With student numbers ever increasing thanks to the foolish rapid expansion plans of both Falmouth and Exeter Universities, it is inevitable that town and gown relations are going to deteriorate in the coming months. Locals are at risk of being priced out of their own communities in both Penryn and Falmouth. For many, Falmouth has been a place where they have been born and bred. Imagine how you would feel if your home village/town/community was systematically altered by the addition of thousands of students in just a couple of years? We students like to be seen as saintly, but there is absolutely no doubt that we are having a massive impact on the local community, whether we like it or not.
I work in a shop in Falmouth, and we have a excellent rapport with our customers. I enjoy talking to our regulars, but they all talk of the issues the students are posing locally. Whether it is loud house parties, the odorous scent of marijuana on the streets or a fight after a wild night in Club I, we have to admit as a student body that we are part of this problem. For the most of us, and probably most of you reading this, these issues may seem like they belong to someone else. But they do. The locals see us as ‘students’ collectively, not singular, and perhaps this needs changing. Whilst they see (and hear) all about these issues, who is telling them about all the great work our students are doing? Other than Science in the Square, are we doing enough in the local community?
For a long time, our student community has asked a lot of the local community, and we’ve received a lot in return, thanks to the efforts of the FXU and other concerned bodies. We have cheaper bus fares, student discounts in lots of shops locally, plenty of houses are being converted for student accommodation and by and large, we have received a pretty good deal locally.
I argue, however, that the time has come to turn this on its head. To paraphrase a much better orator than I, ‘Ask not what this community can do for you, ask what you can do for this community’.
We have loads of student societies doing great things locally, but lets tell them about it. Let’s get the locals enthused about the great Green Living Project, and all the other things we are doing. At the moment we get to hear about our deficiencies in the local press, social media and in person, but isn’t this all they are hearing? We need to learn to celebrate and advertise our wonderful successes locally, and to make our community proud of what they do. Half the people I speak to in the shop literally have no idea that there are two universities on our campus; I hope you find that as shocking as I do. Importantly, we do have successes! We have some incredible artists on campus, amazing performances, world-class research, inspirational future leaders, a fantastically diverse community and some truly impressive feats from our various societies. Why don’t we actually make an effort to tell the locals this? Be it in a biannual event in the town hall, community events or press releases, this would be a step in the right direction.
Now I’m no grand marketing strategist, but I’d argue that the current strategy isn’t befitting the impact we are making on the local community, and this is something we need to work on.
We have some great volunteering schemes, but I strongly believe that it is time to create a ‘Falmouth Student Volunteer Corps’ for specific use within the Falmouth/Penryn community, as opposed to helping out on well known beauty spots around the county. Through the town council, the local press or a local forum, the local community should have the power to decide what said volunteer corps do. Perhaps cleaning a local stream, or helping out at a struggling local club; whatever the local community decides is most needed. It could even be improving a poorly-maintained area of Falmouth. We can do so much in this community that there is no need to stop there! How about society-sponsored sports competitions? A Town & Gown 10K charity race?
We need to commit to this community, and help dissolve the divide between students and locals. There will always be grumpy locals, in the same way that there will always be marijuana-toting students, but there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t challenge the current perception of us. Rather than seeing ourselves as part of the problem, we need to recognise that as a collective community, we are also the solution. Once we’ve realised this, perhaps the locals will begin to see what we are capable of too, and begin to be proud of what their local students can do for them.
It is time to stop ignoring the issues, and face them head on.
Only then will we see change.
More excitingly, we can make it happen.
(Nb. This isn’t to demean the efforts of our sabbatical officers, who have done a brilliant job in pretty tricky circumstances lately. This is what I think we should be doing on top of what we do already, and I really hope we do. If anything, this can only make the sabb officer jobs better, right)?!