Juliette Bains: Time to take a fresh look at new wave of city’s students

Students are a valuable asset to the city.
Students are a valuable asset to the city.
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seeing a bleary-eyed Bananaman slowly make his way across the road on my way to work this week, it suddenly dawned on me that it was that time of year again.

You know, when you have to queue for hours to get to the bar, when it’s perfectly normal to find yourself sitting next to the Village People and Pocahontas in the pub and when small groups of fresh-faced youngsters try and plot their way around the city centre for the first time like some kind of treasure hunt.

Yep, it’s Freshers’ Week, which means it’s also time for me to pine for my uni life and lament the fact my student days are well and truly over, while thousands of new students embark on what will probably be some of the most memorable years of their lives.

It feels like only yesterday I was walking in their (probably Jägerbomb-covered) shoes, but in reality it’s almost a decade ago now.

As a carefree fresher, with the student loan topping up my bank balance and only the price of a tequila to trouble me, it was a simpler time.

Nowadays, seeing such freshers around town looking sheepishly lost just makes me feel a bit, well, old.

For many people in Leeds though, Freshers’ Week doesn’t spark the same wistful nostalgia that it does for me.

For every person who welcomes the latest influx of excitable academics with open arms, there’s another wishing that it was the end of term already.

In Headingley and Hyde Park for example, students polarise opinion like nowhere else in the city.

There’s an ever-precarious balance between the students who arrive en masse every September in search of cheap housing and cheaper booze, and the long-term residents who feel marginalised in the community they call home year in, year out.

That has invariably and understandably led to the area being something of a hornet’s nest, with late night parties and noise nuisance a regular issue for residents.

But love them or hate them, I’m afraid there’s no denying the boost that students give to the city – not just academically but economically.

Obviously, students are an absolute cornerstone of the city’s nightlife and have helped cement Leeds as one of the north’s best places to party.

Whilst most of us enjoy a night out at the weekend, almost all the bars and clubs in town rely on student nights during the week to bring in the money they need to stay open.

Take The Cockpit, for example, which closed recently after 20 years in business.

The venue cited dwindling student numbers at clubnights as a contributing factor to its closure, proving that making money from gigs alone isn’t really enough to cut it any more.

But the contribution that students make certainly doesn’t begin and end with our numerous nightspots.

OK, they may start out seeing how many shots they can consume on a night out, but when the dust settles and they’ve done their degrees, many of those who study in Leeds decide to stay and take up jobs in key roles within the business, arts and education sectors.

Some of my university friends for example are now doctors, stockbrokers, graphic designers and teachers in the city, using the skills they developed in Leeds to help Leeds people.

As annoying as it may be to see the hordes of freshers descend on the city, it’s important to take note of just how vital they are to a place like Leeds. Fine, maybe next time you drive past a fresher in fancy dress, it might be too much to ask that you don’t roll your eyes.

But just think, in a few short years, they’ll probably be doing the same as they make their way to work.

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