29 May 2015
Aberystwyth University is fully committed to providing designated Welsh medium accommodation.
The University understands and is fully committed to the need for a community where the Welsh language is spoken every day, where those learning the language can immerse themselves in a natural Welsh speaking community, and where the cultural activities of Aelwyd Pantycelyn, the social activities of Y Geltaidd and the campaigning work of UMCA can thrive and flourish.
The establishment of Pantycelyn as a designated Welsh speaking hall of residence in 1974 was a key milestone in developing and promoting this community, and has provided it with an excellent home for over 40 years.
Investing in accommodation
Over the years Aberystwyth University has been developing its portfolio of student residences, and responding to the changing needs of new generations of students.
In particular Pentre Jane Morgan, the University’s Student Village, built in the early 1990s offers self-catering accommodation for nearly 1000 residents, the Sea Front halls have been redeveloped as a series of flats, and our newest development, Fferm Penglais, an investment of £45m, is nearing completion and will provided 1000 additional rooms of some of the best accommodation offered by any university in the UK.
At planning stages Fferm Penglais was intended to be the next stage in improvements in the University’s residential portfolio development, and provide a replacement for residences which did not reach the standards the University aspired to, including the now demolished residences at the University’s Llanbadarn Centre, and including Pantycelyn.
In moving to Fferm Penglais, it was intended that the community at Pantycelyn would enjoy the very best student accommodation Aberystwyth had to offer, in a similar way that many viewed the designation of Pantycelyn as a Welsh medium hall of residence back in the early 1970s.
The concerns voiced by UMCA and the residents of Pantycelyn during late 2013 and early 2014 caused the University to pause and review its plans for the building. The outcome was the publication of a report by the Pantycelyn Working Group which was considered by the University’s Finance and Strategy Committee on 22 May 2015.
The need for investment in Pantycelyn
Pantycelyn is in need of some serious renovation and refurbishment. The accommodation offered in the hall has remained essentially unchanged since it opened in 1951.
The report by the Pantycelyn Working group, which included representatives of Undeb Myfyrwyr Cymraeg Aberystwyth (UMCA), outlined a number of options for the redevelopment of the building as student accommodation and as a Welsh Language & Culture Centre.
The report states the estimated capital investment required to redevelop Pantycelyn ranges from £5.5m to £11m.
A full redevelopment of the building, taking into account its listed status (Pantycelyn is Grade II listed) would take up to 3 years to complete, and this would be after the time needed to secure funding and detailed definition of use was determined.
In order to remain open just for 2015/6 the Working Group’s report notes the need to spend £125,000 on remedial electrical works and fire safety measures.
These immediate issues are in addition to more extensive fire compartmentalisation and full electrical re-wiring which were recommended to be carried out swiftly in a Condition Survey prepared by a globally reputable engineering and design firm and Fire Safety Survey. The estimated cost for this work is £0.9m.
The fire safety advice the University has received makes it clear that no new overnight residents may be admitted to Pantycelyn until these works (totalling £1m) have been carried out.
The University’s duty of care means that the safety of residents is of primary concern. The University is concerned to note that despite the efforts of its staff and UMCA in the past academic year there have been over 50 serious incidents of vandalism of fire safety measures in Neuadd Pantycelyn and 23 of these serious incidents have been since 15 April. These include 16 incidents where safety-critical fire doors were rendered inoperative by deliberate vandalism.
The effect of these incidents has a bearing not only on the safety and enjoyment of the residents but also on the need to make reasonable and responsible decisions about short-term expenditure.
The £1m of urgent work involves no decoration, no refurbishment, no new bathrooms or doors or windows, just fire safety improvements and rewiring. The Condition Survey had also clarified that other work was required soon, for example replacement of windows in line with the listed status of Pantycelyn and major works to the roof, and this work is included in the redevelopment costs of £5.5m to £11m.
Proposal to the University’s Council
These issues were discussed at length by the University’s Finance and Strategy Committee, which includes representatives from Aberystwyth Students’ Union and UMCA, on Friday 22 May.
In view of the issues in placing students in accommodation that is of poor quality and in urgent need of repair/renovation, estimated costs for immediate work required for Pantycelyn to continue as a hall of residence for 2015/16, and the acknowledged need for significant investment to secure the building’s long term future, the Committee recommended that Pantycelyn should close as an overnight residence at the end of this term.
The Committee has also called for further work to be done, building on the contribution made by the Pantycelyn Working Group, to develop detailed proposals on the future of Pantycelyn, taking into account the demand for Welsh medium accommodation, the priorities of the University and the provision of necessary funding, and for this work to be done in full consultation with UMCA and the student body.
The University, as noted in the Annual Accounts 2013-14, is working through a recovery plan, which means for the next few years investment in capital expenditure is seriously constrained. In addition capital funding, which is available to English universities, is no longer available in Wales.
These recommendations will be considered by the University’s Council when it next meets on 22 June 2015.
Alternative accommodation and social spaces
In the meantime, the University will work with UMCA and the student body to consider suitable alternative arrangements for Welsh medium accommodation on the Penglais campus that will, as far as is possible, recreate the provision in Pantycelyn.
The University has already contacted prospective students and current students who have expressed a wish to stay in Pantycelyn for 2015/16, assuring them that alternative dedicated Welsh medium accommodation with social spaces will be provided for them, should Pantycelyn not be available.
Maintain the link
In recognition of the significance that Pantycelyn has acquired for the Welsh speaking community over the past 40 years, and the desire to establish a Welsh Language and Culture Centre at the venue, it is being proposed to the University Council that some of the University’s Welsh language services could be relocated to the building’s ground floor in the short term, thereby assuring Pantycelyn continues to play a significant part in the Welsh language community.
The way forward
The University recognises the sensitivities surrounding the recommendation not to provide accommodation in Pantycelyn after the end of this term.
The need to refurbish and renovate the building inevitably means that the community of Welsh speaking students living there will need to be accommodated somewhere else for a number of years, as even the most limited of refurbishment plans in line with the Working Group proposals would take at least three years once funding was secured. Spending £1m to address immediate health and safety issues will not secure the long-term future of the building.
The University welcomes input and suggestions for how, working with UMCA, it can strengthen and grow its Welsh speaking community, mindful of the fact that the Pantycelyn community will, subject to a determination by Council, need to relocate to alternative dedicated Welsh medium accommodation with social spaces. Please send any suggestions and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.