Sad times at Portsmouth Students' Union as key venues close and staff numbers slashed

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There is outrage among students at Portsmouth University after the sudden announcement that the students' union's two nightclub venues are to close at the end of the week, with the loss of up to fifty part- and full-time jobs, in order to make way for an alcohol-free "flexible learning space".

The University of Portsmouth and the students' union's charity, UPSU, have been in discussions on the future of the union's nightclub venues for more than two years. An internal briefing paper written in 2007 by then-president Chris Yorke, referring to a "third space", asked the UPSU's sabbatical team to consider how the union's venues could be repurposed.

Commentators have observed that the timing of the announcement, made in the last few days of the academic year and as the majority of students leave for the summer, is almost certainly a tactical move designed to hinder the organisation of opposition campaigns.

UPSU, the students' union's charity which is responsible for student representation at the university, claimed that students had requested the changes, stating on their website: "After a consultation exercise in 2008, students expressed a strong desire for a flexible learning space where they can work individually or in groups."

The article does not mention whether any further news was published regarding the changes before yesterday's announcement was made.

Students attempting to call for debate on the announcement at an EGM held in the students' union on Tuesday 2nd June have complained of not being allowed to have their say. A further emergency meeting has been scheduled for Friday 5th June, with opponents rallying support through social networking sites such as Facebook.

The union's main venue, the 1,200-capacity nightclub "Lux", has been the subject of vocal criticism of its redesign as a "white box" in the summer of 2005, after the failure of the union's trading company.

During this change, the Lux nightclub was redesigned as a multi-purpose space, with the room to be used as a lecture and examination hall during the day, and a nightclub venue at night.

However, the room's design was criticised by many as being too bare. Almost all fixtures and fittings were removed, with basic furniture including stools and benches replacing the seating features.

Despite these changes, the room was rarely used for academic purposes, standing empty during daytimes for much of the following years, or being used by clubs and societies as a training space.

With the closure of the two nightclub venues, which have seen a dwindling number of students attending following these refurbishments, only a downstairs bar and restaurant will remain, with the union's night-time capacity slashed from around 2,250 to 500.

It is understood that the remaining venue, "The Waterhole", will continue to operate with a small permanent staff team, supported by a small number of part-time student staff. Staff wishing to continue working for the union's trading company - UPEL - in the remaining positions are expected to have to reapply for their jobs.

The students' union's trading company - UPSU Trading - was placed into administration in the summer of 2005 after strugging to make a profit, with the operation of the union's trading activities being taken over by the University of Portsmouth company, UPEL.

Between the 2005 and 2008, one of the trading company's key positions - that of entertainments manager - was taken over by the security manager after the departure of Richard Dore-Dennis, who had run the venue's entertainments since 2004.

Marketing was similarly under-staffed, with no official position relating to the marketing of the union's trading company events.

A Facebook group has been set up to protest against the closures and to coordinate a campaign against the closures, and a number of students have demanded the calling of an EGM to put forward motions both against the closure, and against the students' union's handling of the announcement.
Further information

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