Brighton, UK: Park Village Social Centre

As a result of the inadequacies of Sussex University, we – the supporters of the Squat the Slope occupation have taken it upon ourselves to begin creating the spaces that we wish to see on our own campus, and we invite all students, staff and university workers to join us! We have squatted the Park Village Social Centre – one of the many buildings doomed to demolition in the construction of West Slope, and we have opened the space as a radical and inclusive learning centre for all. All week we will be hosting radical workshops and events (for more info, find us on Instagram @squattheslope), and welcoming everyone to participate, hosting events and creating the change that they want to see on campus! Moreover, we intend to construct our own model for a student assembly, in order to present this framework to the Sussex University management, in line with our 3rd demand. Presented with the failings of the University management in this era of climate breakdown and social crises, we believe the future of Sussex campus must be taken into student hands.

All power to the students!

We demand:
THAT 1/3 accommodation on Sussex campus be kept below £100/week rent.
THAT Sussex will never again sign contracts with Balfour Beatty.
THAT there will be a student assembly on all future developments on campus.
THAT none of the 93 trees be cut down as part of the West Slope development, and that the original Roots site remain undamaged.
THAT there will be no negative repercussions for anyone involved in this occupation.
We believe that these demands are neither unreasonable nor unattainable. Having access to an affordable and democratic education, in a university that prides itself on its radical history and promises to act in line with the climate crisis, and thus our futures, is the least we should demand. ​​​​​​​

Sussex Universities’ plans for the West Slope development will demolish the most affordable accommodation options on campus: Park Village (£95/week) and Park Houses (£112/week). This accommodation will be replaced by luxury and wholly inaccessible accommodation with prices starting at over £170/week. This will make the cheapest accommodation available on campus around £120/week. These plans follow the East Slope development in 2018 which also saw the demolishing of the most affordable housing on campus (£83/week) only to construct one which is twice the price (now £176.45/week). There is an obvious trend here which, especially during a cost of living crisis, is entirely unacceptable and we occupy the slope to resist this trend.
Over the past 10 years Sussex rent prices on campus have risen dramatically and totally unsustainably for students. Whilst in 2010 no campus accommodation was priced above £150/week rent, as of 2021 only 20% remained below this outrageous figure.

Going way beyond inflation rates, this is part of an ongoing gentrification project on Sussex campus. Increasingly those from more privileged financial backgrounds are prioritised, whilst those with financial barriers to higher education are marginalised further. We will not stand by and allow our campus – our entire university, to be a space only for the rich. We believe resolutely that everyone should have access to an education at Sussex, and we are willing to fight for it!

We absolutely recognise that the quality of the West Slope accommodation has deteriorated over its life and work must be done. However, we demand to know why this accommodation has not been planned for retrofitting, the significantly more sustainbale, affordable and conscious option. Instead, the university have chosen to embark on a £200 million ‘redevelopment’ (destroy and rebuild) project with unconfirmed sources suggesting that this figure could be rising to £260 million. The profits of this construction will be funnelled into the pockets of the mega-construction firm Balfour Beatty for the next forty years due to the obscene contracts Sussex has signed. We deem this wholly unacceptable.

Climate and Ecological Emergency
Despite having declared a climate emergency in 2019, Sussex university have done far too little to show their commitment to this declaration and, with it being our futures on the line, our occupation of Park Village Social Centre is first and foremost one to resist this failing.
The Universities’ development plans can be considered to be failing on their climate commitments in a variety of ways.
First, their development plans show no evidence of being waste, water or food neutral in its consumption. The choice to destroy and rebuild will consume vast and unimaginable quantities of resources that, if the East Slope construction is anything to go off, will produce shoddy, not built to last options that fail students. We saw this summer the worst drought in decades, our waste crisis continues to worsen and any new developments posed by an institution that claims to care for its students’ futures must have far better plans for how it will save these precious resources, and thus save our planet and our futures.
Second, this development shows plans to fell at least 93 trees, including a variety of heritage species such as ancient Beech and Yew. These trees have been living on this site for decades and deserve our respect. No tree planting initiative can bring back the majesty of an ancient tree and the large percentage of saplings planted fail in the early years of their life. Do not their greenwashing fool you.
Third, this development will destroy the most biodiverse site on our whole campus: the Roots community garden. While they have moved the location of this site (though woefully inadequately), the biodiversity that has flourished at this site for years will be destroyed. As if to add insult to injury, this development promises a net biodiversity gain of just one percent! This is an outrage during the ecological crisis we currently face and we demand better.
Fourth, upon examination of the company to which they have awarded this gargantuan £200 million contract, who do we see? None other than the mega-construction firm Balfour Beatty. The crimes and failings of this corporation are endless. To name but a few, this company is responsible for the infamously ecocidal HS2 project which has committed countless acts of ecological devastation to this nations’ remaining wild lands. HS2 has caused the highest levels of deforestation in the UK since the Second World War, tearing through ancient woodlands murdering thousands of our badgers, birds and insects and imprisoning through injunctions those that try to stop them. Sussex selecting this ecocidal corporation for their developments is a crime we absolutely refuse to stand by and allow to continue to be committed.

Cost of Living Crisis
The UK government has declared a Cost of Living crisis and students are one of the prime demographics feeling the bite of this wholesale rise in the cost to simply live. We are routinely hearing stories of our fellow students significantly struggling to pay their rent, both on and off campus. What is Sussex’s response to this crisis? Demolishing the most affordable accommodation on campus. Whilst other universities are taking steps to mitigate the worst effects on their students, Sussex University continues to neglect those who are the most financially vulnerable and demonstrates through the West Slope development their plans to exacerbate this neglect for decades to come.
For a university to support their students financially is far from unthinkable, Leeds Beckett University for example have committed not only to absorbing 80% of rent increases on campus accommodation, but providing free transport for students to and from campus, offering hot meals on campus every day for only £2, as well as increasing the student hardship fund, among other measures.
By contrast, at Sussex University, whilst rent on campus continues to rise dramatically and unabatingly, hardship funds for those with financial access barriers are being severed. The First Generation Scholarship fund – which used to be provided to all first generation students with a household income of less than £43K year, has not only been declining in size but is now only available to those students whose household income is less than £25K per year. From the £200 million price tag of the West Slope Development it is clear that Sussex can access a wealth of resources when they want to but it seems that Sussex University is concerned more with profit than with student welfare, a trend that is painfully visible in this development project. For a University such as Sussex that prides itself on its radical history, we call on them to put their words into action. Thousands of students across Sussex are being shown in their lectures the depths of the devastation of privatisation, neo-liberalism and environmental degradation and yet we see it happening blatantly right on our doorstep. We are simply putting our learning into practice.

We resolutely recognise our position within the existing local, national and global context of resistance and extend our warmest regards and solidarity to all those engaging in resistance against the structures causing these coalescing crises: social and environmental. We invite any and all resistance movements to reach out to us to discuss how we may support each other and move forward together. Our space is one for all. Solidarity with the UCU, solidarity with frontline indigenous land defenders, solidarity with the revolutionaries of Kurdistan, Palestine, Iran and all other sites of progressive revolution, solidarity with all those who have faced state violence for their identities. You are welcome here, cops are not.
So join us at Park Village Social Centre and let us build together the world we not only want to see, but deserve to have.

Squat The Slope Press Release
Instagram: @Squattheslope
Email: Squat_the_slope [at] proton [dot] me