“I was looking forward to returning to Kaplan, as it had been my home while at uni. I was expecting to walk into my room for one final time and be filled with a sense of nostalgia and bitter-sweet sadness. Instead, I just ended up feeling disgusted and distressed.” – Cara Lambe
Kaplan living describes itself as “High-quality student accommodation… (with) Friendly and supportive management teams”. However residents at various locations have experienced the disposal of the entirety of their rooms, surcharges to have their belongings kept safe and even when these have been paid, expensive and sentimental items have gone missing.
Hannah Mullins had to return home from her studies at the University of Brighton as a graphic design student, due to the coronavirus, and she was informed her belongings would be safe until she could come back to collect them. However, after booking a slot to collect her items from her room last Thursday, she found that her room key did not work and once she did gain access to her room, she found out, devastatingly, that it was completely empty.
Her sister posted on Facebook that there were “childhood items in that room which now cannot be replaced”, but “most importantly her privacy completely invaded as someone has gone through her things without consent.” In the Facebook post, Hannah’s sister describes how the contents of Hannah’s room had been thrown away, including personal items such as bank statements, medication, and prescriptions. When Hannah questioned the staff about her belongings, they advised she could look through the bins, where she took videos of Kaplan carrying black bags containing university students’ belongings and piling them in the bin area. Other students have stated that Kaplan issued a £60 charge to keep their possessions safe, and that some items such as computers and cameras have still gone missing – paying this charge was the only option for some overseas students who could not come back to the UK to clear their rooms because of lockdown.
A spokesperson from Kaplan Living Brighton told the BBC:
“We have been working closely with students who returned home before the end of term due to the Covid-19 pandemic in order to arrange for them to collect their belongings.We became aware today that two rooms had been cleared in error and we are currently investigating how that could have happened.This should not have occurred, and we offer our sincere apologies to the two students affected. We have reached out to the two students affected and will of course compensate them for the loss of any items that have been cleared.”
But what Kaplan Living Brighton seems to forget is that more than two students were affected, and will need to be compensated. The students who have had all their belongings disposed will need to replace these items when the next academic term begins. They will need to replace all their living essentials in addition to university study materials, such as books and writing materials, which depending on the university course, can be very expensive. Hannah told the Argus, she has “lost over £4,000 worth of things, at least”. Although Kaplan has advised they will compensate for lost items, this of course, this does not cover sentimental items which hold little monetary value, and will never be able to be replaced.
Karina Mikityk, a Masters student in Illustration at the University of Brighton and hailing from Ukraine, is currently living a similar situation:
“I had to go back to Ukraine before lockdown started, and still haven’t been able to return to Brighton. In April, Kaplan Living told me that I would have 14 days after the end of lockdown to come and pick up my belongings, but they didn’t contact me since. I saw Hannah’s post on Facebook and then tried to contact Kaplan, but they have been really slow at answering me because they wanted to reach me through my phone – which I can’t use seeing as I am in Ukraine. When I finally got an email, they said they had “disposed of my belongings by mistake”. I have no idea what to do, mainly because 75% of the work I created for my MA has disappeared, and I am supposed to graduate in October”.
This incident highlights the problematic nature of student accommodation, whereby accommodation specifically for students is often very expensive and sometimes not up to standard – private student accommodation is very popular in Brighton, due to the lack of university provided accommodation for students.
We also talked with Cara Lambe, international student from Australia who walked in her room as it was being cleared out ;
“I don’t blame the cleaners (…) they were so apologetic and equally as confused as me. (…) I proceeded to search through bin bags for what I could find that wasn’t damaged – it was quite disgusting as there was mouldy food and garbage mixed in with my things. I have been in Australia since March and was worried something like this would happen, so I spoke to Jamie Bennett (the manager) and he personally agree that my belongings would be untouched until i came to collect them on the 17th of August. So naturally, I felt it was him that was to blame and phoned him to notify him of the situation. (…) He was entirely unapologetic and tried to pass the blame (…), showed no empathy toward my situation nor did he seem to worry that the same may have happened to other people in the building. (…) I emailed Jamie Bennett a list (of every item that was missing or damaged) on Wednesday the 19th and he has yet to reply. This was a huge invasion of privacy and some of the things that were damaged can just not be replaced. I count myself extremely lucky arriving when I did, and I can only imagine how upsetting it must be for Hannah and the other residents who have been affected”.
However, as some students have testified, it is only one problem in the midst of everything that has happened to them while living in the new building on Circus Street.
Ryan Robison, who lived on Circus Street between September 2019 and August 2020, has confirmed that the building was “not ready to be lived in” when they moved in ; “there were cracks in the walls and floorboards, leaks in the ceilings, and one of my friends did not have any outlets in her room. Another one didn’t have a window when she arrived – they put up a board and waited two months to finish it, promising her compensation that she never got”. Moreover, the security provided by the agency inside the building was suboptimal to say the least; “they hired two security guys, one of them who was selling drugs to the student. The other one got really intoxicated one night and went to students’ doors asking for drugs, following people into their rooms and trying to get with them – me being one of them! He followed me into my room and pushed me against the wall trying to kiss me – the company denied the whole thing”.
The University of Brighton’s ‘Big Build’ project, is planned to open in Summer 2021 and will consist of five new halls of residence with rooms for over 800 students with affordable rents – hopefully giving students more living options rather than having to rely on private accommodation companies, such as Kaplan.
All pictures by Holly Anne Mullins