Written by Laura May Bailey
Studying in the middle of a global pandemic is challenging for any student, but for those living in Nixon Court, there are more challenges than they signed up for. Since moving to the university accommodation block in autumn 2020, students have had to endure sometimes over ten hours of loud construction noise every day.
I spoke with Isabelle*, Zoe* and Ella about the impact this is having, or has had, on their studies, mental health and overall attitudes to the Accommodation Services. Isabelle and Zoe currently live and study in two different blocks of Nixon Court, while Ella was a resident in the 2018-19 academic year when construction and demolition work first began. On the accommodation website, there is a warning about “some building works” being undertaken to “refresh buildings and develop new accommodation,” with a stated aim to “cause as little disruption as possible.” The noisy works are stated to take place between 9am and 5pm. When I reached out to the services team, I was told they aim to “minimise disruption” and gave a different set of hours, 8am to 5pm. Students needing quiet spaces to work or with concerns were told to contact the accommodation team.
The discrepancy in working hours goes further than the difference between those listed on the website and in the email. Zoe reported hearing disruption from at least 8am to 6pm most days. Isabelle even found that around 7am she can “hear the vehicles operating with a loud siren” which continues beyond 5pm. Even in 2019, Ella recalls that noise occurred outside of the hours Accommodation Services stated. “Regardless,” she reasoned, “loud construction at 8am in student accommodation is criminal.”
These long and unpredictable hours cause further is disruption to study at a time when many alternate study spaces are closed. Isabelle reported having to often shut her window and use earphones “the whole day when [she] has online classes” as classmates can “hear noise from their side” which overlap with her voice when answering or asking questions.
Zoe had similar concerns, finding it “incredibly hard to focus on classes or schoolwork” and “almost impossible to contribute during lessons” due to the level of background noise. Despite often wearing noise-cancelling headphones, sound from the nearby building site is still a significant interruption.
Ella, a final year student, lived in Nixon Court during her first year at Leicester, and experienced disruption from the construction site for the last few months of her tenancy. Despite having less classes online and having access to more campus facilities, she had a similar experience. The noise and long working hours of the building site were “really disruptive” to her sleep schedule which impacted her “mental health, ability to focus, and general well-being.”
This impact on mental health is an issue the other students also raised. Isabelle has found the “continuous noise makes [her] feel anxious all the time and angry sometimes,” even suffering from serious headaches. The siren noises especially has made her feel “sick and uncomfortable.”
Similarly, Zoe expressed how it has been “nearly impossible to relax or focus on tasks,” which is unsurprising when sometimes the noise gets so loud that the walls of her room vibrate. Her sleep schedule has also been affected by the noise because “the evening is the only time when [she] can try to get uninterrupted work done.”
While the warnings I mentioned above were in place when Zoe and Isabelle were choosing to live in Nixon Court, Ella was told seven months into her tenancy that there would be building works. The email she received from Accommodation Services “indicated that [she] had already been aware of this planned work and it’s disturbances prior to accepting to live at Nixon Court.” However, she doesn’t recall this warning and argues that the severe level of disruption during
the final months of her tenancy should have been reflected in rent reductions. Paying over £100 a week for a room with “demolition going on right outside [her] window” was not acceptable.
Zoe also been in contact with the Services, but told me how her “concerns have largely been brushed off.” Given the number of complaints to the office, she feels that “the Accommodation seems unwilling to take steps to improve the quality of life for students […] or to even acknowledge how difficult it can be.” She feels “resigned to the fact that [she’s] stuck” at Nixon Court until the end of her tenancy, but is “so fed up that [she] couldn’t recommend living in University-run accommodation at all.”
This negative impression extends as far as the university as a whole for Zoe; “asking students to pay full fees to live beside a massive active construction site is unfathomable.” While Isabelle has also not received active support from the Accommodation Services, she is slightly more positive about the university, especially of the support from her personal tutor.
From causing headaches and anxiety, to disrupting study and sleep schedules, the impact of this constant and inescapable construction noise is having dire effects on the physical and mental health of Nixon Court residents. It has been a problem since before the pandemic but current residents are less able to leave their rooms and find other spaces of peace and quiet. My overwhelming impression from talking to these students is that they feel frustrated and ignored, their wellbeing not taken into account at a time when students are already facing an impossible struggle.
*Names have been changed on request of the students.
Laura May Bailey is a master’s student of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. As well as having a passion for museums, she is also interested in traveling, history, and literature. You can find her on Instagram here: @laura_may_bee
Photos taken by Laura May Bailey