MyExeter: Broken Windows, Bulldozers & Bundles of Fun

In 2009, when I applied to study at Exeter, I had never visited the city—let alone walk around the nearby University campus, with its winding paths and redbrick buildings. (Embarrassingly, I also applied to Cardiff University, solely on the basis that I had been to a couple of mosh-pit-filled gigs at its Students’ Union as a spotty-faced sixteen-year-old.) Instead of being completely unaware, though, I had done my research into University of Exeter: I knew, for instance, that it boasted one of the UK’s best English Literature courses, that its top men’s hockey team had been playing in the National League, and that I wanted to live in Pennsylvania Court, one of Exeter’s best catered halls.

Eventually, I ended up playing for EUMHC. (Completely by chance, I also made an appearance for the 1s.)

Eventually, I ended up playing for EUMHC 6s. (Completely by chance, I also made an appearance for the 1s.)

 
Come September 2010, having been accepted onto my chosen course, I was put into catered halls at University of Exeter. But rather than a double-bed, en-suite room all to myself at Penny C, as it is commonly known amongst students, I ended up sharing a musty-smelling, carpet-stained room in a 16-man detached house—yes, a house—named Lazenby. Rumoured to be a former GP surgery, you can find Lazenby on the very edge of Exeter’s campus. Boasting a large back garden, with a towering pine tree right in the centre, it really is unlike any other Exeter’s halls. The year before I arrived, for example, whilst most student residences already had Wi-Fi, residents were made to arrange their own internet access with BT. During my ten-month tenancy, meanwhile, a broken ground-floor window provided an easy means of entrance whenever you stumbled home, blurry-eyed, without your keys and phone. The absence of a full-time resident tutor also made it a great location for parties—although, being well-behaved first-years, of course we never dared to host one.

The year before I arrived, for example, whilst most student residences already had Wi-Fi, residents were made to arrange their own internet access with BT.

Since July 2013, partly due to staff numbers increasing, Lazenby has been closed as a student residence and used instead for office space. Across campus, in fact, as part of the University’s £275 million investment scheme, a number of blocks among Exeter’s lower-standard halls have been closed and redeveloped. During my first year, due to this substantial investment, the University’s campus often felt like more of a building site than one of an academic institution. In Lazenby, usually at around 9am, and with the mouldy curtains—naturally—still drawn, the distant drum of a pneumatic drill splitting concrete would suddenly rouse my roommate and me. For the students affected most by the noise, the University eventually gave them the option of moving to accommodation—Birks Grange—on the other side of campus. One morning, whilst still in their underwear, a female student was even greeted by a hard-hat-wearing builder at their window, who had scaled the building’s scaffolding.

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Old Lazenby, where some students reportedly kept live guinea pigs in the bath.

 
In May 2012, after two years of nine-to-five noise, the Queen herself opened the Forum, the shining centrepiece of University of Exeter’s investment programme. Inside the award-winning building, which some students have jokingly compared to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, the refurbished library is perhaps its most popular (or most used) section. Finally, whilst working, no longer did we students have to hunch over rickety, wooden desks, with grey bricks and dim, flickering lights surrounding us. Instead, including a room full of touch-screen technology, the University provided us with a host of state-of-the-art facilities—which, in my mind at least, fully justified The Sunday Times’ decision to name Exeter as its University of the Year for 2013. During the same period, in almost a constant stream of good news, Exeter broke into the world’s top 200 Universities and, perhaps more importantly, joined the Russell Group, an organisation of the UK’s leading academic institutions. All of a sudden, as lower-year school friends began their UCAS applications, my Facebook account became clogged with messages, asking: ‘What’s Exeter like? Would you recommend it? Do you really have to read that many books?’ From these enquiries, one thing appeared clear: Exeter was increasingly becoming a first-choice student destination.

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The Forum – which really does, trust me, look a little bit like Terminal 5 inside.

 
Sadly, whilst the University wholly deserves its recent plaudits, there have also been some negative aspects to its rise in popularity—notably, and somewhat ironically, the sharp rise in the student population. Between 2011/12, my second year, and 2013/14, when I returned from my year abroad, just over a thousand more students have arrived at Exeter, as the University accepted almost a third more applicants. Of course, across the whole Streatham campus, one thousand extra students hardly sounds like a significant figure—yet University of Bristol, in 2012, became the UK institution with the highest student in-take increase with 1,029 more overall students. Within Exeter’s nightclubs, particularly in the most popular ones (such as Arena or Timepiece), this increase manifests itself far more noticeably. Earlier this year, for instance, as scores of drunken students danced upstairs, part of Timepiece’s middle-floor ceiling crumbled, with debris just missing those beneath. As TJ Nartey, a final year undergraduate, says: “In comparison to when I first arrived at Exeter, there are certainly more students. The clubs are crowded and the queues outside are far longer. To an extent, it does spoil the city’s student experience.”

The clubs are crowded and the queues outside are far longer. To an extent, it does spoil the city’s student experience.

Between my first and fourth years, then, spanning from 2010 to 2014, University of Exeter has changed remarkably, finalising large-scale investment projects and thus becoming a far more prominent institution in the higher-education sector. Of course, from what I have learned—whether academically, about myself or about other people—I really do owe an enormous amount to University of Exeter. (In financial terms, ironically, I actually do owe them quite an enormous amount.) Naturally, as I move on from Exeter, the friends and memories I have made here will remain with me—unlike my first-year fancy dress costumes—for a long, long time. With its rising population, though, which has indirectly resulted in more than 100 students having to live in hotels until after Christmas, another issue remains in my mind: Has University of Exeter made itself an unwitting victim of its own success?

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Lazenby 2010/11, a great group of people that I will never forget.

 
This article was originally published in the Express & Echo on June 25, 2014.

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