• Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

In conversation with EUTV’s Chloe Asquith: executive producer and editor of student housing documentary

ByIone Gildroy

Dec 18, 2022
An image of a presenter from EUTV interviewing a student living in the pollock halls common room

Edinburgh University Television (EUTV) recently released a three-part documentary series on the Edinburgh student housing crisis. Each of the three parts discusses a different theme – Student Stories, Responses from the University and the Council and Towards a Fairer Housing System

To find out more I sat down with Chloe Asquith, the President of EUTV, who produced and edited the documentary series. Chloe is a 4th year student studying Social Anthropology and Politics.

Ione: Why did you think it is important that this documentary was made now?

Chloe: There’s been a massive increase in the number of students on campus after the inflated grade year groups arriving after being affected by the pandemic. That means walking round campus you can definitely feel the increase in students which has a huge impact on making flats competitive. Although the housing crisis is national, Edinburgh faces particular issues due to the fringe taking over the city in August and the small size of the city. 

Personally I was affected by the housing crisis this year and found it significantly harder to secure housing in Edinburgh than any other year. I knew talking to people in lower year groups that they were already stressed in September about securing housing for next year – a process that usually begins around May in Edinburgh. That’s a huge shift from when I was in 1st year and I thought it was important to raise awareness of this anxiety before it was fully realised in semester 2. 

Ione: Were you surprised by the scale of the issue?

Chloe: Yes. I’m also surprised not a lot has been said about the crisis when its been happening for almost a year. I moved out of a four-bed flat in March of 2022 and was amazed the letting agent was able to raise the rent by £400pcm without changing anything to the flat. When I was then looking for a two-bed flat in about July I was amazed by how quickly flats were going. I had to quickly increase my budget and widen my search area. I’m aware of how fortunate I was to be able to do this and I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t. I knew it was a big issue due to how quickly flats were going – you couldn’t get a viewing if you hadn’t requested one within 5 minutes of an add being posted. I was amazed by how common bidding wars for poorly maintained flats were as well – I think there’s a real issue in the low standards many student flats are but that could be a whole separate documentary!

Ione: How receptive were the university to requests made by you to them?

Chloe: Colm Harmon is on the University of Edinburgh’s senior leadership team and was really receptive to the issues we spoke to him about. He was actually quite surprised that some things were issues but does seem open to adapting processes to support students more. Peter Mathieson wouldn’t be interviewed as part of the process as we were interviewing Colm already. I think the real problem is policy focus of the University remains on those who are in the guarantee for their accommodation and not in supporting students find private housing.

Ione: Have you received any response from the university?

Chloe: I sent the finished docuseries to Colm and he said he would share it amongst the senior leadership team – I don’t know whether this has happened though. Colm was positive about the piece though and I hope is going to work to change the policy the university has about housing.

Ione: What do you think the next steps are? 

Chloe: For the university I think they firstly need to be honest that due to there being more students, this crisis is going to be present for years. This can help prospective students who might be considering moving to Edinburgh for university and also help current students who may be returning from years abroad. I think there needs to be more support in helping students find private flats – be this the university working with letting agents or some kind of flat finding system. 

What definitely cannot happen again is allowing students to be homeless whilst searching for housing. A major issue with the crisis is that viewings were all in person – this makes it really difficult if you’re not in the city to look at housing. Students shouldn’t be living in hostels, hotels, airbnbs or sofa surfing whilst trying to go to viewings as this is all an added expense a lot of people cannot afford in the cost of living crisis. The university should be making sure students can access the hardship fund to afford emergency accommodation or should be providing proper temporary accommodation themselves (a private room, not a hostel style dorm at Pollock halls like they had this year). Allowing students to sofa surf during their studies has a really serious impact on their mental health and their studies as well.

The university also needs to work more with the council in ensuring that when policy is being made at a city level, students are a heard group within these decisions. The needs of students also need to be heard more in general – for example we spoke to the Student Housing Cooperative and saw a model that gives students a real sense of agency but this isn’t being recreated across the city. 

Ione: What effect do you hope the documentary can have?

Chloe: I really hope it firstly makes people who went through the housing crisis feel acknowledged in their struggle and know that they are not alone. It’s an awfully stressful thing to be looking for housing alongside studying full time and then also having other commitments like sport teams or societies. 

I also want more people to be aware of the scale of the issue so they don’t go into 2023’s housing search blind. Be aware of scams and how fast the process is – flats do go within hours of adverts being posted. A lot of students already renting in the private sector are expected to be staying in their current flats and this is going to make it harder for 1st year students or students returning from year abroad to secure accommodation. I don’t mean for this to add to the stress but I think students knowing that it is an intense process will help them going into it. 

Ione: How easy was it to get students to talk about the issues that they had faced in finding housing?

Chloe: It was fairly easy as everyone on the research team knew someone who had been affected in some way. I was really pleased we had a range of issues highlighted by our interviewees. For example Olivia is able to explain how as an international student without a UK guarantor there was an added hurdle for her. Veena was also able to talk about how as a postgraduate student who had just moved to the UK she didn’t anticipate this being an issue at all. The thing is if UK students like Layla and Genevieve can’t find housing with UK based guarantors, how is someone that has just moved here from abroad meant to? 

I wasn’t expecting the process of talking to decision makers to be so easy – stake holders at EUSA and the city council were quick to want to be involved in the project and for us to hear their perspective. Equally, different student groups linked to the crisis were happy to give their perspective – like Living Rent. Without a doubt, talking to Slurp was invaluable for the documentary piece due to the fact their survey about the housing crisis has had responses from over 700 students. This meant our documentary could show this was not a couple of students struggling to get housing but really was a city-wide problem affecting people across year groups and from a range of backgrounds.

Ione: What was the experience of making the documentary like?

Chloe: This was my first time executive producing a piece and it was a great experience. A lot of the team it was their first EUTV project and that was so exciting for me. One tricky thing we experienced was our equipment sometimes not working – for example we sometimes had mics not working during interviews so we had to adapt to this. It was also a very small editing team for our longest documentary yet so this made it a much bigger endeavour  – this lead to us splitting the interviews up into three separate episodes. I’ve worked on two other EUTV documentaries before the housing documentary about the mental health crisis and the spiking crisis. 

The worrying thing is that all three projects have similar conclusions: the University of Edinburgh is failing to communicate available support to students and services are thinly stretched because there are too many students experiencing these issues. 

You can watch the documentary series here.

Image via EUTV.

By Ione Gildroy

Former Deputy Editor-in-Chief Former News Editor