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Video: University protest gathers support
Hundreds of students held a rally at the University of Sussex campus yesterday to mark the three week anniversary of the Bramber House protest. The occupation of the administrative building has grabbed headlines nationally with hundreds of academics and celebrities offering their support. But what are they hoping to achieve? Why are they going to such lengths to oppose something that most see as inevitable? And what’s it like sleeping on a hard floor with 50 other students night after night. Reporter Ben James and photographer Sam Stephenson went along to find out.
Two second year students sit debating how to make the perfect cup of tea while a 23-year-old pores over his history coursework.
On the balcony a media savvy anthropology pupil is preparing posters for an upcoming photography exhibition while a couple of mature students are in the kitchen discussing football.
It is now three weeks and one day into the University of Sussex protest.
Adriano Merola, 22, has been there since day one.
Admiring the view from the top floor balcony, he said: “This is the healthiest I have been for a long while.
“We’re getting really healthy balanced food donated, we’re always around campus handing out flyers and we have strict rules on alcohol.
“So surprisingly I’m feeling pretty good.”
The students are opposing the university’s proposals to outsource 235 campus jobs.
They stormed the building following a mass rally on February 7 and have remained there ever since.
At first, university bosses tried to stop them going in and out.
But with support growing and a mass rally, they finally surrendered the building.
Mature student, Robbie Bryan, 39, said: “One of the great things about this protest is the number of people involved who have never been involved in this kind of action before.
“There is a great camaraderie. These intelligent reasoned people have come in and contributed so much and that is beautiful to see.”
Their living space is no bigger than a couple of tennis courts, but there is no shortage of activity.
On entering the building three weeks ago, they set up a number of “working groups” to get things up and running.
Adriano said: “There’s the food working group, media working group and activities working group among others.
“We all have our separate responsibilities and it seems to work pretty well.
“I mean, take the food, I thought it would be hummus and toast everyday but we’ve had homemade pizzas, curries, salads it’s been great.”
The space is like a microcosm of the university itself.
To one side is the “people’s kitchen”, full of donated food ranging from Dairylea triangles, to Earl Grey tea and chocolate chip cookies.
On the other side is the makeshift bedroom where dividers provide a quiet and dark space 24 hours a day.
There is a wall of art – some of it surprisingly good – and quotes from their supporters elsewhere around the room.
And at the balcony doors is a battered classical guitar propped up by a stack of biology books – out of tune but obviously well used.
International development student, Jessie Seal, 21, said: “I think the most amazing thing about this protest is the sense of community.
“We’ve had so many people who have never been involved in anything like this before and that’s really good to see.”
Campaigning against the outsourcing of 235 campus jobs, their cause has seen messages of support come in from around the world, including from some famous faces.
Among them the likes of Noam Chomsky, writer Will Self, comedian Frankie Boyle and BAFTA winning actor Peter Capaldi.
As a result they have attracted their fair share of press attention with articles appearing in The Guardian, Independent and of course The Argus – all of which is displayed on their “press wall”.
Jessie added: “We buy The Argus every day.
“It’s nice to see the local paper covering what we are doing. And it’s always interesting to read the letters page...”
Past occupations have been dogged with a reputation for drink and drugs and are often hijacked by trouble makers.
Adriano added: “We don’t want this to be a space for parties, we want it to be more productive than that.
“I mean there have been gatherings and a fair bit of dancing – but all sober and in good fun. On the odd occasion drunk students have come up we’ve had to tell them to go elsewhere.
“We’re all very passionate about this and that is really nice to see.”
But while the campaign goes on, so do the campaigners’ studies.
Such is the support they have received that some lecturers have taken to holding their seminars in the conference centre.
This week, the students also received a message from the anthropology department stating that they would help them fit in their coursework.
Adriano added: “I didn’t know I could function on five hours sleep a night but apparently I can.
“Everyone respects the sleeping area and if you need to do work people make sure that’s possible.”
Between 15 and 150 occupy the conference centre at any one time.
They live, eat, sleep and work in the space.
While it may sound as a recipe for disaster, the group say that it has been harmonious and productive.
Adriano added: “I think it is because of the wide spread of people.
“This isn’t action by a few passionate political groups.
“It has involved everyone. So there hasn’t been the usual political bickering. It’s refreshing really.”
Student protesters step up campaign
Hundreds of students stormed a second university building yesterday following a rally to mark the third week of the protest.
Up to 200 activists occupied the Brighton and Sussex Medical School Lecture Theatre in what they called a “warning shot”.
A spokesman said that the latest action was in response to the management’s “refusal to engage with demands”.
He added that while the Bramber House occupation was for an indefinite period, the latest action was only intended to be short term.
He said: “Our temporary occupation here should be considered a warning shot: this campus was always ours, and we will not allow management to terrorise our community any longer.
“We call on all staff and students to join us. To reclaim the spaces of our campus. To strike. To occupy.
“The university is a factory – shut it down.”
At 5pm last night students took over a third space inside the Business and Economic Management Building on the campus.
A spokesman said that it would be a short term move.
He added: “Our intention is not to disrupt lessons. This is very much a parting shot.”
Evenings filled with entertainment
While there is a lot of hard work taking place in the day, the students like to put on entertainment in the evenings.
Among the guests already to have visited are comedians Josie Long and Mark Steel, writer Will Self, columnist Owen Jones and Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas.
They have also staged art exhibitions, gigs and their own open mic night.
Adriano said: “We have had a lot of singer/songwriters up here, it’s been lovely.
“The other day we had a harp player entertain us, that was something I never expected to see in an occupation.
“We’ve had lots of support and a poet called Spliff Richard was our latest guest.”
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