Two years ago, during my time in Cambridge Halls, the university ran a green initiative called Student Big Switch Off. Switch Off challenged students in Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) run student accommodation to reduce their electricity waste and usage to the lowest level possible, and promised the winners a free party at the expense of the university.
Though I did not know it at the time, I was fated to return to my old halls only two years later, and take part in the successor activity entitled Big Impact. As part of Big Impact, recycling audits take place for students living in student accommodation at MMU. Students are scored on the correct separation of their waste, and the cleanliness of items placed in the recycling bins, with the chance of winning a delicious meal cooked by a professional chef.
The fateful day came when MMU’s Student Press Office sent me to the new Hollings Faculty building to meet with Amanda Wright of Big Impact – MMU’s sustainability engagement project. Amanda introduced me to the professional chef who would be serving a free meal to the winners of the new green-oriented recycling competition that the university was using to encourage students in university accommodation to become a little less wasteful and filthy.
I asked Amanda if she thought it was working.
“Yes, to some extent it is,” she replied, “Audit checks on the flat bins have shown that a surprising number of the student population in Halls have made a concentrated effort to reduce their waste, but one flat has done particularly well in Cambridge Halls throughout the year.”
“They win everything,” Amanda admitted, “They’re just so lovely.”
Myself, Amanda, and the professional chef – Haleh Moravej of MetMunch – then trolleyed the paella, crumble, sangria and beer (shh) through the Manchester downpour from Hollings Faculty to Cambridge Halls.
We made it half-sodden into the halls – North Court, my old 2011/12 haunt – and I learned a little more about the prize-winners. “They’re all international students from Malaysia,” Amanda explained, “And they’re the nicest people, with the cleanest student flat I’ve ever seen.” I couldn’t help but feel jealous. My Cambridge Halls experience hadn’t been half as pleasant as that sounded.
We went up to deliver the food, and the winning students quickly moved to help us. Once we were in the flat kitchen I stepped back and started to grab some photos.
The whole experience and situation was a little surreal, and perhaps some of my photos show this, but everyone had fun, and seemed at least 70% relaxed. There’s a great joy in the surreal, and an incredible relief in anything that puts a break in the mundane. The meal looked absolutely delicious, and with plenty of paella to spare I was able to try some between shots.
The students, noticing the combination of paella, sangria, and Spanish beer, picked up on the theme asked if any of we – ‘the chefs’ – were Spanish.
“No,” Haleh replied, “We just wanted to make you something delicious.”
I got one final group photo, and we scooted off to let them enjoy their dessert in peace.
Angus is an aspiring writer, hobbyist photographer, and undergraduate student of English and Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is originally from Dundee, Scotland and has been living in Manchester, England since the summer of 2011.