Pantycelyn protest disrupts University entrance during Open Day

A PROTEST by around 80 students, which took place yesterday (26th), disrupted the second Open Day in a row at Aberystwyth University.

The student protesters, who met in Pantycelyn at 10:15 am, marched up Penglais Hill and blocked the entrance to Penglais Campus in opposition to the University’s plans to close Pantycelyn Halls and move the Welsh Community to the new Penglais Farm residences.

Students handed fliers detailing the reasons for thier protesting. Photo - Kisha Matthew

Students handed out fliers detailing the reasons for thier protest and why they wanted to save Pantycelyn
Photo – Kisha Matthew

This follows last week’s protest, arranged by BYG (Byw yn Gymraeg, translated as Live in Welsh), in which students wore tape over their mouths and held signs with slogans such as “we’ve lost our voice.”

BYG have said that the new residences being opened are not suitable for a large Welsh community in Aberystwyth, and the document released by the UMCA (Undeb Myfyrwyr Cymraeg Aberystwyth – Welsh Students’ Union Aberystwyth) in 2009, which outlined the needs of the Welsh community, have been ignored by the University by not providing adequate conditions requested for the new appointed residence.

Flyers, which the students handed out to passing vehicles and the general public, highlighted these conditions stating that “the document outlined what the Welsh community requires to prosper in the new residence, including an open-plan catered hall, an office for UMCA, a large communal area for socialising and a sufficiently large room for Aelwyd Pantycelyn to rehearse. It seems that UMCA’s document has been ignored”.

Eiri Sion, the newly elected Welsh Language officer, was taking part in the protest. She expressed her views on the matter, stating “basically we are here to bring to the attention of the University that they cannot treat us like children”. When questioned about the response from the previous protest she said “the reaction of the University wasn’t so positive, we felt there was no improvement. They wouldn’t listen or compromise. The last protest was a good statement, but they didn’t take us seriously enough, so we felt that we had to take higher measures.”

Whilst the students staged their sit-in outside Porters’ Lodge, Police and University security redirected vehicles to other entrances whilst protecting the protestors’ safety. A police officer explained, “we were expecting a protest to take place by the Arts Centre, our main problem now is the build-up of traffic on the main road”.  Shortly after, cones were put out to alert approaching drivers that they could not gain access from Penglais Road. Several cars stopped to ask questions and take fliers from the students.

As the protest continued, more students began to join in and soon numbers amounted to over 100, including a teenager who was visiting for Open-Day. Cai Gruffydd joined the Pantycelyn protest rather than continue his Open Day tour, and elaborating his view on the matter said “I’ve been looking around universities recently. I like Aber but I don’t know how it would be possible to have a Welsh lifestyle here without Pantycelyn. It’s really put me off coming here, as well as my friends who are also visiting, it’s really disappointing. I also found it difficult to find information on Pantycelyn from the university guidebooks; I had to be informed by my sister who is a student here at the University”.

Protesters proceeded to walk up towards the University accommodation on campus at mid-morning, chanting “Save Pantycelyn” . The students marched past Ta Med Bach towards Rosser, continued down alongside Parry Williams and through the Arts Centre before finally arriving at the concourse, filling the staircase outside of the Union.

The protest was met with positive comments from some potential future students and their parents. Dan Burwood, a student hoping to study English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth, said that the protest was ‘impressive’ and added his support to them “speaking out in such numbers, and not conforming to the hierarchy of the university”. Rebecca Burwood, Dan’s mother, said that she is a strong believer in freedom of speech and that the protest in no way deters her from wanting to send her son to Aberystwyth University.

However, some other parents and fellow students gave negative feedback, accusing them of being ‘nationalist’ and ‘out of order’.

“We’re only here because the university won’t listen to student views” said one of the protesters, “when they’re ready to cooperate, then we will cooperate to”. Another protester said “people think we’re out of order, but if they had given us what we needed in the new accommodation, then we wouldn’t have to protest here, I’m very concerned with the way the university is treating the Welsh community of students”.

Aberystwyth University have issued the following statement in response to the protest;

“Aberystwyth University is committed to increasing its Welsh medium provision and in so doing, to ensure that our students are able to contribute to maintaining the University’s Welsh language community ethos.”

“The University is investing over £45m at the Penglais Farm residences and as part of the development there will be a dedicated area for Welsh language students with a particular social area for Welsh speakers. This will be located close to the main Hub building and shared by all the Penglais Farm residents.”

“The new accommodation will be of a very high standard, comprising self-catering flats with between 6 and 8 bedrooms each; all with en-suite facilities, kitchen/eating area/lounge and TV. It has been confirmed that Pantycelyn will remain as a Welsh medium hall (as it is currently) during the academic year 2014/15.”

“Despite there being more than 1300 Welsh speaking undergraduate and postgraduate students at Aberystwyth University, demand for places to stay in Pantycelyn is insufficient to ensure that the [residence] is full.”

“The University believes that Fferm Penglais will be more attractive and will enable the Welsh speaking community to flourish and grow.”

“The University is eager to discuss the concerns that have recently come to light and will continue to talk to student representatives. Arrangements for further meetings have been made for the coming week.”

A slideshow of images from the protest can be found below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.