Lincoln’s cabin crisis? Life inside the bunkabins

There are many different types of accommodation on offer in Lincoln but none seem less desirable as those situated in the LPAC car park, now known as Festival Gardens.

We’ve all walked past and seen the residents who prefer to sit outside than inside their shared “bunkabins”.

We’ve tried not to stare, but thought ourselves lucky that we’ve got somewhere better to go home to.


The bunkabins might be small and uncomfortable, but there's a real sense of community spirit around Festival Gardens. Photo: Jonathan Cresswell

The week before moving to university can be stressful at the best of times, but around 200 students faced an unexpected problem this year – not knowing where they’ll live.

Abraham Parker was one of those students worried with the lack of information about where he’d move into.

He said: “I had no contact except from someone a week before, and I’d left quite a few messages saying please could you phone me in various stages of politeness.”

He and many others were relieved to receive an email from the university, promising them a “twin en-suite cabin”. They were told to just bring the essentials including a few clothes and bedding.

When new students started to arrive on Sunday, September 18th, the earlier felt relief turned into a number of different emotions for each resident.

Lyndsey, a first year history student, said: “I got an email saying I was sharing a twin cabin.”
She said she cried when she first saw her temporary accommodation, but said: “It was alright once I arrived and cleaned and bleached it all because it was dirty.”

Others have called the email, which described the “comfortable, fully serviced, ensuite twin cabins” as “funny”, discussing it in a sarcastic tone followed by laughter. Thirzah Wildman, spokesperson for the university, said the emails were “100% accurate”.

She said: “The cabins are a temporary solution for people who applied for accommodation at a late stage. They are merely one option and people are quite welcome to seek alternatives for themselves.”

When they first arrived, students didn’t seem too disheartened moving and many saw the funny side of it. Excitement of the adventure ahead seemed to outweigh most of their disappointment.

Matthew Grundy, a business and management student, said: “I was a bit gutted at first, but once you get here you’ve just got to get on with it and make do basically. Obviously they’re not fantastic living conditions, the bathroom’s small, I would like a kitchen.”


Matthew stands inside his bunkabin. Photo: Jamie Freshwater

Dean Dubbs, a film and television student, said he’s “happy that the uni has sorted out something in the first place”. He said: “It’s not that bad, it’s not the worst thing in the world.”

But the longer they stay, the thinner the novelty seems to be wearing. As discarded noodles and cigarette butts fill the increasingly muddy walkways in between cabins, students are becoming more annoyed at a whole list of issues.

Dance student Abraham Parker said: “People are living over the waste containers which don’t get collected very often and they smell quite badly. One room even started to overflow, coming out of the shower and stuff.”

Ed Portal, a biomedical science student, said that his “door had rotted through on the first two days”. Another student described her accommodation as “a bit grimy” and complained that she couldn’t even fit in her shower which didn’t drain.

A spokesperson for the university said: “A dedicated maintenance person and security guard are based at Festival Gardens. We’re providing things as people ask for them and have asked people for additional requests through their reps.”

Situated in the middle of a busy campus with the Engine Shed just a drunk stagger away, many students have complained about the noise from their cabins. On top of worries about security, a lack of space and even ear wigs invading cabins; it’s easy to see how some students are struggling to sleep at night.

But the most common complaint isn’t about the lack of sleep; it’s about the lack of options when it comes to eating.

Most students haven’t taken up the offer of two cooked meals a day with many saying that they don’t think it’s worth the £55 the university are asking. Instead, they’ve resorted to eating anything that can be prepared with a kettle or occasionally a microwave.

Lyndsey said that she “wouldn’t pay £55 a week” and was already annoyed that she had “to spend £30 a week already” for the cabin itself.

The university said that there has been low demand for the “heavily subsidised catering option” and will be withdrawing it unless demand increases.

Ed Portal said: “The only issue I have at the moment is food, I don’t mind living in a cabin but food is very expensive if you have to eat out or get takeaways every night.

“Food I think is the biggest issue that everyone has. A microwave is alright but I don’t want to spend the next year living off microwave meals.”

Adrian, a computer games production student, said: “You have to go into a different building to have toast or if you want to use a microwave. The only thing we have really is a kettle which we use to cook Pot Noodles with. It’s not bad to live in but it’s just a bit of a hassle.”

Students have struggled to prepare for lessons whilst they can’t access the internet from their cabins.
The university said it will cost £20,000 to make the internet available in Festival Gardens, and advised residents to work in the library nearby.

Since then, the university have considered subsidising the installation of the system if students agree to a £3 increase in rent per week towards costs.

But the problems aren’t just restricted to inside their 9ft by 9ft cabins. When students tried to register at the university’s student health centre, they were refused because they didn’t have a permanent address.
A university spokesperson said “there was a hold up of three or four days” but students can now register at student services.

Meetings have been set up and flyers have been handed out by the university, but it seems students still aren’t being told as much information as they would like. Residents say they often learn more from their regular security guard, Jill, than directly from the university, leaving many still wondering how long they’ll be in Festival Gardens for.

Forensic science student Jessica Steel has found it hard to contact the accommodation services directly. She said: “I keep ringing and we bug them because we need somewhere to stay.

“They just go ‘fill out this form, have you filled out one of these’. They’re very good at not answering questions.”

Adrian, a computer games production student, said he had “heard nothing” as he couldn’t go to the talk organised by the university during freshers’ week.

He said: “I don’t know how long I’ll be staying in here for; nobody’s said anything about what I need to do. I have no idea what’s happening.”

Ed Portal is another of those who claims to have heard “nothing at all” from the university. He said: “Realistically I’m looking at staying here till Christmas and no idea what I’m doing after that. I only know I’m here till Christmas because they’re building an art building here.”

The university held what they described as “a greatly publicised meeting” for students to raise issues, and “set up a Facebook group and issued two newsletters distributed to people’s doors” to alert people to it. They have provided students with a notice board after requests for a better method of communication.

Kayleigh Taylor, Welfare & Diversity officer at the Students’ Union, said: “I will be forming a group of reps that will meet with me every week and two or three of those reps will sit on the Accommodation Steering Group as well.

“It’s vital we have student representation on that group, but even more important that the residents in Festival Gardens are listened to and have a constructive place to voice concerns.”

Not everyone was critical of the communication, as Dean Dubbs said he’d heard “quite a lot” from the university staff. Dean is one of the lucky few that the university has found him a place for. He said: “But that’s because I keep bugging them to be fair and my mum’s a very shouty lady so she gets stuff done.”
On allocating accommodation, the university say “opportunities are being offered to the next person on the waiting list, in date and time order according to when they applied”.

They might not be hearing enough from the university, but residents are getting sick of some negative attention from fellow students. Handmade posters have been stuck on cabins by residents asking those walking past to stop staring and joking that they’ll start charging those who do.

Dean Dubbs said: “I was walking in front of a group of students who were making fun of it and as I walked in there was bursts of laughter. You can hear them make fun of the situation when they walk past.”
But some people have been more supportive of those in the cabins, with criminology students handing plates of sandwiches out around the temporary accommodation.

Despite the obvious lack of space and facilities, the real thing you notice when you walk into Festival Gardens is the sense of community. Living in such a tight space means people have made good friends, something most find more important than cooked meals and bigger beds.

That’s why the students we talked to don’t want to move into Delph Gardens, the secondary site of 40 cabins near the sports centre offering single occupancy for £60 per week.

They may not know when or where they’ll be moving, but they know someone who will help them with the boxes when the day comes.

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