Manchester Uni students pull down lockdown fencing put up around halls

5 November 2020, 21:19 | Updated: 6 November 2020, 07:59

By Ewan Somerville

Students at the University of Manchester have pulled down rows of fencing in protest after it was put up around their halls of residence for the second national lockdown in England.

First-years told LBC they felt "locked in" and hit out at managers for treating them like "prisoners", with many unsure whether they were banned from leaving campus grounds and angry they had not been given any prior warning.

Workers were filmed erecting the barriers around communal areas and blocks on the Fallowfield campus, dubbed "HMP Fallowfield" and home to thousands of mostly first-year students, as England’s four-week shutdown began on Thursday.

Students ripped down the fencing in protest hours after it was put up
Students ripped down the fencing in protest hours after it was put up. Picture: Ben McGowan

Earlier the university said the barriers were intended to make entry and exit points clearer as it stepped up "security measures" and Covid-19 health messages.

But after hundreds of furious students staged a protest on campus tonight, bosses have now confirmed they will take all the fencing down on Friday morning.

Students gathered in protest at Manchester Uni tonight
Students gathered in protest at Manchester Uni tonight. Picture: Ben McGowan
There were angry scenes as students protested against their rents
There were angry scenes as students protested against their rents. Picture: Ben McGowan

A student leading the protest told crowds: "This morning they put up fences around the entire campus to lock us in. They only decided to do this when they had our money from the rent.

"This entire term we've been lied to - they promised us a safe campus, they made us come here, yet they continue to blame the students for the spread of the virus.

Read more: Manchester Uni students 'fenced in' as lockdown security barriers put up around halls

"We're the ones that are paying for this, we're the ones paying thousands of pounds to live in these unsafe halls when teaching isn't even in person."

Earlier Megan Richards, 18, a first-year Manchester student told LBC: “The uni did not email us beforehand. We feel it is inhumane and unnecessary to practically lock us into our own campus.

“The fencing has been put around our whole Fallowfield campus. The policy is fair enough but the lack of communication is appalling.”

Fences were erected around blocks and communal areas on the Fallowfield campus
Fences were erected around blocks and communal areas on the Fallowfield campus. Picture: Ewan Massey

A first-year geography student living there, who wanted to remain anonymous, told LBC: “The fencing started being put up this morning without any communication to the students living here. The fencing is covering all of the blocks.”

The 18-year-old added: “I’m angry about the lack of communication. We don’t know why the fencing is up, where we can and can’t go, how we get in and out of campus. I’m concerned for people’s mental health.”

President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, said: “I sincerely apologise for the concern and distress caused by the erecting of a fence around our Fallowfield Halls of Residence today. This was not our intention – in fact quite the reverse.

“The fencing was intended as a response to a number of concerns received over recent weeks from staff and students on this site about safety and security; particularly about access by people who are not residents. There was never any intent to prevent students from entering or exiting the site.

“The fences are being taken down from Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately. Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols are being put in place.

“I apologise once again for the issues caused by this incident.”

Under the lockdown rules, people in England must stay at home but can leave for shopping necessities, exercise, caring duties, education and work reasons, and other essential purposes.

Students at Manchester said they had been offered no support, echoing concerns from the National Union of Students (NUS) that morale in halls is low.

The NUS tweeted after the protests: "Solidarity with students fighting for their rights this evening at UoM.

"We must not be policed into lockdowns with no access to basic rights & wellbeing support, we must not be blamed / scapegoated, and we must not be silenced or neglected any longer."

Universities are remaining open during the second lockdown, set to last until 2 December, along with schools and colleges.

Thousands of students have been confined to their university residences for much of the autumn term so far to self-isolate, as coronavirus cases have swept 119 campuses. Ministers are still grappling with how to get one million students home for Christmas without spreading outbreaks.