U-turn by University staff as Vanbrugh protest over threatened laundry closure gathers speed

STUDENTS GATHERED outside Vanbrugh on Friday afternoon to demonstrate against an announcement by the Facilities Manager that their laundry would close on Monday. Later that day, the protesters were informed by the Campus Services Manager of a decision made that afternoon to keep the facility open. Despite this apparent U-turn, the Vanbrugh Provost, Allen Warren, flatly denied that there had ever been plans to close the laundry on Monday.

According to Vanbrugh Chair Mickey Masefield, the JCRC were informed during the Summer Term last year of plans to close the laundry in January 2006, with promises that a replacement service in Market Square would be fully operational by December 2005.

The closure was to form part of plans to convert the previously residential C Block into offices, for which, according to Masefield, the University will receive a grant of £600,000 if the work begins on time.

The plan was confirmed in the Autumn Term of last year, when the JCRC were informed that the closure would be pushed back to mid-to-late February to allow for problems with planning permission for the new laundry.

In a meeting on January 23rd of this year, Jane Whyman, the Facilities Manager for Zone 6, informed Masefield and his Vice Chairs that, despite the failure to get planning permission for the new laundry facility in Market Square, the closure of the old service would go ahead in February, leaving Vanbrugh residents without a laundry for 6-8 weeks.

Students protest outside Vanbrugh on Friday, following an announcement that their laundry was set to close

Just two days later, Whyman announced in a College Welfare Meeting that the laundry would now close on Monday. In an email sent out to all Vanbrugh residents the following day, Whyman wrote: “I regret that Vanbrugh laundry facilities will close from Monday 30 January. I have checked the nearest for you until the new facility in Market Square is commissioned”.

The email, which gave students just three full days to prepare for the closure of their laundry, advised residents to use the facilities at Langwith or Derwent, which, according to Masefield, are already overcrowded.

By the time this email was sent out, a student response had already been co-ordinated, involving a petition which gathered 1125 signatures in 48 hours.

Friday’s protest was widely attended by students from most colleges. The SU and campus security were called in to quieten the crowds and flyers were handed out, music was played and banners were touted.

One foreign student, who wished to be known only as “Crazy French”, wore nothing below the waist but a pair of boxer shorts and a cardboard sign which read “I will not change my boxers until Vanbrugh reopens our Laundry”.

He said “Everyone needs to have a laundry: it’s a human fundamental right. It must be in the constitution of every country. There will be social complications if I don’t change my boxers”.

Michael Leech from Vanbrugh expressed concerns about the tensions that could be caused by Vanbrugh students encroaching upon the laundry facilities of other colleges. He said “it will incite violence on campus”. Sarah Jones, the ex-Chair of Vanbrugh, said “I don’t want people getting into any fights. Students need their own laundries”.

When Jane Whyman was contacted during the protest, she refused to comment on the closure of the laundry, saying only “we’re doing all we can”. Accordingly Vanbrugh Provost Allen Warren flatly denied that there had ever been any plans to close the laundry on Monday.

When told that the JCRC Chair had been informed of the closure on this date by an email, he said “well I’d like him to come down here and tell me who told him that”.

He was adamant that the decision not to close the laundry was not a change of plans, and that the student protest on the day had no impact at all.

According to Masefield, the protesters had met with Sue Johnston, the Campus Services Manager, who had informed them that “Estates had reached a decision that afternoon to keep the laundry open until the end of February, and possibly [to] extend that date”.

Masefield said on Friday “I still aim to keep the laundry open until the replacement facility is opened.”

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