Students Who Tore Down COVID Fences Now Occupy Tower Block During Rent Strike

Students occupying the tower in Manchester say they are unhappy about threats to fine them for taking part in rent-striking, and the university's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo: University of Manchester Rent Strike. 

Students at the University of Manchester have occupied a tower block on its Fallowfield Campus over alleged threats from the university to fine students for participating in a rent strike.

Around 15 students entered the Owens Park Tower at 10AM today, and hung banners outside reading “This building is occupied,” and “Put students and staff before profit.”

The group of students, who are part of the University of Manchester Rent Strike campaign, are demanding that Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell meet the demands of the rent strike.


“The main thing is that we tried to be constructive with the uni, we’ve asked for meetings, we’ve asked to be listened to by the Vice-Chancellor,” Ben McGowan, a first-year student inside the building told VICE News. “They’ve completely ignored us.”

“We’re happy to stay here as long as it takes,” he added.

Izzy Smitheman, also a first-year at Manchester inside the tower, said: “I think we are angry. After what happened last week and the university showed us they were willing to fence us in rather than have a conversation with us. I think the feeling on campus against the university is quite strong.”

The occupation comes a week after students were fenced in by the university with no warning, prompting a protest by almost 500 students. It also comes the day after news that students would be required to return home early as part of Department of Health plans to stop the spread of COVID across the country at Christmas.

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We are aware of the protest by a handful of students in an empty residential building. We have made it clear to them that they shouldn’t be there and that they may also be in contravention of current national Health Protection Regulations. We are already engaging with elected Students’ Union representatives about many of the issues being highlighted by the protestors. The University is fully committed to freedom of expression.”