Image Credit: John Husband
As the term is coming to an end, most of us are getting ready to leave York for Christmas, leave campus and leave our snug little cells. But since some of us are staying, our porters are still working.
I picked up my post this week and spoke to the porter for a while. He is a lovely, talkative man, and has had this job for 31 years. As I was agreeing with his condemnation of student parties this year, I realized I recognized him from my flat the week before, where he’d come and shut a small party down. It is a scary job at this time with Covid to have to walk into people’s flats and tell off a bunch of drunk students.
The importance of porters is often overlooked, and it’s frequently the role of students to defend their value. In 2009, there were a series of student protests when the University decided to get rid of some of the 24-hour porter posts, namely treating their jobs as a drain on the University budget, and trying to cut them down. The students responded by arguing that porters were vital to student welfare and a deterrent to burglars. The idea of porters as a strain on the University’s budget is nothing new, and has been a frustration for the porters (who know firsthand how valuable the role is), for the past 20 years.
My porter has put up a loud and strong fight when the University tries to question the need for 24-hour porters. Not only because he and his colleagues are at risk, but because the post is immensely important. This man has saved multiple lives. He has walked into flats to deal with puke, blood, fights. But he has also stopped many people from taking their own lives, and has talked people through depressive episodes, heartache, drunken chatter or just late night existential loneliness.
On Campus East, there is only one 24 hour porter for all three colleges. Many of the Campus West colleges also all share one porter awake from 11pm-7am. This Christmas, the porter I was speaking to will be working on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, and New Years Eve.
All staff are important, however some are working safely from home. Some posts are emptier, getting paid great amounts to shake hands and fill a title. It takes a special sort of person with a special sort of patience to work through the night tending to first year University students, all year round.
Although there was a student protest in 2009, the porter said the Student Union is too busy recently to think about porters and voice to University authorities how important porters are to students. Whether you have called them to shut down a party, or had a better night sleep as a result of someone else doing so; whether you’ve confided in them, or even if just knowing they were there has made you feel a bit safer, we need to protect our porters.
11pm-7am is a dark window of time, and sometimes having a light on, where you know there is someone employed to be awake, is life-saving.