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By Zack Whittaker on 14.7.2023

Do we treat Canterbury as a holiday home?

I spent last Friday evening in a pub in St. Dunstan’s with a close friend, mulling over life’s luxuries and superfluities over an anything-but-quiet pint in the courtyard. We were smoking, laughing and reminiscing about our lives over the past two years here in Canterbury. After observing the rabble of working class punters; pub golfers and irate businessmen looking perplexed at the sight of everybody else, we realised we could well be the only students in this establishment.

Where had all the students gone? Our friends, missing in action, absent without leave, disappeared into the night to spread themselves across the world to their respective childhood homes. Why were we the only ones left behind? Do we hate our families that much?

Prospective students heading to university apply for different reasons; further career advancements, to meet new people or, in some cases, to escape from a past and a community left sullied by their own presence. Although it is almost certainly difficult for parents to see their offspring fly the nest, by releasing their children into the world, they hope that they will see them fend for themselves, fight their own battles and simply grow up. How can this be when they spend the vast part of the year in the city they choose, and spend the remaining time at home being waited upon hand and foot by their mothers, who are just glad to see them anything but malnourished or rotting away from a sexually transmitted infection?

There have been recent controversies splattered across Canterbury’s other newspapers and online media of students’ behaviour off-campus, and the effects permanent residents living in the city suffer as a result, which saw recently departed union president, Tom Christian, trying to defend during his final weeks of office.

This little city has been my permanent residence for two years. I moved out of my home in north Nottinghamshire a week before my nineteenth birthday, on the day I settled into Tyler Court on the university campus. Even though I have plenty to go ‘home’ for – my godchildren, my family, my friends and the fact we have one of the highest pub-to-people ratios in the country – Canterbury is where I belong now.

But most students don’t see it this way. Standing on their own two feet in most students’ eyes is battling their way through their student loans on alcohol consumption and night-time entertainment. Yes, this is fun and in no way do I suggest this should stop, but going home every few weeks at the end of term does not constitute holding your own weight, standing on your own two feet or paying your own way through life. I vaguely recall the story of a student I spent a number of my precious hours with last year, finding it cheaper and more convenient to travel sixty miles home to have their mother do their laundry.

To some extent, it seems those who are funding their own way through university with little or no help from their parents are indeed the ones staying behind in Canterbury this summer. With friends of mine spending almost every waking hour working in pubs, shops, warehouses and on campus to pay for their continuing rent, it seems only them, the students studying postgraduate degrees and the incumbent sabbatical team are staying for the summer.

You would be right to consider Canterbury very much a student-oriented city. The local economy has evolved to accept the student population and would suffer to survive without you passing on your student loans to the shops. Equally, the numbers in job vacancies are rising due to the mass exodus of students leaving the city and not being able to maintain their work commitments over the summer months. With many of my friends struggling to find work at home, the city they call home for most of the year is calling out, screaming almost, for students to return to fill the vacancies.

And it’s not as if there is nothing to do around here. For those who think Canterbury sticks to its stereotype for being an old, dusty place for pensioners to live out their final days, historians and archaeologists sweating over their artefacts and tourists swarming the streets to take a look at the landmarks mentioned in a book an old crusty bloke wrote some centuries ago, you wouldn’t be wrong per se. Students meet other students, and the collective students often make their own fun. With the addition of alcohol and loud music, this place is what you want to make of it. The clubs and bars are still open, the weather is fantastic by the most part, and the sea front is only about fifteen miles in every direction bar east.

Leaving for university shouldn’t just be leaving a place for a few years to study and to then return home. It is a perfect opportunity to say goodbye to rules, curfews, limited moving space and nagging parents. Leaving home, even using a perfect excuse of ‘studying at university’ is a privilege rather than a right. You picked Canterbury for a reason. Whatever the reason, remember it and hold it close to your heart because for the next few years at least, this is your home no matter what.

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