls. The usage of statistics was criticised by Adam Jones who said that the Welsh voice was the people in front of Wallace, not numbers on paper.

The worry of the cost of rent rising through the move wasn’t able to be addressed as accommodation prices for 2014/15 had not been through the University Council yet, with there being concern that with Pantycelyn currently being the cheapest hall, there would potentially be a huge leap in cost.

The lack of sufficiency of the consultation on the provision for Welsh students on Pantycelyn was spoken about throughout, with one Pantycelyn resident since 2009 said that a half hour consultation with him as a resident at the time, hadn’t been sufficient. There had also been previous requests for public consultations and meetings that had been turned down.

The amenities for communal and social space that students had asked to be provided during the original consultation, in order to replace the six existing communal rooms in Pantycelyn, was also talked about. Jim Wallace replied saying that a large room and a smaller meeting room would be provided, with the floor space being larger than was previously asked for following consultations with previous UMCA Presidents.

In response, Jacob Ellis had said that Carys Ann Thomas, Mared Ifan’s predecessor had previously raised the issue of the rooms not being big enough, with the size of the smaller meeting room being 4.5x5m with Ellis saying that Thomas had said she was “gobsmacked” when she found out the size of the room. Wallace denied that there had been any mention of the room being too small, saying he had taken previous advice from UMCA Presidents “in good faith”. Following this exchange, Ellis left the meeting asking Wallace whether he was accusing Thomas of lying.

Provisions for the current choir that exists within Pantycelyn and a replacement of the field adjecent to Pantycelyn for sports was also talked about, with the social aspect of both activities praised. It was pointed out that a room 4.5x5m would not be big enough for a piano, which Llwyd Morgan said would be looked into. There is to be a replacement dual purpose rugby/football pitch next to the new Penglais Farm residence.

With the strong feelings in the room at the time from those in attendance, Llwyd Morgan said that if the move looks to be having an adverse effect on the Welsh-community then the decision would be reviewed. However this was met with the response of “If the University aren’t listening to students now, why would they in five years time”.

The problem of minutes going missing from the first meeting where provision for a Welsh UMCA office on Penglais Farm was discussed, where it was alledged that UMCA had said they didn’t need a permanent base, only somewhere to hold consultations.With Matthew Gower, speaking from the floor of the night saying they wonder how they can trust the University when minutes like that go missing, finishing their point by saying “It’s a disgrace”, with Llwyd Morgan saying he would try to find the minutes from the meeting in question.

At the close of the meeting, Ifan spoke about the rally tomorrow (4th October). It is due to start at 12:00 midday, outside Pantycelyn Halls and is also doubling as a joint celebration of the 40th birthday of UMCA, the Welsh Students Union. Elin Jones AM is to be in attendance, as well as two former UMCA presidents who are guest speakers.

Speaking after the meeting, to Aber Student Media, Ifan said “There has been a good turn-out tonight and it was a good meeting. The University have finally heard what students are thinking.”