Dear Mr Burn, Professor Brady, Professor Squires, Ms Robinson, Mr Ames and Mr Bray,
We are writing on behalf of the University of Bristol Hall Bar Staff to express concern over the proposed new model for pastoral care and wellbeing in Halls of Residence.
All of our staff study at the University of Bristol and either live, or have lived, in Halls of Residence. Our team members span across all year groups. We are also supported by a team of undergraduate and postgraduate Senior Residents led by Deputy Wardens.
1. Our concerns:
From our experience as both students and staff, we can appreciate that the Bar functions as an essential hub for hall welfare, community relations and group activities. The new model entirely overlooks the role that Hall Bars play in strengthening community relations and supporting student wellbeing. Furthermore, it is our collective belief that the proposed changes will be detrimental to student experiences and wellbeing as a whole.
We acknowledge that there are ways in which the hall pastoral care support systems can be strengthened yet the proposed model falls short of this aim, a particular concern to us is the suggested changes to Bars i.e. removing all aspects of bar management from Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents to Residential and Hospitality Services. We urge the University to consider the merits of the existing system and to concern itself with investing in ways to support rather than replace it.
2. The Review - The Six Principles
As a team, our shared values are very much aligned with the six principles devised by the University to develop the proposed model. However, the proposed model fails to achieve these:
Principle 1: Providing an accessible and comprehensive student wellbeing model
In our experience, bars are often the hub of the Halls. Seeing familiar, friendly faces of your hallmates behind the bar helps make it a comfortable and homely environment. Therefore, we have concluded that these principles are not addressed effectively in the new model.
Principle 2: Providing a student-centred, high-profile and skilled student ‘life and wellbeing team’
All Bar teams are current students at the University of Bristol which encourages students to invite their friends to the bar. This is financially beneficial and the prospect of non-student staff would remove this incentive, resulting in lower footfall and reduced income.
Employing students in Hall Bars contributes to a sense of student ownership of the bar which reinforces collective Hall identity. The Bar Representative on the Junior Common Room committee reinforces this student involvement in how the bar is run. The Bar representative acts as a liaison between the Bar and the JCR to ensure student voices are heard and positive improvements can be made to the Bars. It is apparent that the proposed alterations overtly ignore the ‘student-centred’ attributes of the current system and instead serve to erode student autonomy within Halls.
Furthermore, the new model fails to understand the interaction between the JCR, the Senior Common Room and the Bar Staff in providing a ‘student-centered wellbeing team’. There is a continuous stream of communication between the three bodies that provides a community of people with student experiences dedicated to the wellbeing of the residents of the Halls.
As a team, our most problematic issue is the potential removing of Bar management with any connection to student life. We believe this would remove an important source of pastoral care. Student staff are often equipped to understand and spot issues that are not always visible to non-students. Moreover, peer to peer relationships are valuable in any pastoral care system, as many individuals feel more comfortable speaking to their peers. The bar functions as a vital mechanism through which individuals can speak to staff and their friends about issues relating to their wellbeing. As such, the bar constitutes an important part of Hall pastoral care, particularly for those individuals less inclined to take up formal support services.
Principle 3: Foster and support diverse and inclusive communities
For a multitude of reasons, the current bars are an exceptional resource in that they directly contribute to the fostering of diverse and inclusive communities.
First and foremost, the employment of staff from the student populace is a unique opportunity for students from lower income backgrounds to financially fund their living costs at University. The lack of clarity on how bars will actually work in the new proposed model would thus serve to perpetuate the unaffordability of the living costs associated with University.
Secondly, we pride ourselves on providing a relatively inexpensive social outing for the residents of Hall. The proposed changes have a high potential to destabilise the financial productivity of Hall Bars which in turn could permanently remove access to a cheaper social option that is valued by many of our student customers.
Thirdly, due to the diversity of year groups amongst the team, the bar enables students to meet staff outside of their year group. This diversity of ages is beneficial to all as it encourages the building of relationships across year groups and allows advice about housing and the local area to be exchanged.
Principle 4: Provide a safe and supportive environment for students to live and study independently
The presence of peers and familiar staff, including Senior Residents, Wardens and Deputy Wardens, ensures a more supportive environment for alcohol to be consumed than establishments outside of halls.
The bar allows students to engage with staff, such as Senior Residents, in an informal, non- disciplinary environment allowing them to build more sincere and well rounded relationships. This is advantageous from a pastoral care perspective as it can enable Senior Residents to engage with minor issues in the earlier stages and prevent their escalation.
Principle 5: Create a positive student experience and maximise value for money:
We are proud that our bar supersedes the role of somewhere to drink. It is a safe space to relax and build relationships with friends, with the opportunity to play pool, darts, board games, watch sports and take part in quizzes.
The presence of student staff adds a certain dynamism to the environment, as staff tend to be more accustomed with the music and screen selection that their fellow peers would want.
Student staff create a fun and well suited environment that brings self-catered students out of their flats into a space where they can engage with other members of their hall and potentially other halls. Bringing in people from outside the hall environment would corrupt the atmosphere of an otherwise homely and protected space, and reduce the JCR’s real life impact on the actions of the bar staff.
Principle 6: Facilitate working in partnership with students, staff and local communities to provide halls seamless, sustainable and consistent service
Existing bar teams are productive partnerships between staff and students. Employment within the bar enables students to engage with University staff in a professional manner which in turn strengthens their career skillsbase.
Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents are provided with a unique opportunity to involve themselves in bar management, such as managing stock and staff rotas. The assignment of Hall Senior Residents to their own Hall Bar is vital as each individual bar requires a unique approach. The proposal does not account for who would replace these roles.
The need for consistency has proved essential in recent experience. Before the management system took over, bars could expect to make a surplus of £15,000 per annum. Last year £150,000 was lost. We believe the proposed changes will put the bars at significant financial risk which may force their closure.
The Hall bars provide a place students can relax and socialise in the knowledge there are people there looking out for their wellbeing. It is the focal point for the JCR, SCR and bar staff relationship and their effects on the community. The proposed changes overlook entirely the role of communities, community leaders and students in running their social spaces. The changes threaten to remove the places where these relationships have had their greatest impact on hall life. The value of these spaces is found in their inclusivity, affordability and capacity to give students a sense of ownership of their Hall. Finally, the proposal does not take into consideration the detailed management of the bar which has struggled to be successful without involvement from Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents. This proposal appears to diminish the defining features of a student bar and their usefulness in providing community and welfare.
We are interested to hear the responses to our concerns, Thank you for taking the time to read them.
48 members of the University of Bristol’s Hall Bar staff.