Student occupancy at the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theater is well underway, with students having already spent four nights in the building.
During the day, the building is open to all students who can enter and take part in many events and activities organized by the occupants, in collaboration with the Edinburgh Staff-Student Solidarity Network, Edinburgh Youth Resistance and Edinburgh University Justice for Palestine Society.
Occupying students made full use of the amphitheater, with designated areas for sleeping, storing food, and hosting events.
The Edinburgh Tab visited the space to see how the occupation is being handled, as well as to speak to those who have been living there since Friday evening.
Health and safety issues
One of the first things the occupiers showed us was their thorough Covid policy. Anyone staying day or night at Gordon Aikman is required to take a negative lateral flow test before entering, and the group has several boxes of CFLs on hand at the entrance.
Masks are recommended but not required for full-time attendees, but all students not staying in the building are required to wear masks during events.
On entering the amphitheater we were also told to scan a QR code for Covid contact tracing.
The biggest concern of the university management team, regardless of their profession, is fire safety. Anticipating that this would be a major source of conflict with the uni, the occupants recalled their policy in the event of a fire. Additionally, there is someone whose job it is to keep a tally of the numbers inside the building at all times.
The Covid and fire policy is taped to the wall near the main entrance.
Food and cleaning products
Although the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theater has a kitchen, occupants cannot access it as it is behind a locked door. This means that they relied on people who brought them food.
So far they have received food donations from multiple sources, including the Wanderers Kneaded pizza van and various staff at all levels.
Food is shared equally among everyone staying in the building and is kept on a table near the back entrance.
The group’s cleaning supplies are also kept here, with one of the college cleaners even unlocking a supply cabinet for their use.
How occupancy is managed
The occupiers tell The Edinburgh Tab that it is important that everyone is equal and that there is no hierarchy. This means that all decisions are made as a group and no one is seen as the “leader”.
In order to protect their identity vis-à-vis the university, all the participants chose a code name to call during the duration of the occupation.
Every morning, everyone must sign up for a cleaning chore before 10 a.m. on a whiteboard placed near the entrance. There is also the “anti-people-being-assholes team”, which is there to fight anyone who tries to stir up trouble or harass the occupiers. Earlier today, we were told that “a Holocaust denier walked in and tried to harass one of our Jewish members.” However, the situation quickly dissipated without any conflict breaking out.
Occupants also take turns guarding the gates, counting entrances/exits, and manning the booth outside for any curious passers-by.
The Gordon Aikman Lecture Theater is actually a bit of a maze, with many rooms hidden next to the real amphitheater.
As the building was designed for Fringe shows as well as university conferences, there is a small dance studio and shower room.
The occupants use the dance studio to organize events, such as an art space open daily from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
The main amphitheater is where the students sleep at night, and they’ve made full use of the big screen – using it to play Super Smash Bros on the Switch, among other things.
When we visited, students were also carrying on their academic work in the main theater as it was not being used for an event. However, many of the week’s events will take place inside the theater.
Another feature of the space is their art wall. Anyone who attends Open Art Hour can take their creation home or leave it at the growing gallery. Much of the artwork is a reflection of the causes supported by the group, but also serves to “brighten up the space and add more color”.
What’s it like to live inside the amphitheater
Speaking to The Edinburgh Tab, a student who spent all his nights inside Gordon Aikman said: “It’s an amazing space with a great vibe. We all became very close and formed a small community which was such a great experience.
“We all take responsibility for cleaning, organizing, helping, looking out for each other and making sure everything is peaceful and running smoothly.
“We had some great events and sparked some really crucial conversations about activism and how best to achieve the goals of the three groups that make up our coalition.
“We wanted to be an open and welcoming space for everyone, unlike some occupations in the past, and the sense of community we’ve created here has been amazing.”
Another student who has also been inside the building since Friday added: “The support we have received from people outside the occupation, such as some university staff, people working at the Covid testing center and other students and companies, has been brilliant”. .
Regarding the actual living conditions, one student admits: “Nights in the amphitheater can be quite cold, but it’s really not as bad as you might think.
“Things got better after the first night, as we took more steps to combat the hard floor of the amphitheater and the cold. On Saturday we asked our friends to drop off extra blankets and yoga mats which really made a difference.
The occupation is scheduled to last until Friday, and everyone is welcome to attend one of their events.
A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: ‘We support people’s right to protest lawfully and peacefully and work with students to keep them safe and provide for their basic needs.
“The University also has a duty to its wider community to keep any disruption to a minimum, and we are therefore working to move teaching and other relevant activities to other areas.
“We are listening to concerns about pensions, workload and wages. Many of the issues raised are common across the higher education sector and are negotiated at the national level. Where we could, we have implemented a number of initiatives to address aspects of the terms and conditions of employment of our staff.
Keep following The Edinburgh Tab for more updates as they come.
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