MUSINGS OF A FINAL YEAR STUDENT

It’s the summer term for us Nottingham students and that means exams and hours of revision whilst holed-up in the library or in our own rooms.

The thing about my room is I could probably punch clean through the partition wall which separates it from my adjacent housemate’s, but I settle instead for the occasional conversation through the plasterboard.

I, of course, live in an HMO, along with six other students, and my cozy living arrangements are certainly not unusual. It sometimes gets forgotten amidst all the external problems HMOs bring to communities that they’re not always that much fun to live in either.

For example, my current situation is nowhere near as bad as a friend who found himself living in a converted garage in his second year. For £60 a week he had no window, no central heating and a single bed whose head was wedged underneath the staircase. As a 2009 article from the Nottingham Evening Post – included in the Midwinter 2009-2010 NAG magazine [p.20] – about another student who was similarly garage-bound would suggest, such cases are not unheard of.

None of this is to belittle the issues that surround HMOs, particularly where students are concerned, from poor upkeep and rubbish disposal to low-level but persistent anti-social behaviour, and the opportunistic crime they can attract.

However, as NAG members will understand, the blame does not rest solely with students, but with a combination of unscrupulous landlords, a poorly regulated market, and an ingrained culture of student living which has developed around HMOs, especially in areas like Lenton.

More purpose-built off-campus student accommodation, like the Riverside Point development off Derby Road, might help to change this culture if they could offer secure, well-kept and affordable alternatives to shared private housing. Such arrangements tend to be more expensive, however, and (despite lacking the paper-thin walls and other such ‘eccentricities’ which are a given in standard digs) offer a lifestyle which students find less desirable, and which hardly encourages their integration into the community in the way that living next door to a local resident does, even though many students simply find themselves next to other undergrads these days.

It wasn’t so long ago when students used to lodge with the locals in relationships which both parties often remember fondly. Those days are gone, however, as the two universities have expanded, profit-seeking landlords have proliferated and student expectations of their accommodation have changed.

This seemingly strange desire to have the option of living in a rickety house with a group of mates surrounded by similar such dwellings, whilst being charged a small fortune for what you actually get, clearly remains strong as evidenced by the Nottingham University Students Union’s emphatic rejection of the council’s mooted Article 4 Direction which would require planning permission for any single dwelling to be made into an HMO or vice versa.

In fact the proposal seems sensible enough if used properly and considering that it will not reverse any previous conversions from amongst an already over-large HMO supply. The laws of the market have allowed students to live where they like for some time now, and perhaps it’s time to give legislation a try.

Whatever happens to the Article 4 now that the consultation period has passed however, it can’t change the fact that students will continue to want to cluster in certain areas of Nottingham for the foreseeable future, and local landlords will continue to want to profit from this; NAG members may not like to hear that enquiries about applying for the University of Nottingham for 2012 entry, are up nearly 50% on last year.

Nor will it alter the reality that students simply aren’t like other groups of residents; they’re heavily subsidized by their parents and the Treasury, and have no investment in their houses or the communities which they live in beyond their student years. The galling thing is that those who do cause trouble will probably grow up and become model neighbours one day, just not where any NAG members will appreciate it!

Ultimately the mutual distrust between Nottingham University, its students and NAG must thaw, more purpose-built off campus accommodation must be looked at, and the Unipol Code more rigorously enforced.

Apart from these long-term remedies, however, there are more tangible and immediate ones. If a bunch of rowdies do move in next door then introduce yourself, try the softly-softly approach before going in with all guns blazing when the next party starts.

I live next door to a takeaway and a newsagents and things have worked-out well in this regard, as we’ve got on first name terms and built trust and understanding from early on. Admittedly these aren’t homes with local families living in them, but the principle still applies as we also rent our house from the owner of the takeaway who tends to be around quite a lot, keeping us all on our toes cleaning-wise. Best of all though, give them food. Now that will command absolute fealty!

[Tim MacFarlan, 2 May, 2011, first published  as 'A Stufdent's Perspective' in the 2010-2012 Issue of TransNAG, Part II, p.42, 2012]