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Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

The new student centre, as rendered in The Sims 2: University.The design process for UCL’s new student centre, a key part of the Bloomsbury masterplan and due to open in 2018, has been criticised for not actually taking students’ views into account. UCL Union’s role in the consultation process has been called into question, and it looks unlikely that a new café being built will be student run.

The student centre, being built opposite the still-shuttered Bloomsbury theatre, aims to alleviate College’s crushingly constrained study space.  The café set to open within, however, is expected to be run by a private company, likely current providers Sodexo – who also run a number of UK prisons (see CG 48) – although no decision has been made.  This would leave UCLU with control of just four of the 11 cafés and restaurants around UCL.

At a meeting of Union Council this month, third year Hebrew and Jewish studies student and perpetual thorn in the side of authority David Dahlborn put forward a motion demanding that the student centre be run for students, not for profit. He described the lack of transparency over the consultation process as a “monumental failure of the responsible Sabbatical Officers”.

The advantages of a UCLU run café would include part-time job opportunities for students, more revenue for clubs and societies and better value for money. Currently, a medium coffee costs 95p in UCLU’s George Farha café, whereas the cheapest equivalent coffee in the Sodexo run, generically named Café Aspretto is £1.45. In addition to this, UCLU cafés are bound to student-supported initiatives such as Meat Free Mondays.

Last month a Union source told The Cheese Grater that UCLU effectively felt discouraged from bidding to run the café, as there was little chance of them matching a private company’s offer.

Sustainability, Engagement and Operations Officer Mohammad Ali Mumtaz disputed this, telling The Cheese Grater that “we will definitely be bidding for it”, and slamming Sodexo’s cafés as “extortionate”. As the decision is yet to be taken though, any potential bid will likely fall to Mumtaz’s newly elected replacement Zakariya Mohran. Elected unopposed, Mohran’s manifesto conspicuously lacks any mention of the new student centre. Those with Café Aspretto loyalty cards would do well to hold on to them.