Protesters occupy Bristol University's Wills Memorial building - and they plan to stay 'for days'

Barricade made by students occupying the wills memorial building
Twelve students have occupied the Great Hall in Bristol University's Wills Memorial building. Credit: Anna Greene

A dozen students are occupying Bristol University's Wills Memorial building - and say they plan to stay there for "at least three days".

The group of 12 students are staging the protest to coincide with staff striking over pay and pension disputes.

This week marks the third round of action being taken by dozens of universities across the country supported by the University and College Union (UCU).

From today (February 28) until Wednesday (March 2), staff at 63 universities - including the University of Bristol - are walking out in protest, with a student strike also planned for the final day by the National Union of Students (NUS).

To raise more awareness of the ongoing dispute, Bristol students began occupying the iconic Wills Memorial Building in the city centre this morning.

One of the students involved in the occupation, who wishes to remain anonymous, spoke to ITV News West Country and said they are "in it for the long haul".

  • Occupiers say security staff tried to force open one of the locked doors with an angle grinder. Video credit: Anna Greene

He said: "We are doing this is solidarity with the staff and really hope we can help to make a difference.

"Our demands are in line with those raised by the UCU but also to protect staff taking part in the strikes.

"Security staff threatened to call the police when we began occupying, but they haven't so far and staff have become much more cooperative as the day has gone on.

"They are now providing us with bin bags and access to the toilets and running water.

"It's actually kind of lovely."

The student's demands have been displayed on a projector in the building. Credit: Anna Greene

What are the demands of the student occupation?

  • No repercussions for the occupiers

  • Reverse the decision to withhold pay from staff working to contract (not working overtime, not covering for absent colleagues not undertaking voluntary activities)

  • Back the UCU proposals to pension plans

  • Spread staff's 'Strike Day' pay losses across 12 months of payslips instead of one wage

The students say their initial plans are to occupy the building for the three days of strike action, but they say if demands are not being met they are happy to stay there longer and have the provisions in place to do so.

When asked if they thought the occupation would work, one student said: "We hope so, especially since the ECU and the universities are in talks over pensions and the other demands are more easily met.

"Though we haven't heard from university management at all, no one has tried to talk to us today."

Bristol University has said it is "aware" that students are occupying the Great Hall.

Despite the seriousness of the issue they are fighting to change, the 12 students say they have settled in nicely to their temporary new neo-Gothic home.

"It's just us students in here and we're in pretty high spirits, we've got quite a few chess boards and access to a projector, and we've managed to get some music on.

"Staff who are striking have already reached out to us to ask if there's anything we need as supplies are now being sent through to us.

"One even has a spreadsheet they've shared where we can put requests for anything we might need, so I think they're all happy and supportive of the occupation."

In response to the occupation, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We are aware that students are currently occupying the Great Hall in the Wills Memorial Building.

“The action follows similar occupations at several other universities in which students are supporting the ongoing industrial action by lecturers and academic staff which is part of a complex national dispute over staff pay and pensions.

“Students have access to toilets and amenities.

"We have never taken action against students for peaceful occupation and will not do so in this case.”