‘Please be a better neighbour’

Firth Court, University of Sheffield-  Veolia supplies over 45MW of heat and 10MW of hot water to the University of Sheffield - located throughout the city
Firth Court, University of Sheffield- Veolia supplies over 45MW of heat and 10MW of hot water to the University of Sheffield - located throughout the city

THE University of Sheffield is being pressed by leading community representatives to be a better neighbour.

Six key members of community groups in Broomhill have signed an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor in an attempt to improve channels of communication on issues such as late night student noise.

They say they are “saddened” that the university has “rebuffed” constructive efforts to help tackle problems that affect the whole community.

The letter is signed by John Birtwhistle, Mark Blades, David Chapman, Lee Kenny, John Potter, Alan Wellings, and follows their withdrawal in frustration from the University Community Forum.

Community groups in Broomhill have long worked to try to ensure students and permanent residents can live side-by-side without too disturbance, and they point to fruitful instances, such as the tackling of flyposting, of working together.

But now Broomhill Forum, Broomhill Action and Neighbourhood Group, Ranmoor and Endcliffe Action Group and the Moor Oaks Triangle are pressing for a relationship with clearer terms of reference, lines of accountability, information and procedure.

The letter to Vice-Chancellor Prof Keith Burnett, says that although the University website still has little to say about its role in the neighbourhood, it does now acknowledge its “corporate social responsibility” and that the presence of so many young people away from home for the first time may have “a significant impact”.

“It therefore saddens us that the University has rebuffed our efforts to contribute to this thinking which affects us all. At the invitation of the Vice-Chancellor, we wrote a thoughtful paper sent in May 2010 setting out proposals for improved communication in the Forum. Our paper was written with co-operative goodwill, even with some self-criticism on our part. We took care to define constructive possibilities for the future. Eventually, we were invited to a meeting of the Forum at which our paper was to be the only item on the agenda.

“At this meeting, we were taken aback that no effort was made to address the points we had raised in our paper. Instead, we were treated to a reiteration of the University’s benefits to the world. Those benefits are not in dispute.

“It would be shameful if such a publicly funded charity did not produce such benefits.

“All we were trying to do was improve the machinery by which downsides for our neighbourhood, such as student noise at night, could be mitigated.

“Instead of engaging with our careful paper, the University just challenged us on random topics on which it sought to justify itself, and the meeting was not directed to its agreed topic.

“We appreciate that the University is labouring under political and economic stress, but in such times it surely has more, rather than less, need of support from its neighbours who must in the longer term be a factor in its reputation.”

The letter concludes: “We remain hopeful of establishing fruitful conversations between the University and its neighbourhood.’’

John Birtwhistle, a committee member of BANG, said this week: “Broomhill is ‘a student area’ but not exclusively so. We have to live together, and that means some common civility, and respect for elementary rights such as a good night’s sleep. Students should be aware that they are living in a mixed neighbourhood, where others have to be up in the morning for work.”

He said ‘Intro’ week was controlled by pubs and clubs, and older students came up a week before term for a “ten-day binge”. It was “an advertisement to even younger people as to how a ‘student’ should behave”.

Mr Birtwhistle added: We all have an interest in Broomhill being a place where people can study. Serious students, such as medics who have commitments in the morning, sometimes join us in complaining at those who disrupt the night.

“There are many teachers, doctors and other professionals living in Broomhill whose needs are close to those of serious students. In a society of continuous learning, a wide range of people are involved in some course of study.

“The general public has a right to good conditions of study.”