Dear Sir Keith,
We have recently learned, with great concern, about the possibility of closing Garden hall, after 56 successful years. Garden Hall houses 81 students in triple, double and single rooms (£74, 90, 151pw) in the South Kensington campus. Every year, Garden hall welcomes a vibrant and talented community of students, of diverse socio-economical backgrounds, who appreciate its individuality and character, and make it a home.
Student priorities regarding accommodation are clear: (1) proximity and (2) affordability. According to Imperial’s accommodation strategy (Council, 10/2/12), we seek to provide students with “choice in rents”, “proximity to campus”, “bedspace type”, “facilities” and seek “ownership of freehold”. Evidently Garden hall meets spectacularly all the above.
In fact, Garden hall generally tops both satisfaction, as former and current students and parents confirm, and student demand; there is never an empty room in our hall. There is no question that Garden hall would benefit from maintenance and renovation works, which is expected of a wonderful Grade II Victorian house. However, such improvement works, namely selected ceiling reinforcement and damp proofing, ought to take place regardless of its proposed usage.
While there are undoubtedly more profitable utilisations of this space, we urge you to consider Imperial’s long term standing and relationship with its most important asset: our students and staff. Our relationship with Imperial is life-long. In contrast, property developers and commercial officers normally stay in employment for 3-5 years and their objectives are thus comparatively short or mid-term. College council itself recognises that “decisions and attitudes to [property] assets were sometimes short term, and ill disciplined, resulting in the sale of quality freehold assets on the simple basis of expediency” (13/7/12 D), probably referring to the ruinous sale of Montpelier hall in Knightsbridge or the hasty closure of the Pembridge hall annex, only to be occupied by squatters and remain empty to this date.
Garden hall encloses the student community around Princes Gardens from the north side and allows students from lower economic backgrounds to live on campus, next to the considerably more expensive halls. Those students can thus also go to the library after hours, meet colleagues and friends in their departments for work or socially, use the gym, or go to the union. The students love and respect the historical character of Garden hall, and we cannot think of a better way of fulfilling our college mission to educate and support a wide cross-section of talented students.
Closing Garden hall would push fresher students who cannot afford rents in excess of £100-130pw away from the main campus. Effectively, it would also discourage underprivileged students to come to Imperial or drive them out of the Imperial halls of residence and support system provided. Students and staff are increasingly disenchanted by the perceived commercial drive and lack of student and staff consultation in many key college decisions; this appears orthogonal to Imperial’s educational and research mission. In a year that US universities saw a remarkable increase in donations (BBC news 20/2/13), allegiance to our university is sliding. All academic and support staff is clearly working hard to meet student expectations and further increase Imperial's national and World ranking. Please instruct the commercial (or "campus") staff to join in.
Please return student priorities to the centre, keep Garden hall and invest in this important space. This will mean a great deal to students and staff.