Self-isolating Edinburgh students 'going hungry' as food delivered late

Students in isolation at Edinburgh University have complained they are ‘going hungry’ as food delivered to catered accommodation arrives late or violates their religious dietary requirements.

By Elsa Maishman
Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 9:47 am
Food delivered to students at Pollock Halls.
Food delivered to students at Pollock Halls.

Students who are in catered accommodation but are self-isolating have been told to stay in their rooms, with food being delivered to them on behalf of the university.

But many have complained that often no food arrives until mid afternoon, leaving them hungry, while others say they have been missing meals as the food delivered does not fit their religious requirements.

“Meals have been very inconsistent from the university. People in our house have been missing dinners and breakfasts, they haven’t been delivered the meals that they are supposed to be getting in isolation. And they’re going hungry because they haven’t been fed,” said Darcy Culverhouse, 18, who is staying in catered accommodation in Pollock Halls at Edinburgh University.

Darcy Culverhouse, 18, said meals from the university had been 'very inconsistent'.

"It’s a bit difficult at the moment, and as a result of this a lot of people have been leaving, firstly because they don’t feel comfortable in this environment, or secondly because they’re scared of another local lockdown.

"Not even being brought food is a pretty basic worry, especially when we’re paying so much - we’re paying about £7,500 for this accommodation, which is catered. It’s the principle as well, we’re paying them a lot of money,” she said.

Other students said they had been given food they could not eat for religious reasons.

"I’m in my fourth day of isolation, and on two out of the four days I’ve had either a ham sandwich or bacon crisps delivered to my room,” said Leila Peacock, 19, a Muslim student at Pollock Halls.

Students are sent rolls and sandwiches.

"The first day it happened I told my floor supervisor, because he’s Muslim as well, and he had told them to make sure I get Halal food. But they made the same mistake the next day.

"Today [Monday] I’ve been given vegetarian food, but it’s mostly salad, it’s not very substantial, there’s not any carbohydrate and it’s not very nutritious."

Leila also said she had been delivered food late, with nothing delivered on Sunday until 2.45pm.

"I don’t think it should be that difficult to provide food, but it’s been so disappointing so far,” she said.

Leila Peacock was given ham sandwiches despite being Muslim.

"The food in the canteen is really nice, and they’ve got lots of different options, but the food I’ve been given now is like for a primary school child’s packed lunch, it’s not really enough to keep someone going. I think I’ve lost weight since I’ve been here, the food is not filling enough.”

She added: “We’re paying so much money for the accommodation and that includes the catering, and it just doesn’t seem like the money is being spent in the right places.”

Students in self-isolation in non-catered accommodation are also being delivered food, but have complained of similar issues.

"Food often isn't being delivered until 1pm, 2pm, or 3pm, it is poor quality, cold and [...] there is certainly a pattern of students with dietary requirements not being met,” said Isobelle Robinson-Gordon, 19, a student living in Salisbury Court.

A meal sent to students in Edinburgh University Halls.

Parents of students at the university have also voiced concerns.

One mother said her daughter is not being delivered food regularly, but cannot prepare food for herself as there are limited facilities in catered accommodation.

“I spoke to her at one o'clock [on Sunday] and they hadn't delivered breakfast. They’re not being fed properly,” she said.

“They are not looking after the students, either physically or mentally. They put them into isolation on Friday, and then nobody was available because they only operate during office hours.

“My daughter wasn't given food on Friday night. So even though we paid £7,000 for catered accommodation, no food was delivered on Friday.”

She added: “My husband spoke to the university before we went up there to ask for assurances about what would happen if there was an outbreak, because you don't have to be a scientist to guess it's going to happen.

Food delivered by the university is 'poor quality', said student Isobelle Robinson-Gordon.

"And we were assured that if somebody had tested positive they would be removed to self catered accommodation so that they could look after themselves.

"I just think they’re being treated appallingly, they’re being treated like pariahs. It’s very disheartening. We knew it would be different but what surprised me is the way the university is treating them. It’s all very negative, there’s no care at all.

"As parents that’s how we feel. We’re quite worried, she's only eighteen.”

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A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh attributed the complaints to ‘teething problems’.

“University staff are working hard to provide care and support for all students who are required to self-isolate by the Scottish Government and who are resident in University-provided accommodation,” he said.

“Initial teething problems are now being addressed and catering staff will provide three meals a day for all students living in University-provided accommodation. These meals are all available in vegan and gluten-free options to ensure that all dietary requirements are met.”

Students living under Covid-19 restrictions in university halls of residence are now be allowed to return home, according to new Scottish Government guidance issued on Sunday evening.

They have been asked to follow self-isolating rules and not use public transport if they decide to permanently return to another home - but the guidelines still say it is an "offence" to undertake short stays without a "reasonable" excuse.

Education Secretary John Swinney previously warned students to stay in their halls of residence, amid reports that many had fled home to avoid Covid-19 restrictions.

Speaking in the wake of a spike in cases at universities, he said students staying in accommodation would minimise the spread of Covid-19 to other parts of the country.

Matt Crilly, president of NUS Scotland, welcomed the new Scottish Government guidance.

"The guidance provides welcome clarity to the students in halls, who will be considering their next steps," he said.

"We welcome that students will be able to return home on a permanent basis."

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