The Free University of Sheffield was set up at the end of last year by a group of students and staff in Sheffield dedicated to organising for non-hierarchical and collectively run learning spaces. Our only event of the year was a day school type thing where we hosted a broad range of practical and academic workshops.
In the run-up to the free education demo in London on the 19th of November, the Free Uni started holding meetings and decided to hold actions in support of the broader movement. We decided on three demands for our management: i) lobby the government to scrap tuition fees, ii) instate a living wage for all members of staff, iii) Reverse the privatisation of university space including the Students’s Union building.
On the 3rd of December we occupied Inox Dine, which is a swanky as fuck restaurant recently built in the SU where they advertise champagne and business lunches at extortionate prices. We occupied at about 1200, and began to turn it from a private space into a public one that we proudly decreed the Free University of Sheffield. Security came in and tried to get us to leave, and tried tactics like taking pictures of us, denying us access to the toilets, and refusing access to others that wanted to join the occupation. Meanwhile the Inox management played the same Christmas song on repeat for 45 minutes in an attempt to annoy us into submission.
Despite this, at about 1300 people were allowed access to the building, and it wasn’t long before lots of students arrived, and we set about holding meetings, workshops, spreading the word, and making the space our own. This was perhaps the busiest and most vibrant that Inox has ever been! I can honestly say that the hours that followed were the most beautiful moments of student activism that I have ever participated in. In short, in that friendly and accessible space, anarchy – namely that spirit of egalitarian self-organisation and decentralised initiative – was ALIVE.
Sadly to say, however, it wasn’t permitted to last, and security locked down the space. They didn’t forcefully attempt to take it from us, but they did everything they could to stop the flow of supplies, and to ensure that no one else entered.
We stayed overnight, and the next day security put a lock and chain on the doors of the restaurant (contravening their own safety policy). A sit in took place outside the doors of the occupation which continued to grow throughout the day, and it included a lecturer whose students decided to hold their seminar there instead of the usual place, and a workshop on neoliberalism that was also received by skype on the other side of the doors. The occupiers stayed another night, and the last people left the besieged Free University – thus allowing it to degenerate back into the stupid restaurant it had been before – at midday, which brought the time it was occupied for to 48 hours.
Despite leaving, however, our spirits were very high. Regarding progress on our demands, we heard that our vice-chancellor and the rest of university management are looking into plans to lobby the government to scrap tuition fees, and a follow-up meeting will be taking place with an SU officer about the living wage next week.
Beyond this, in our leaving statement we asserted that this was the beginning rather than the end of our campaign, and (whilst I have heard this claimed falsely many times before) it seems to have turned out to be the honest truth. We have decided to attempt to produce a culture of peaceful civil disobedience intended to reclaim Inox as a study space and campaigning hub, and have recommended that people take part by studying, holding meetings, and eating their own food in the restaurant without asking Inox for permission. The first ‘study-in’ is looking to happen just after it opens again (after cleaning out the smell of freedom from the otherwise sterile restaurant).
Things are looking up in Sheffield!
Nice and concise press report:
(Forge Press) –
(The Free University of Sheffield) – https://www.facebook.com/thefreeuniversityofsheffield?fref=ts
(Inox Dine Study Space/Liberation Hub) –
Written by Kai from SAS