Derwent Bar closure conceived ‘two years ago’ as part of University plan

The University has been planning a series of bar closures over the past two years, Nouse can reveal.

An investigation into the circumstances surrounding the recent closure of Derwent Bar has revealed that senior University officials have intended to close a number of campus bars for the past two years.

In a leaked email between Pro Vice-Chancellor for Students Jane Grenville and Derwent JCRC Chair Joe Rankin, Grenville stated that “two years ago after a long consultation, there was agreement to close two bars.” Further leaked emails reveal that Grenville and Director of Facilities Management Keith Lilley had specifically targeted Derwent and Alcuin bars, which Grenville describes as “the two most poorly performing bars.”

The closure of the bar was publically announced on August 17 when YUSU Democracy and Services Officer Lewis Bretts was briefed in a meeting with a number of senior University officials.

Derwent Bar has become the third bar to either be closed or face the threat of closure over the past two years. Halifax College bar JJs was closed in 2007 after Commercial Services found the bar to be no longer financially viable, while Alcuin College bar B Henry’s was also described as financially unsustainable in November 2008.

After an upswell in student support, B Henry’s was eventually kept open with the intention that its opening hours would better serve evening students.

Student commenters have speculated on the existence of a long-term bar closure scheme since the closure of Langwith College bar was announced in 2007.

While the University has not announced the process behind the decision to close Derwent Bar rather than the originally earmarked B Henry’s, Grenville stated that in her opinion “it is important to keep a light on the north side of the road. The University cannot, in my view, continue to expand outwards and yet concentrate all the services on the central spine.”

Derwent JCRC Chair Joe Rankin attacked the University’s blinkered approach to bar closures after seeing his college targeted. “It was heavily suggested to me that because of the politics behind the Alcuin bar, the previous campaigns etc, when their bar wasn’t closed, they looked at Derwent instead,” he claimed. The University is yet to comment on this accusation.

Rankin also condemned the University’s lack of discussion with students, claiming that the University have always been planning to close a number of bar and have completely “failed to communicate this to student explicitly.”

Responding to Grenville’s claims that she had consulted college representatives, Rankin stated, “I do not believe this was carried out sufficiently or appropriately.” Rankin also criticised the University for its behaviour, claiming that the University’s actions had “embarrassed” himself, his committee and his college.

According to Derwent Bar Rep Nathan Ratcliffe the decision to keep Alcuin open was unexpected: “I was in Alcuin when the Bar Manager of Alcuin and Derwent found out Alcuin was staying open. He was under the impression that Alcuin was set to close. He had already started making plans to move things down to Derwent, even moving the cocktail menu down to Derwent.”

He added: “They thought, we need to do something to cut our expenditure, and they closed Derwent instead.”

Ratcliffe emphasised that the mismanagement of the bars extended to the employed staff. According to Ratcliffe the Alcuin Bar Manager “was annoyed because they told the JCRC before the staff and the people who actually work at the bar.” Similarly he believes that “employed Derwent bar staff only found out about the closure through word of mouth.”

The decision to close Derwent Bar was attacked by YUSU, who described themselves as “extremely disappointed.” A YUSU proposal, introduced by Bretts on behalf of YUSU, detailed a five-week review process during which the bar would be managed by the Union. At the end of the five weeks the bar must have broken-even in order to continue trading for the following five weeks.

At a meeting on September 2 the University agreed to the five-week review period, but refused to allow YUSU to manage the bar. The bar will continue being managed by the University and will now also be closed on Mondays. Rankin commented; “There was no discussion in the meeting. They had already decided to take the plan and put it into action themselves.”

Defending herself against popular criticism Grenville stated that “I take no pleasure in this, but I am responsible, along with the rest of Senior Management Group, for keeping the whole show on the road, and if that means closing a bar, then so be it.”

In the same email Grenville conceded that “I’m charged with trying to maximise the student experience and it is not lost on me that this doesn’t look like a good way of doing it.”

Rankin responded to Grenville’s assertion, stating “They didn’t handle it well. They then didn’t handle the fallout well. They kind of played a game of denying responsibility and passing it off.”

“It shows you there isn’t really a commitment to college bars and I get the impression maybe there isn’t a commitment to the college system as a whole,” he added.
YUSU have released a statement warning the University to pay attention to the issue of student bars; “Political battles over this issue have continued for too long.

The University needs to understand the importance of campus bars to students and be open, honest and realistic about the historical lack of investment in them.”

2 comments

  1. Standard Derwent bar rep – bitter. Alcuin was set a target which meant that if they met it, it would stay open. Even the bar manager knew this. Instead of bringing Alcuin up – why not try and focus on how other colleges could aid you in keeping YOUR bar open, instead of trying to take the higher ground and alienate Alcuin.

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  2. 15 Oct ’09 at 12:18 pm

    Baron von Alcuin

    Derwent JCRC offered a great deal of support to Alcuin during the B Henry’s campaign and it saddens me that they seem to be reverting back to their rather insular ‘Derwent are the greatest and screw the rest’ attitude.

    B Henry’s is open not because some secret ‘save us and screw Derwent’ deal was done but for two main reasons:

    1) The campaign was not just another ‘save our bar’ campaign. Yes, a tremendous amount of effort was put in to raising student (and staff) support. However, the main reason for success was the great deal of behind the scenes negotiation from college staff and JCRC members to highlight areas where B Henry’s operation could be improved in order to break even. This was backed up by a tremendous effort from JCRC members over 2009 to increase bar takings.

    2) The university actually listened to the cry from every JCRC that has ever had to lead an anti-bar closure campaign that college bar’s are a service and not just a commercial outlet. Campus North is home to the second largest (on campus) Hes West College as well as many departments. If B Henry’s were to close in the evenings, there would be no outlet to serve this large part of the uni population. Derwent Bar is currently one of three bars serving the central spine. Please tell me which bar provides a more important service to students & staff?

    I wish Derwent JCRC the best of luck in fighting to keep their bar open and hope they are successful but turning on other colleges who fought the good fight and won, will not help.

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