Sympathy for students

Barricades around halls of residences in Manchester

One particular evening a couple of years ago remains very clear in my memory. I was sat in a bar with my then nine-year son who told me he didn’t like pubs. When his mother joined us a short time later she consoled me with the opinion that I’d dragged him out, away from his beloved iPad, and this was the most hurtful comment he could throw at me. It worked.

What he’d fully recognised from a very young age was my love of the pub and the fact I not only spent far too much time in them, but also incessantly talked about them, and wrote about them at every opportunity.

My guess is that they won’t be quite so fundamental to his (and his teenage sister’s) lives because there are so many other things to be distracted by today (and who knows what new things are around the corner). They are also acutely aware that alcohol has its dark side and that health and fitness have much value. It seems to me there is a much more sensible – dare I say adult – relationship between younger people and alcohol than has been the case with their parents and my generation. 

It’s been interesting, therefore, to see younger people get such a bad rap recently – especially those entering university for the first time. Thinking back to the start of my time studying away from home, I have great sympathy for all those people struggling to fit in when they are trapped in their rooms under lock-ins, self-isolations and oddly defined bubbles. Lectures have also been largely confined to online for many young people. 

The mental health of many of these isolated youngsters in this formative period of their lives is of great concern. My own mental survival was dependent on very frequent visits to the student union bar and various other pubs. It’s where I met many of the people who became good friends. They made those very early days bearable and the period beyond extremely enjoyable.

On the back of confusing and often questionable lockdowns and imposed rules, today’s students have been unable to venture out and frequent the bars and restaurants of their adopted towns and cities with any great freedom. The knock-on effects on some of these locations and the hospitality businesses within them have been massive. Often these places lay almost dormant out of term time and then become buzzing trading areas when the students are back in town.

Under any circumstances, venues with a clientele that includes a younger audience invariably benefits from the buzz and vibrancy they inject. I’d suggest nobody, especially many older people, wants to be stuck in a place full of people with more miles on the clock than themselves. We should welcome the younger grouping’s presence and not banish them as demonic virus spreaders. 

To make matters worse, students have to pay full tuition fees, which is very different to back in my day when it was a free ride. This has led to even more students seeking work outside of their studying time. The obvious industry for them to target is hospitality. Under normal circumstances there would be abundant night shift and weekend working opportunities but this avenue has been cut off.

This grouping has, historically, not only been crucial in ensuring the hospitality industry can function operationally but also the money they earn has, to a large extent, been thrown straight back into the sector. This is an example of the circular economy if ever I’ve seen one.

We’ve all likely read about the number of positive covid-19 tests in locations containing universities increase considerably compared with other towns. There was sadly an element of inevitability about this but some of the ham-fisted restrictions imposed, including the pointless 10pm curfew, have undoubtedly fuelled things. Placing the blame for the flare-ups in numbers solely on the shoulders of this grouping is misconceived. 

Yes, there have been some examples of drunken behaviour on the streets of some city centres, which the media have feasted on and which has rather coincidentally all occurred around 10pm, but this has been very much the exception. It has, however, been used to castigate the hospitality industry for its irresponsibility and covid-19-spreading activity.

Far from being irresponsible, the industry just like that of the much-maligned younger generation is very much the opposite. To blame either camp is very much misplaced and they should instead be given a break before they do actually break.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.