A rainbow over Rutland, a catered student hall. The top of the spire appears to be touching the rainbow.

August 4, 2023, by Lauren

Catered or self-catered halls? (Interview)

When choosing UoN accommodation, catered or self-catered is a key question. But if you’re currently looking at halls, you’ve probably found that there’s no straight answer. A lot of the practicalities are hard to know about before you’ve actually lived in halls.

To help you with your decision, two current UoN students, Florence and Toby, joined me to share their experiences of catered and self-catered accommodation. Click here to see a map of University Park, the main campus.

So, if you want to just introduce yourselves?

Toby: I’m Toby. I am about to be a third-year English with Creative writing student. I spent my first year over on Jubilee campus in Newark Hall and this year I have been in Rutland Hall on main campus. These were both catered.

Florence: I’m Florence and I’m studying English. I just finished my first year, and I spent it in Broadgate Park, which is self-catered.

Ok, what made you choose your hall?

Florence: Choosing Broadgate Park came down to it being cheaper than the catered on-campus accommodation. My student loan could not cover catered halls, but Broadgate Park is still within the campus bubble. I also thought it was important to learn to cook for myself and gain independence.

Toby: The distance to my classes. First year I got in there late, so I ended up on Jubilee campus as that’s what they had available. Jubilee is where the Education, Business and Computer Science buildings are. English lectures and seminars are on main campus, so I had to wander over from Jubilee every day. Second year, I moved to Rutland Hall on main campus.

There have been occasions where I have overslept for some reason and woken up five minutes before my lecture. Getting to main campus from Jubilee in five minutes? Forget about it. You’re never making it. You’ve already missed the Hopper bus at that point. From Rutland Hall, it’s totally fine. I can get to my seminars in less than 10 minutes and my lectures in less than 5.

What do you wish you’d known before choosing your hall?

Florence: I really wish I’d known how the laundry system worked and about the potential noise levels in halls. I think Broadgate Park is the largest University of Nottingham student accommodation. But you really don’t understand how noisy it can be until you live here. There’s a designated quiet zone though, Albion House, which is slightly set off from Broadgate Park. Lincoln Hall is the quiet zone on campus.

Anyway, you’ll find that you can just shut the door on anybody who’s being a bit of a nuisance, and I’ve got a little peephole in my door to look through. The ResX team is also a very useful phone number when there are any disturbances. And students might be noisy earlier in the night when they’re doing pre-drinks, but they do actually plan on leaving. So, it will end eventually!

Toby: On Jubilee campus, the Hopper bus to main campus was very useful, but I wish I’d known that the one that goes before the hour is incredibly busy. If you ever played the hit game ‘Sardines’, it’s something akin to that experience. I realised it was better to go half an hour earlier and be able to get a seat.

In Rutland Hall, I wish I’d known the £25 a week on the meal card does not roll over to the next week. Across the year there were little amounts that I forgot to spend, like if it was Sunday and I didn’t get to Spar in time because it closes earlier.

I’d like to know where you get your food from. Like specific shops, how close are they to you and how expensive are they?

Toby: I try to use up the £25 weekly meal card first, as it’s from the money that you pay for accommodation. You can use it at lots of places on campus. For lunch, you’ve got Subway and other places upstairs (in the Portland building), and there are tea and coffee places all over campus. But going to cafés everyday will burn through that £25 incredibly quickly.

Spar is where I buy the bare necessities for my room, like cold meats, bread and fruit. But choose wisely in Spar, as some of their prices are very high. You also need to carefully stretch that money as far as you can before it resets on Monday. Make sure you always go to breakfast and dinner in halls, as that’s free for catered students. If you run out of meal card, there is Beeston Big Tesco. It’s about two tram stops away, and most on-campus halls are within about 5 minutes from a tram stop.

Florence: Broadgate Park is self-catered, so I had to learn to cook for myself. There is, of course, Beeston Big Tesco and they have amazing Lego set discounts in there surprisingly. But for a full food shop, Tesco is very pricey. I only go there for a few things that I can’t find anywhere else.

So, I go out a little further and get my weekly food shop from the Lidl on Wollaton Road, also in Beeston. Even at Lidl though, prices are going up like everywhere else and I’m now spending more but getting less. So, within the £20 I spend on a weekly shop, that includes a lot of batch cooking to stretch that budget.

How do you store food in your rooms? Toby, you’ve got a fridge. How do you utilise that?

Toby: The fridge is good to have. It’s never been too obtrusive because it just sits politely under your desk. Just don’t store things directly below the icebox in the top right corner since it can be kind of wet. If you leave food touching the icebox, it’ll get wet, and any cardboard packaging will be dripped on.

Yeah. You also take the fridge tray out.

Toby: Yes, so you can stand milk and other large drinks up properly. You can put tall stuff in the door, but that gets full quickly. Then drinks have to go sideways on the shelves, which uses up space. So, I remove the shelf and stand the bottles up. To maximise fridge space, if you have like, two bottles of Pepsi, maybe only keep one in the fridge.

Florence, you have a fridge and a freezer – how do you use that storage?

Florence: My room is an ensuite studio, so I have my own bathroom and kitchen. The neatly tucked away kitchen area is rather nice. It has a couple of cupboards for storing dry foods. There’s the microwave with a shelf above that for storage. I do have a fridge, and it has a freezer compartment on top rather than at the bottom, which is strange.

I keep my chicken and any sort of sauces, butter, milk in the fridge as well as vegetables. During the week, I keep fruit in a little metal bowl. At first, I used the freezer a lot, but nowadays I just keep everything in the fridge, because it works just as well. I have lots of containers to store batch cooked things like pasta in the fridge, which is very useful. Nothing’s ever really been faulty. When I’ve had problems with the sinks, I’ve been able to file a report on the Home at Halls app explaining the problem.

Florence, what do you usually do for lunch? It must be expensive to buy food on campus without a meal card – do you take a packed lunch or something?

Florence: Yes, the food on campus without a meal card is very expensive. I think there was only one time I bought Subway and that was because I had some left-over student loan! Every day, I make a packed lunch with ingredients bought from Lidl. When I make a meal plan for the week, I include lunches. It’s usually a sandwich, piece of fruit, yoghurt, snack bar, packet of crisps.

Taking that on campus every day saves a lot of money – the cheapest loaf of bread from Lidl is only about 40 pence. Food preparation doesn’t take terribly long, but if I’m making something like couscous and a bit of a salad for my lunch, I’ll make it the night before. Otherwise, I might spend about 10 to 15 minutes in the morning making a lunchbox.

Toby, how do you tend to do lunch in catered halls?

You also mentioned fruit. I’m thinking ‘When does this man eat fruit?’

Toby: I’m sorry, am I not allowed to like an apple nowadays?

You have apples that just sit on your shelf to look at.

Toby: I’m going to start being an unreliable narrator now. Did you actually have a question? Did you just want to insult me?

I had a question: lunch. How do you do it? And there are specific meal times in catered halls – how do you manage those?

Toby: I buy a Subway every Monday, so I allocate some meal card for that. Mostly, I buy a lot of small things from Spar at the start of the week to make lunches with. Spar stocks a reasonable selection of cheap cold things. Ham, pepperoni, various meats, lots of fruit. I try to plan my meal card spending for the week. A loaf of bread and some pepperoni will make six or seven pepperoni sandwiches for about £2.00, which is not too bad.

In terms of breakfast, I just go when I wake up. For dinner in halls, I always go at the beginning (5 o’clock) so I can find somewhere nice and quiet. Large friendship groups form at the beginning of the year, and they usually sit at the same tables each night. So, if you perhaps want to sit alone or your friends aren’t there today for whatever reason, maybe they’ve got lectures going on at that time, it’s best to go at the start. The queue is also minimal at the beginning – going at about 6 o’clock means joining a large queue.

How easy is it to meet people when you live in self-catered halls?

Florence: In Broadgate, it depends on the type of room you have. There are shared rooms, shared kitchens, private kitchens, flat shares, ensuite studios. Initially, it was more challenging for me to socialise because I don’t have a shared kitchen. In my corridor, we all had everything we needed just in one room, so there was almost no reason for any of us to leave our rooms.

That was tackled by the ResX team. They often run events for anybody in student accommodation to attend. I’ve been to a few of the craft evenings and they’re really good, as they’re student-run. Personally, I found the ResX events a little bit daunting at first because people often show up in groups. But as the year so goes on, you will start to make friends on your course and on campus anyway.

Toby, how easy is it to meet people in catered halls?

Toby: In first year, it was initially difficult for me because Jubilee campus was not really the right place for an English student. Jubilee is where the Computing, Business and Education buildings are, and they also put a lot of the international students over there. So, I faced an active barrier either due to language and culture, or degree subject.

However, I was lucky that there was a well-established Role-Playing and Wargames society. I ended up finding friends through that group, and some other societies. Second year was much easier, as I had more in common with students in main campus halls and I lived next door to another English student. So, I actually hung out with my neighbours outside of just the basic passing in the corridor.

Whichever hall you’re in, you will be forced to socialise with your neighbours though because everyone has to come outside for the fire alarm. You will get used to that fire alarm sound. Everyone comes outside and natters. Corridors actually function as a kind of social space too, when people are getting ready for or coming back from a night out. Even if you do not necessarily wish to spend time with your neighbours, you will, because you will hear many things.

There is the number you can call for the Welcome Point’s security team.

Toby: There is the number, and they have they have dispersed some of the louder groups when summoned. So you can come to them for help if you need it. They do follow through. They’re very useful.

So what are the social spaces like in your halls and do you use them? I’m guessing that the dining hall is also kind of a social space in catered halls?

Florence: Broadgate Park’s main social space is The Courtyard. It was under construction still when we first arrived, but it’s really lovely. It is an indoor space and it’s very large. There’s lots of lovely sofas, chairs, and plenty of desks as well to get some work done. There are some retro arcade machines in there as well. It’s also where the Friday brunch is held by ResX from 10 till 12, for all Broadgate residents. It’s completely free and there’s lots of breakfast stuff, like pastries, yoghurt, cereal, juice, porridge. I found it a great way to meet other students. Actually, it’s still running now because there are enough students staying in Broadgate over the summer.

Toby: The dining hall I primarily used for, unsurprisingly, eating. I never really used it as a social space, but you definitely can. I’ve met a lot of people who said they just sat down on a table in the first week with some strangers and they ended up sharing that table with those people every night and became great friends with them.

Rutland has a sort of conical library, a study bar, and a common room with sofas and a big television. Those spaces are a convenient way to meet people at the start of the year because everyone gravitates to them to socialise. After that, the social spaces get used a bit less because people start meeting others on their courses – it does mean the spaces get less crowded though.

How close are you to important things like bus and tram stops, and Beeston Big Tesco?

Florence: I’m about a 20 minute walk from the Lidl on Wollaton Road, so that’s very useful. The Beeston high street is maybe 10 minutes away and has a lot of good shops. Since I’m very close  to the University Boulevard tram stop, I can get into the city pretty quickly.

The tram is absolutely amazing to go into the city centre, though it only runs till midnight. You can get to Lace Market or Old Market Square very easily. I’m able to get to my favourite game stores in the city centre easily. The buses are good too. The number 34 bus has a stop on campus and goes into the city centre. There’s lots of bus stops around near me and of course, the Co-Op is around the corner. I’d say Broadgate Park is in a very good position to get to get to places.

Toby: The libraries are really close which has been perfect because it means I can wander up to Hallward library, do one or two hours of work in an evening and wander back. If I was living off campus, it would be an entire waste of time to go back to campus again in the evening just to use the library.

So my last question is, do you stay out of your room all day or keep coming back to it?

Florence: Broadgate Park is very close to the University Park campus, but it’s not ideal to go there and back during the day if you’ve got lectures and seminars going on. From Hallward library, it’s probably a 10 to 15 minute walk and it would waste time to do that several times a day. It’s very easy to get distracted in your room too, whereas if I stay on campus during the day, I know I’ll be getting work done.

There are lots of libraries on campus, but Hallward is my favourite. It’s an incredible environment, especially the top floor with all the English books. I have often spent several hours getting really invested in something up there. Luckily, I also volunteer at the university radio station, so I get access to their office spaces in the Portland building. These aren’t official study spaces, but if the podcast recording room is empty, I find that a great room for getting work done. When I need a break, I can come out for a chat with the people in the main office. So, there are plenty of good spaces for getting work done on campus.

Toby: I tend to work in the evening, so a while after dinner, I leave my room again to find a study space. I usually go to Hallward library, which is only five minutes from Rutland. The top floor of Hallward library is always very quiet after 7pm, so that’s a good place to work. Because of the short walk, even if it’s chucking it down, you won’t get too damp on the way there.

It feels a lot more worth visiting the library when you’re so close to it. If I have a two-hour break between lectures or something, I can very easily return to my room for a break or do some work in there. Often, the benches around campus are very busy around lunchtime, so I sometimes drop into my room for lunch just so I can sit down.

Any final thoughts?

Florence: I felt that my experience wasn’t like the typical university advert where a student arrives in halls and immediately finds their ‘people.’ But after a couple of months, I did start to find the people that I enjoyed spending time with. And I’m now even living with them for my second academic year!

Toby: Living in catered halls on campus is really convenient. And if you’re just arriving there in first year, it’s unlikely that you’re not going to be able to click with some people in your halls. I got put next door to another English student, probably on purpose. It doesn’t necessarily feel like home, but it’s not a bad imitation of it. You should at least be comfortable wherever you end up. And if there’s noise, just shut the door on them.

Thanks very much for your time, Toby and Florence, it was fantastic to chat to you both! You can find Toby’s poetry here, and Florence’s here.


Posted in Lauren