A recent article on the BBC website highlighted the fact that Oxford is the least affordable area to live in outside of London and given that, as I write this, I sit in three jumpers while an ominous looking patch of mould watches over me, you’d be forgiven for thinking that having a house just isn’t worth it. Nonetheless, living out provides you with a sense of Real Life; you can have parties and an oven. And as Michaelmas draws to a close the choice for freshers looms.
While your first year is clearly a time for being thrown into collective living and limited independence, and during your finals the priority for living conditions is usually as depressingly close to the library as possible, some colleges give students the chance to strike out on your own in those difficult inbetween years.
Once you’ve decided to hit the housing market this of course throws up the initial hurdle of finding people to live with, and then the larger show jump of finding a house. And then, of course, you can preoccupy yourselves with gas, electricity and broadband providers and who gets which room and whether you’re going to buy collective or individual spatulas.
Although it’s great being provided with three meals a day and heating, having social spaces like a proper kitchen, living room and a garden is something you don’t quite get in college – as well as having the independence to use (and decorate) them as you please. And there’s definitely no risk of being interrupted by angry porters or, worse, insomniac finalists.
Nonetheless, the cost of living in can be far cheaper, especially when it’s considered that you’re paying rent for 24 weeks rather than 52. Somerville student, Tess Little, said, ‘I chose to live in this year as my college had just built new accommodation, and it’s a lot cheaper rent wise, there are no bills to sort out, and I don’t have to deal with any difficult property companies. However, I’m finding it grating to share kitchens and bathrooms with such a huge amount of people for a second year, and it’s nice to be able to escape to friends’ houses to socialise or cook dinner.’
The housing charity Shelter has said that private rents are now unaffordable in 55% of local authorities in England. And given that we’re one of a very few universities that offer accommodation for the majority of our university lives it can seem like too good an offer to refuse.
On the phone to a friend at uni in Sheffield she remarked, ‘You think halls is like being a real person away from home but it’s actually a really warm, nicely insulated, safe holiday when all you have to worry about is remembering to eat. Wow, why did I leave?’
The fact is that at other, ‘normal’, universities most students only live in halls for the very first year and even then, most are in self-catered flats, which is far closer to living out than some Oxford pupils ever do.
For many people, the fun and experience of living in a house with friends is part of the reason for going to university and living in for your first year is just a stepping stone to this. Frankly, the real world is scary enough as it is so a year or two renting a house while in the safe confines of a university degree seems like a good place to start. And no matter how strenuous your workload, it’s important to learn how to deal with things like that now – because it’s probably only going to get harder.
Of course, living out brings its own unique set of challenges and horror stories that are definitely all part of ‘the experience’. After a few weeks of an odd smell in his room, one of my housemates discovered a pipe leading from toilet to his bathroom.
Thankfully our landlord, a man of many talents, kicked the pipe out and slapped on a bit of filler. Add to that the suspicious damp patches and a few exciting ventures into radiator bleeding – I won’t say it’s been an easy first term. On the upside there’s been roast dinners and a trampoline inherited from previous tenants.
Living out also gives you the chance to build a more permanent base at university and frees you from the tyranny of moving all your earthly belongings at the beginning and end of every term. And you can probably actually use blu tac and maybe even nails around the house, which is very exciting.
Over the course of this term I’ve found myself becoming increasingly house proud. From finding and rehabilitating a bookshelf to knocking up a few batches of soup; there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had in the domestic arena.
In my mind, living out at some point during your university career is one of the few things that stops Oxford from seeming like a boarding school. Eventually, we will all have to wake up, burst the bubble and learn how to clean the oven. And frankly, entering the real world with some semblance of what a water bill looks like can only help you on your way.
Yes, it’s a lot more complicated – but that’s life baby. And even though the heating bills soar and the damp just won’t go away, it’s home.
Cherwell’s Living Out Tips
Get in there early
Unashamedly pounce on the people you want to live with and don’t let go. Don’t feel sorry for people otherwise it’s gonna be one long year of silently gnawing your tongue away.
Learn to compromise
Arguments about where you as a house, collectively, are going to keep the ketchup can spiral viciously out of control.
Have a cleaning rota
Yes it is fussy and a little dictatorial but you will be so grateful. And I really do hate to break it to you but there will be no one to take out your bin. On the upside, however, you can bring people back without fear of that awkward knock in the morning while you both pretend to be asleep.
Don’t steal food
It’s not OK. Keep it up, and you may soon find yourself the receiver of angry post-it notes, that most diplomatic of conflict resolutions. Just go to Tesco.
Make friends with the neighbours
A little recycling banter certainly won’t go amiss when you next want to have a party.
Exploit your status
Wide-eyed freshers will be even more so when you offer them golden tickets to your pleasure-palace: nothing says cool like living out. House parties, dinner parties, coffee breaks; the house becomes an outrageously successful tool for social mobility.
Decoration, decoration, decoration
And when the paperwork is dealt with, the coterie established, and the warm sense of satisfaction starts to seep in, it’s time for the personal touch. Hit the markets, get original.