“I haven’t slept properly during term time for months,” said resident L, who prefers to remain anonymous. “It’s terrifying and affecting my mental health.”
“I don’t have a problem with high spirits and partying, but I asked a student to stop urinating in the road at about 2.30am and had to call the police after he started banging at my front door.”
Resident L has reported breaches of the peace, public order offences and indecent exposure to the police. L has also gathered up bags of litter left behind by students and delivered them to the office of the University’s acting vice-chancellor Robert Van de Noort.
“One of the problems is that whoever I ask – the local authority, the police or the university – they say that it’s nothing to do with them and they can’t help,” said resident L. “The police don’t see it as criminal behaviour, the local authority usually fails to respond at all and the university just issues broad and sweeping statements.”
“The University of Reading is single-handedly and unashamedly destroying a community,” said L in a message to the University’s community relations officer Sarah Gardner.
Residents of nearby Northcourt Avenue have also had occasional problems with anti-social students near St Patrick’s Hall, which the University wants to expand to accommodate six to seven times the number of students as there are permanent residents on Northcourt Avenue.
Reading Borough Council expressed concern at the University’s expansion plans when discussing Reading’s new local plan at the strategic, environment, planning and transport committee on 21 November:
The University had a number of objections to the local plan, and attended many of the hearing sessions. In particular… the University stated that the intention was to increase student numbers by 31%, i.e. an extra 5,000 to 6,000 students, by 2028. This intention had not previously been articulated to the Council, and would clearly have very significant implications, not only in terms of student accommodation, but also on a whole range of issues.
The University street support team
The University issued a statement to explain how they’re dealing with student misbehaviour:
In April , in response to concerns about late night noise in local neighbourhoods, the University launched the Street Support Team pilot to encourage students to be more considerate to local residents when socialising at night.
The University sought views from local residents, neighbourhood police teams, Reading Borough Council and other community partners in the town, as well as Reading University Students’ Union and other universities who have implemented similar schemes.
The university’s street support team, which costs £25,000 each term, is operated by Provide SESS, whose wardens patrol the Christchurch Road and Northcourt Avenue area near the Queen’s Head pub, the Erleigh and Addington Road area including Donnington and De Beauvoir Road, and the Melrose and Belle Avenue area near Wokingham Road a few evenings each week in term time.
The University explained:
The wardens’ brief is to encourage students to be respectful to neighbours and to support any vulnerable students. If a student does not follow the wardens’ advice, the warden will take their details and pass it to the University so that we can consider whether it is reasonable and appropriate to apply disciplinary processes to that individual.
We haven’t had to discipline any students yet; in the cases where wardens have had to ask students to reduce noise and be considerate, the students have responded positively.
When resident L asked street wardens if they had ever requested a student to identify themselves, the wardens said that as they had no legal authority to demand identification, any such request merely invited abuse.
“The University has limited legal authority over behaviour on public highways,” explained a University spokesperson. “We are not the local authority or the local police and we do not think it is appropriate for the wardens to have special police powers or similar authority because that would blur our boundaries and remit as an educational institution. When speaking to other local authorities and universities about warden schemes, they all recommended the approach we are taking and pointed out that when they employed staff who took a very hard-line approach, this simply escalated conflict.”
The university say they have received “positive feedback” from local residents and the police about how they are managing student disturbances, although when challenged by resident L, the University said this residents’ feedback was “anecdotal.”
A driver from Reading Buses had said that drunken rowdiness on board could be so bad that other bus users sometimes get off early to avoid being intimidated; alcohol is not allowed on board, but students smuggle bottles in under their clothes.
“We have not really experienced much in the way of disruption from students,” said a spokesperson from Reading Buses. “They tend to be rowdy at times, but so can non-students! We are working with the University to see if we can help in terms of awareness and signage to ensure that students are less disruptive at stops as per resident complaints.”
Reading University community forum
The University have invited neighbours to a community forum at 6.30pm on Tuesday 29 January in room G06 of the Chancellor’s building (pictured) on the Whiteknights campus, near Shinfield Road. The University’s acting vice-chancellor, Reading University Students’ Union and Thames Valley Police will provide updates about the University’s community impact and attendees can ask questions. Anyone wishing to attend should email [email protected] or phone 0118 378 6764.