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Barista battle is far from over

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As a hardened, somewhat bitter and certainly cynical 3rd year, I've been pleased to see YUSU focusing on talking to Health Sciences students, an under-represented group at the University. The campaign against the potential closure of Cafe Barista, the sole social space in their building, a building also used by many social science students, as well as the University's "night school" classes, seems a natural extension of this. As a trade unionist, I was also impressed by their apparent co-working with Unison, a union which works hard to defend the rights of our hard-working, ever pleasant and skilful, lower paid, service staff.

I signed the petition. However, David Duncan, our University Registrar, actually makes many good points. The set-up isn't designed to provide a comprehensive catering service or even a pleasant customer experience. I can testify. I've used Cafe Barista, once: back in November for a post-seminar social gathering. The table was too awkwardly angled for us to talk, the selection of food was poor, the coffee not nice, and the ambiance? Atrocious.

So while I applaud YUSU's attempts to reach out to the Health Science and to defend the working conditions of staff, this is where my opinion changes. Since nobody is going to lose their job, or suffer worse conditions, an issue which should always be a deal-breaker for a progressive students' union, I'm not entirely sure what anybody gains through Barista remaining in its current state, which is neither convivial common room nor, despite the name, companionate coffee shop?

I suggest that both YUSU and the University consider things afresh. There is a wider issue here: the University needs more neutral, social spaces. In short we need more common rooms, like YUSU's newish YourSpace. A wonderfully flexible facility where you can work, meet friends, or just sit quietly during the day, and which in the evening is supposedly transformed into a hub of student activity, democracy, and creativity. Alongside the constantly changing, constantly inventive Norman Rea Gallery above Courtyard and the Derwent Quiet Study Room, it is one of the gems which makes York's campus unique.

If I were YUSU, given the University's proposals for transforming Barista into a proper common room, expanding the much used B-Henry's and Library Cafe, locations which work really well, improving their "offers" to the campus community, I would back off on this issue. I would cease, in the terminology of one University official, to be 'statuesque' and instead become dynamic. I would be proactive, finding out what all students, want from their campus in terms of free, social space and fight hard with the University's workers unions, Unison, UNITE, UCU and GMB to secure equivalent space for staff so as to embed the concept of a common room deep within the University's culture.

By taking a stance which is progressive rather than reactionary YUSU could deliver campus space not just for health science students, but for all. Spaces that are genuinely ours, spaces where we can just, dare I say it: hang out. By engaging students in activism campus wide, they could pressure the University into giving TLC to the rest of our campus public realm; the JCRs, SCRs, study spaces and all the areas where people just congregate. Spaces which on Hes East, part-privatised territory, that it is, always seemed decidedly lacking and in need of either creation or definition. The Barista fight is, essentially an easy way out, for both University and Union. We need to respect and expand our public spaces on campus, and not just quibble over them.

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1 Comment

AGREE Posted on Thursday 22 Oct 2020



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