A St. Ronan's Avenue resident is urging the University of Bristol to expel students who organised an all-night party in a mid-terrace house on 11/12 May. He also wants all of their 120 guests to be disciplined.
Unlike party organisers, guests are hard to trace after an event. But in this case the resident has sent UoB a copy of the guest list, with doormen's marks indicating which invitees actually attended.(Photo: I have obscured names.) He says most of the guests are likely also to be UoB students and bound by its rules, meaning they were "complicit with the actions of the tenants" and "equally responsible for the disruption".
The party, from 10-45pm till 7am, was so loud that objects in adjoining houses were rattling with vibration. "My wife and I did not sleep at all and our children’s sleep was severely disrupted," the resident says.
Police arrived shortly after 2am and stopped students congregating in the street, but their visit made no difference to music levels. (I observed the event from midnight until after 4am.) Eight* other residents have also complained to UoB. (*updated; see below)
The resident's letter includes considerable detail:
* He describes previous problems with the students that led to their being contacted in recent months by both the university and Bristol City Council—but he was unable to contact noise officers on the night.
* Lamenting the inadequacy of university and council procedures, he says "expulsion from the university is the only thing that would have a lasting effect ... That would send an unequivocal message to all students that such reckless and selfish events will not be tolerated."
* He cites "dangerous levels of people" crammed into the house and recalls that a party at the house several years ago damaged a basement ceiling.
Among complaints from other residents, one cites "a barrage of loud thumping dance music ... I didn't get a wink of sleep." Another, who went to complain in person at 5-30am, says "my heart was beginning to race uncomfortably." A third says "our walls and the artwork on them were audibly shaking."
My own report of the night follows, then excerpts from resident's emails. I am putting Resident 1's email last so I can run it at greater length. UoB has responded to the complaints—see brief update at end.
I came late to the party—around midnight—so missed the early arrivals. I stood on the pavement opposite the party house to watch, listen, count attendees and vehicle movements, make notes and occasionally record photos, videos or sound measurements. The only people I spoke to during the night were one of the police officers and one of the doormen. The doormen left at almost 4am and I left shortly afterwards.
Between midnight and 1-30am, when the flow seemed to dry up, I counted a net 86 people arriving at the property (a small number left). This involved at least 8 taxis setting down or picking up, with doors slamming. Between 1-30am and 4am I saw two more taxis pick up leavers, so 10 vehicle movements in all. However, I left the scene twice during this period, for perhaps 30 minutes in total, so I probably missed a few. I suspect there was a lot more taxi activity after I left at after 4am.
As usual during these events, I witnessed various examples of anti-social behaviour. Examples:
3:19 - Female sits on garden wall near junction with Waverley Road and then vomits noisily onto the pavement (the result still visible next day).
3:28 - Person on upper floor of student house leans out of window and throws plastic bottle into next door's forecourt/garden.
4:00 - Female drops trousers and urinates on gravelled forecourt of another house, next to parked car
4:05 - Someone at upper-floor window (see above) vomits onto forecourt of student house.
Subjectively, the noise volume was "not the worst I've come across", but obviously very bad if it was coming through your party wall. (The houses here look like semis, but are in fact joined.) The noise spilling into the street was worst when the main door was open, which it frequently was, despite a doorman trying to keep it shut. There was often a queue of a dozen or so people outside the house as a doorman crossed names off the guest list.
Two police cars turned up at around 2:15. The first two officers spoke to the students and doormen. They then had a conversation with the second car, which left soon after. I spoke to one of the officers. I didn't know who had called them or why—noise, or disturbance in the street. People had been spilling out of the house in small groups for some time. I told the officer this was being driven in part by the doormen, who were telling people they must "take a walk" away from the property, rather than congregate outside. As a result they dispersed along the street and into Kenilworth Road.
It seems the officer and her colleague subsequently asked the doormen to keep people inside and to insist that anyone leaving would not be allowed back in. I later witnessed quite a lot of argument between the doormen, now applying this rule, and party-goers who wanted to be outside (or inside). The effects of having 120 people in a house with closed windows were obviously taking their toll; more than one person came out exclaiming "thank god, fresh air!" I don't know if the police asked for the noise to be turned down. It wasn't, so far as I could tell.
Excerpts from complaint emails (Resident 1 at end):
Resident 2: "Our neighbourhood was yet again subjected to a barrage of loud thumping dance music, overly loud conversations out on the street in the early hours of the morning and at one point the sound of someone vomiting near to my property. On a personal level I didn't get a wink of sleep and I am feeling fatigued this morning."
Resident 3: "At 1.30 am, not being able to sleep for the boom, boom, boom of the drum and bass .... I spoke to some girls in the garden and asked if they could turn it down or preferably off. They said they would try but nothing happened. At 3.30 am, still no sleep, I decided to move to a bedroom at the front of the house but it was even worse ... I finally fell asleep about 6.30 am. Later on today I overheard them in my back garden saying what a great party it had been and almost bragging that they had only had 5 complaints .... I have lived [here] for 36 years and this is the first time I have felt so annoyed by this crass, thoughtless behaviour that I felt I must make an official complaint."
Resident 4 (Kenilworth Road): "I was woken at 3am ... by very, very loud thumping bass beat coming from [xx] St Ronans Ave, and loud voices in the street from people who were coming in and out of the house and talking loudly ... I was awake on and off with the noise until 5.30am, when I finally decided to [go and complain]. I knocked on the door (in my dressing gown) and spoke to a very polite but very drunk student ... and asked him to turn the music off. I pointed out that there are children in the middle of A Levels, and starting GCSEs tomorrow, in 3 houses [nearby]. There was absolutely no change in the volume of the music, or more importantly the thumping bass beat, which was the most disturbing part for me. My heart was beginning to race uncomfortably with the thumping while lying in bed. ... There have been many student parties at that house in the 15 years we have lived here, some definitely worse than others, but this was the worst for noise and lateness by a long way."
Resident 5 (Woodstock Avenue): "It woke me up at about midnight. Not sure what time it finished as I had to go and sleep in an uncomfortable bed in the front bedroom and put ear plugs in (also uncomfortable). I had a very poor night’s sleep."
Resident 6 cites a range of objections, including:
"Excessive Noise Level: The hiring of outside sound equipment meant that the noise levels were particularly high and we weren’t able to sleep. Our walls and the artwork on them were audibly shaking and buzzing as a result. Safety Risk: the number of people attending the party ... poses safety risks for the structure as the houses are terraced. Hygiene and Indecency: guests were using the street, private property and cars as outside toilets and throwing bottles on our property. We were hesitant to go into the house to complain with so many people drunk and high ... To note, this comes on top of the complaint earlier this year of the current students in No. [xx] trespassing drunk in the sunshine on our roof."
Resident 7: "It has really impacted our community and affects our ability to sleep and do our work the following day, not to mention the effects on our children. There is also the mess on the street."
Resident 8 says this group of students "have been consistently difficult with noise disturbance at night." The latest event "kept multiple neighbours (who have jobs and children, this is a nice family neighbourhood for the most part) awake all night. The noise was still going at 6:30 the following morning."
Resident 9 (Ravenswood Road): "On that evening and throughout the next morning we could clearly hear the loud music and were continually disturbed by drunk students coming and going and staggering in the street until 7 am on Sunday morning."
Main Complaint (Resident 1)
Resident 1 says the event involved "a ridiculously over-powered, professional-event audio system and dangerous levels of people" crammed into the property.
Neighbours received no advance warning. "I became suspicious on Friday when I could see windows being covered up. We have had many bad experiences with parties at this property and spent the remainder of time up until the party in a state of anxiety. Late Saturday afternoon, an event-hire company delivered several large black and metal crates and large fans. An hour or so later we could clearly hear microphone checks and then music playing."
He spoke to one of the students (Student 1), who confirmed they were having a 21st birthday party and had invited 50 guests. (The resident says that was the number given; he didn't learn the true number until later.) "I expressed my alarm at the number of people. He told me they’d employed two doormen to manage the party-goers ... I expressed my scepticism that they could manage the noise of a party with so many people, even of the voices, let alone any music. He stated that they weren’t here to disturb any neighbours and I should ask them to turn it down if it was a problem."
"I pointed out to him that the University lists the hiring of professional sound equipment and doormen as signs that the event will not be acceptable to neighbours. He said he didn’t know that."
► The resident expresses surprise at this, because he had made previous complaints about the students, and both the university's Community Liaison team and the Neighbourhood Enforcement Team at Bristol City Council had been in contact with them several times.
His complaint email to the university adds: "I mentioned the printed literature and web-site produced by Community Liaison, which I had assumed they were familiar with, especially since you had told me that the tenants had been contacted about my previous complaints, but [Student 1] denied knowledge of such information. I suggested he went to the web-site and read up on it before the party started."
The resident waited until midnight before complaining about the noise. "When [Student 2] appeared, I asked him if they thought this was reasonable behaviour; he agreed it was not and said they would “turn it down”. I pointed out they would have to turn it all the way down to allow anyone to sleep. ... Regardless, nothing happened. A couple of hours later I spoke to [Student 2] again, who claimed they had “turned it down”. I pointed out that this was not true at all—if anything it had gotten louder. He said he would try again. Unsurprisingly, nothing changed."
► The resident also describes how he tried to notify the council's Neighbourhood Enforcement Team about the party. "I called the out-of-hours number they had provided me with a couple of times during the night and left messages but did not receive a callback, presumably because this was not one of the mere 2 nights they operate in a 14-day period." (There is no longer a publicly accessible night-time noise hotline; the resident refers to an answer-phone available to people whose existing noise complaints have been assigned a case officer.)
He made about 25 recordings throughout the night using the Noise App, provided to him by the NET. These are sent via internet to noise officers for review during the working week. He also used the Decibel X noise meter app (https://itunes.apple.com).
"At midnight, noise in our bedroom peaked at 73.8dB, with an average of 65.4dB. Noise in our kids’ bedroom peaked at 65.4dB and averaged 54.5dB." He adds: "At 1am, an hour after they promised to “turn it down”, the noise levels in our bedroom peaked higher at 78.7dB with an average of 71.2dB."
He also took readings outside the property; the entrances of the two houses are side-by-side, and students were queuing to get in. "I took another reading which peaked at 93.7dB and averaged 85dB when their front door was open. I can only surmise that the actual noise level inside their house was much higher."
► "While I spoke to the doormen, I discovered that the list of names extended to over 160 people, and, based on their list, actual attendees peaked at 119—not including the 7 tenants. There was a constant stream of people coming to the party over many hours. Parties of this scale always spew onto the streets because people need the toilet and there are insufficient facilities; they want a smoke; or they simply want to talk because it’s too noisy to hold a conversation inside the house.
"At 2 o’clock I called 101 because groups of people had started to leave the party and congregate in the street outside, talking loudly, smoking, drinking and urinating against neighbouring properties, and on my car. The police attended shortly after and cleared everyone off the street. They spoke to the doormen at length, who later told me that they had been instructed to not let anyone who left the party back into the house."
The resident says that after the doormen left at about 4am "there was no management of people into and out of the house and I called 101 again for the same reasons as before. They agreed to send someone over, but were not sure when that would be. To my knowledge the police did not attend a second time."
► "The bass of the music was so strong that our possessions were rattling. Our properties are mid-terrace and share walls and structure. They were built around 1880 and not intended to support the weight of 100+ people, especially if they are dancing. One similar party at the same house a few years ago caused damage to the ceiling in the basement flat and it had to be repaired.
"From what we’ve seen as we have renovated our house, I can assure you that these wooden floors and crumbling walls are not as strong as you might imagine, and it simply isn’t safe to host that many people. We are concerned that events such as these could cause damage to our property as well.
"[Student 1] told me that they had 'soundproofed' the house. I ... explained that this was not possible. I didn’t ask how they had attempted to soundproof the property, but we have seen previous tenants place mattresses in the windows, thinking that will make a difference. It doesn’t. It is also a fire risk. What would have happened if there had been an emergency? A fire? How would so many people have exited the building safely without harm? "
► Addressing the university and NET directly, the resident says: "Frustratingly, the warning signs of this kind of event have been present for some time. Our previous complaints around inconsiderate noise at night directed towards the University and the NET, combined with your opaque processes, have left us feeling isolated and unsupported. We have endured lower but nonetheless significant levels of disturbance all year as we have diligently followed the prescribed processes. Had these processes been swifter and more decisive we would probably have avoided this kind of event.
"... We’ve been having problems with these neighbours since before the beginning of the academic year ... yet here we are in May, weeks away from the end of their tenancy and we have been let down by the University and BCC. We’ve followed their processes and they are lacking.
"In July the tenants will move on and, based on previous experience, we will start this process all over again with all the stress and negative feelings that entails."
► "I implore the University to be proactive rather than reactive by making an example of this event and the students’ behaviour. I’m not even certain if they’ve reached the point of fines in the University process but a fine of £100 per person is woefully inadequate in any event. ... I have previously suggested £500 per student would be far more appropriate and still believe this to be the case, although I will concede that not all students are from wealthy backgrounds ... Which is why I would like to also see a punishment that would make other students think twice before repeating such behaviour. A public naming and shaming would not be effective since that risks making them celebrities in a student community. Instead, an academic penalty would surely affect the one thing that must matter to them, their graduation.
"To make a point, I think expulsion from the University is the only thing that would have a lasting effect—they can always go and study elsewhere. That would send an unequivocal message to all students that such reckless and selfish events will not be tolerated. Anything less, and I believe the status quo will be maintained and our community will continue to suffer."
► "I have a copy of the entrance list and I attach it as evidence to back up my claims regarding attendance numbers. However, I wish to make another point, in that most if not all of the people on this list are University students and should be aware of University rules and guidelines. The students that attended are complicit with the actions of the tenants... "
The resident calls for "all those students whose names are crossed off" (ie, marked as having attended) to be disciplined as well as the tenants. "They are equally responsible for the disruption, especially when entering and leaving the property. I have photos, audio recordings and videos to back up these claims, which I can make available to you [the university] upon request."
(His email included four photographs each showing a page of the guest list.)
The University of Bristol has acknowledged residents' complaints and held a disciplinary meeting with the student tenants. The university typically declines to reveal the outcome of disciplinary hearings, citing data-privacy constraints.
Further complaints have been made against this household. See report.