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Sheffield students occupy university buildings over lockdown rent demands

Members of Rent Strike have taken over two buildings in protest at unfair rent demands and a lack of support from university management.

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Members of SHU Rent Strike occupying the Cantor Building on the first night.

SHU Rent Strike.

Students at both Sheffield universities have occupied campus buildings in protest at lockdown rent demands from corporate landlords.

Members of SHU Rent Strike entered Cantor Building on Arundel Street last night and are now occupying it. They've been joined by students at the University of Sheffield, who began occupying the Arts Tower today.

The students are angry at being made to pay thousands of pounds for rooms in halls of residence they were not legally allowed to travel to during the post-Christmas lockdown.

They're also protesting against what they say has been a lack of pastoral and mental health support from both universities during the pandemic.

"The way university staff and students have been treated by the university management and government this year has been unacceptable," said SHU Rent Strike's Zac Larkham.

Larkham says students feel they have been lied to about face-to-face teaching and the return to university being safe, and added that occupiers won't be leaving until their three demands are met.

SHU Rent Strike have demanded that Hallam management open a dialogue with the strikers, and threaten to break 'nomination agreements' with halls providers that don't offer substantial rebates for the second term.

Nomination agreements are a system where Sheffield Hallam University, who don't own any accommodation directly, recommend private halls to their students.

The campaign are also calling on Hallam to take sexual violence seriously, saying that they have "had enough and the uni needs to change."

Earlier this year over 500 Hallam students joined the UK's biggest rent strike in forty years, with some students paying between £120 and £150 a week for accommodation they couldn't enter.

Unite, which owns five halls in Sheffield, offered their residents a 50% refund on rent for the duration of lockdown, but only if they paid the rest upfront.

SHU Rent Strike want accommodation providers to refund all rent for this term and last term, on the basis that almost no face-to-face teaching has taken place.

Students have also raised concerns about campus safety, a lack of mental health support and widespread health hazards in Sheffield halls.

When the occupation began at Sheffield Hallam last night, SHU Rent Strike members say they were tackled to the floor and pinned down by university security staff.

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A SHU Rent Strike member being pinned down by university security in the Cantor Building last night.

SHU Rent Strike.

The occupations have started ahead of a city-wide protest planned for 25 April, where students from both institutions will protest about their treatment from university management this year.

"The University has consistently shown scant regard for the welfare of students, from inadequate self-isolation support to extortionate accommodation prices," said a spokesperson for the University of Sheffield occupation.

"The pandemic has brought into focus what many already knew – that profit takes precedence over student welfare when it comes to housing and education."

A Sheffield Hallam University spokesperson told Now Then: "We are committed to continuing dialogue with the rent strike protesters."

"Senior staff from the University and Hallam Students’ Union Officers have visited them this morning to continue those conversations. We are also aware of an incident that occurred on Thursday evening at the Cantor Building involving a protestor and security officer, and are investigating this.”

A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield told Now Then: “The University of Sheffield supports the ability of students to express their views peacefully within the law. However the University does not condone occupation of a building which causes disruption for other students and we would ask those in occupation to leave.

“We understand this has been an incredibly difficult year for students and throughout the pandemic we have been working hard to support them in the best possible way. As part of this continued support, the University has not charged rent to students who are unable to make use of their University owned or managed accommodation due to the government’s restrictions and has established a £3 million Covid Support Fund for those facing financial difficulties."

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