Kindred spirits in South Yorks

January 7, 2000

Far from being considered neighbours from hell, students are largely seen as a welcome addition to the local community, at least in Sheffield.

Steve Huckerby, studying for a joint geography-sociology PhD at Sheffield University, has been investigating attitudes to students in three areas close to the university, one middle class, one working class and one with a growing student population.

Mr Huckerby, who today presents his initial findings at the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers' annual conference at Sussex University, found only one in five locals showed hostility to students.

"This is the opposite of what almost everyone seems to have assumed," he said.

He used trained local people to conduct the interviews so that responses would be more forthright. This revealed a wide appreciation of the benefits a student population could bring, including the proliferation of all-night supermarkets and cafe-bars.

The majority of those interviewed had students living in the same street or as near neighbours. Research on attitudes to ethnic minorities has shown interviewees tend to stereotype groups but Mr Huckerby found this did not apply to students. Locals might be antagonised by noisy student neighbours, but did not then condemn students in general. Many people said they liked having students around because, for example, they babysat and made the streets seem safer at night.

"Even when they complain about old pizza cartons and beer cans lying around, there's a tendency not to blame the students but to say the council don't provide enough wheelie bins," Mr Huckerby said.

There is some disquiet over housing in the area, where properties are being snapped up by landlords to create student flats.

"But they don't blame the students. They blame private landlords for being greedy, and the university for not providing accommodation. They sympathise with students saying they are exploited with high rents and dilapidated accommodation."

Mr Huckerby speculates that locals who dislike living in a student area have moved out. But he also suggests that students may be better neighbours than they used to be, their Young Ones image superseded by financial pressures. "Perhaps student behaviour has changed because so many need to work part-time, not like the 1960s and 1970s when they had grants and could perhaps afford to stay up all night shouting and carrying on."

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