The unique community that exists within Pantycelyn is very difficult to explain, but I think that providing you with a little of the background to the campaign to save this iconic hall of residence will help you to understand the importance of the building, not only to the university but to the whole of Wales.
The campaign started back in 2013, when the university decided, without much in the way of consultation, that Pantycelyn was to close down and that Welsh speaking students would be moved to a hall of residence that wasn't suitable to the needs of the community of students in question. These requirements are explained in a document which was produced in 2008, which stated that a self-catering hall with open corridors, rather than flats, was conducive to socialising in Welsh. Another important aspect of the hall is the social areas, such as the large lounge and the senior common room, which provides the Pantycelyn Aelwyd with a rehearsal space, as well as opportunities for political debates.
Throughout 2013-2014 a number of protests were held, many getting attention in the national media. During one such protest, the university's main entrance was blocked on an open day, and in mid-February, the Great Pantycelyn Rally was held, which included a march through town. These protests showed the importance of students' voices. The climax of the campaign came when 34 students threatened to go on hunger-strike. As a result of this, the university decided that Pantycelyn would not close its doors. The campaign was a success, a victory for the Welsh language and for the minority, which is something that doesn't happen too often.
But the university performed a U-turn in May 2015, when it was recommended that the hall would close, without any guarantees that it would reopen. This decision was seen as being insulting and deceitful on the part of the university, in the fact that it went behind the students' backs. This reignited the campaign, which attracted further media attention, and an early day motion was presented in Westminster encouraging the university to reconsider. A number of influential people offered us their support. At the end of term, a number of students occupied the hall, and the threat to hold a hunger-strike was made again, this time with more students threatening to do so. Following lengthy discussions with the university, agreement was reached at university council that the hall was to be refurbished within the next four years.
On the university's recommendation, the Pantycelyn project board was set up to create a report on the feasibility of renovating the building. The report which outlines the renovation plans has now been approved by the university. The project board is still operational, but their work now is to scrutinise every aspect of the hall's refurbishment. This year, the university has appointed Welsh architects and a Renovation Manager. The next steps in the refurbishment process is to approve the architects' detailed plans, and to ensure that the university keep their promise to finance the renovation process.
Students should keep a close watch on developments at Pantycelyn, as it represents the qualities that are associated with Aberystwyth students, the feeling of belonging to a community and the integral role the Welsh language has within the College by the Sea.
Pantycelyn gives young Welsh people a rare opportunity to live, and get involved, through the medium of Welsh. But these are uncertain times for the Welsh language community without a hall of residence, and it's more important than ever to keep the campaign to reopen Pantycelyn going. Pantycelyn holds a special place in the hearts of young Welsh speakers.
Even if you’re not a Welsh speaker, this hall of residence holds an important place in the hearts of many students, past and present, and is a huge part of the history of Aberystwyth University. We would encourage as many non-welsh speakers as possible to get involved with the campaign to re-open Pantycelyn, and to get involved with the work of UMCA (our Welsh speaking Students’ Union) to learn more about our Welsh culture and heritage, and learn the language for free. The rights of Welsh-speaking students are important to us at AberSU, and we will continue to fight for Pantycelyn and equality for both languages.