The Student Housing Panic

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sorting housing was without doubt one of the most stressful aspects of first year for me. We waited, just as all the Guild-endorsed promotions told us too, until after Christmas, and then spent a nightmarish few weeks charging around house viewings, ringing up landlords 24/7 and securing our current residence by pure luck that our email arrived 2 minutes before another interested party’s.

It was not a fun time, least of all because we had no idea what to expect and what we should be looking for. Everyone had different ideas, but we quickly realised we were going to have to collectively lower our expectations. Dramatically. ‘Student living’ is a catchphrase for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy living where I am now (although I think I could be living in a shed and still have a good time with my housemates) but there’s certainly things I’ll be bearing in mind when I go looking for final year housing.  Just because you are probably going to end up somewhere a bit grotty, as is student tradition, doesn’t mean you should be sacrificing all comforts, and it’s best to be as knowledgeable as you can be.

So, from my experience here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re going about choosing and securing your student house:

  • Collectively decide on your requirements/wishes.  Getting together everyone you’re going to be living with and having a good ol’ discussion about everyone’s personal requirements and wishes for the house before you even start viewing is the best way to go. You might have to compromise later on, but it’ll help you make a shortlist out of the vast number of possibilities for housing in Exeter.
  • Living space. Look for a nice kitchen/living room living space. Unless someone has a big bedroom they’re willing to host communal gatherings in, you’ll quickly miss the kitchens and wide corridors of halls. We weren’t a fan of homes where the front downstairs room had been converted into an extra bedroom (as a lot of houses in Exe have done) but as long as you’ve got a big enough kitchen I imagine you’ll be fine.
  • Double glazing. A biggie. No one wants to wake up with a damp duvet because of condensation. Also along this vein, ask about the house’s insulation. It’ll save you a bundle on heating bills.
  • Look for mould/damp. It likes to lurk in the corners of ceilings and under stairs. A little bit won’t harm you for a year, but excessive mould can be a health hazard.
  • Ask about furniture. This was a big one for us- we had no idea how much of the furniture was the property of existing tenants until we moved into a far sparser house than we were expecting.  This leads me onto what I think is my most important point-
  • Talk to the current tenants. Preferably alone. To get a real feel for the house without the estate agent glaze, it’s best to get a chance to chat to the current tenants. Ask how they’ve found the house, if they’ve had any problems with the landlord, how much their bills have been on average. If you’re short on time, ask for a tenant’s email so you can contact them later on with all your questions. Most tenants will be happy to help (we’ve all been there with you) and I guarantee it’ll be the most honest and helpful review of the house you’ll find.
  • Get promises in writing. When it comes to putting your signature on the dotted line, actually read the contract you’re signing up to thoroughly. I’ve heard lots of stories of landlords who on house viewings promised to redo kitchens or bathrooms over the summer, and then never ‘quite gotten around to it.’ If the landlord makes you a promise in person, ask for it to be included in the contract- otherwise they’re not legally obliged to do anything.
  • If in doubt, go to the Student Advice Unit. That’s what they’re there for! Any concerns or queries about your rights as tenants or the fine print in the contract etc, it’s best to check it out with the Uni first.

This might all sound a little doom and gloom, but although I’m sure there are plenty of reasonable and fair landlords out there, it’s best to be aware. Ultimately, they want to sign away their house for the coming year and will be happy to tell a few white lies to do so- but don’t let that and panic about finding somewhere make you rush into decisions.  Where you’re living isn’t the be all and end all but it doesn’t hurt to try and find somewhere nice. So don’t be afraid to ask hundreds of questions, talk to the current tenants and remember the Uni is there to back you up. Best of luck!

University of Exeter First Year Bucket List

As you may have picked up on by this point if you are regular peruser of this blog (or, actually, if you have seen pretty much any of my other posts) I am a huge fan of lists.  In keeping with this trend, and in light of the fact I’m entering my final week at uni for this academic year, I decided to create the Ultimate Bucket List for a first year student here at Exeter.

Disclaimer: Some of these aren’t specific to Exeter and are more general first year university achievements. There is also a distinct lack of clubbing related challenges due to my own personal preferences on that front, but a quick Google has revealed the internet is full of them if you’re interested in that side of things.

So, from the bizarre to the admirable, to the must-do to the plain silly, in no particular order, here are 19 things I think it’s worth doing as a student in your first year at Exeter:

  1. Complete the Old Firehouse Challenge – devour an entire pizza and of course, the ultimate challenge of managing to find a table in the first place. If you’re feeling extra brave, follow it up with the calorific masterpiece that is Harry’s Heart Attack for dessert, it’s slogan being ‘Two will struggle, one will need the heart and stomach of lion!’ Challenge accepted.
  2. CountrysideGet lost wandering around the green forestry of Exeter’s campus. Things to spot: Reed Hall, that pond with the fountain, random art installations and thousands of bunnies. I imagine I’ll still be getting lost come final year, but the abundance of woodland paths in and around campus is genuinely one of favourite things about Exeter.
  3. Order curly fries at the RAM to fuel you through a late afternoon lecture or seminar, and meet up with a course mate to bemoan how much work you’ve got to do in the coming week.
  4. Join a hundred and one societies at Freshers Fair, and end up becoming a regular member of only one of them. We are all guilty of this and it seems none of us will EVER LEARN.
  5. Walk along the Quayside on a sunny weekend or pedalo if the weather permits and you’re feeling adventurous! If you want a real challenge, trek along the river to the Double Locks pub for a classic pub lunch.
  6. Order horribly overpriced Dominos (even with the discount codes I swear Dominos is the biggest rip-off in the history of pizza) because you are just that bored of cooking.
  7. Take the train to Exmouth Beach, have an ice cream/fish and chips on the front in true tourist fashion, and wander up and down the sand feeling very self-satisfied in the fact you go to a university on the coast.
  8. Take a selfie in Parliament Street. At an impressively tight 64 centimetres wide at its narrowest, Parliament Street has (falsely) been claimed to be the world’s narrowest street, but it’s still pretty cool.
  9. Complete Rock Solid. I didn’t actually manage to get round to this, but I’d say to anticipate a lot of mud and a lot of laughs if the Facebook photos were anything to go by. Definitely something to do for second year.
  10. Do a week’s worth of shopping in the Pennsylvania Road Co-op because you just can’t be bothered to walk into town or trek to Morrisons. Instantly regret the decision when you get your next bank statement.
  11. Do something for bonfire night, whether its getting a ticket to Ottery St Mary to experience the famously bizarre local tradition of flaming tar barrels, or popping down to Exmouth for their impressive firework display.
  12. Actually go inside Exeter Cathedral and look round, as opposed to just taking selfies outside it. So I’m a self-confessed history geek, but the Cathedral has been around for 600-odd years and is genuinely a beautiful building. It’s vaulted ceiling is the longest in the whole of England, and it has an awesome astronomical clock too.
  13. Visit the Exeter Christmas market. Arguably a student staple must-do; brownie points for buying homemade chutney.
  14. Have brunch in Tea on the Green (or Boston Tea Party, whichever takes your fancy.)
  15. Swim in the outdoor swimming pool by Cornwall House. It’s been closed practically the entire time you’ve been on campus, but come May and exam season, the pool suddenly throws open its gates. Make the most of being in on-campus accommodation and plod down in your flip flops and towel for a de-stress swim in wonderfully heated waters.
  16. Spend a lazy day in pyjamas. Eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner and revel in the bliss of no adult authority being around to tell you to do otherwise. You’re a fresher, that essay/reading/seminar prep can wait; Netflix can’t.
  17. Drink milk/orange juice from the bottle or carton to save on washing up. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  18. Stood on UoE stoneTake a photo with the University of Exeter stone. Okay, so perhaps not necessarily a ‘must-do’ for first year, unless you are super keen, but definitely something to get round to eventually.
  19. THE ULTIMATE EXETER CHALLENGE: Find someone from Yorkshire. Take a selfie with them, get their autograph, treasure their dulcet Northern tones – they are a rare and precious breed in Exeter and you might not get the chance to meet one again.

Five of the Best Exeter Eateries

So last week I finally got my act together enough to do something I’ve been wanting to get around to since the beginning of term; writing for Exeter’s prestigious student paper Exeposé.

ExeposeI decided not to challenge myself too much, so settled on opting for a nice humdrum article for the Lifestyle section on five of my favourite places to eat in Exeter. I changed the topic slightly to look at places to take visiting friends and family, and drafted it more than a few times to check I met the terrifying vague criteria of ‘quite light and fun’. That being said, it was good fun to write something a little different to the student blog posts I’ve been working on, and I was pleased with what I came up with.

Fast forward to today and cue me waltzing casually (I wish) into the Forum for my 9am Medieval lecture, sweeping up the latest edition of Exeposé on my way. Flicking through the headline articles, I genuinely did a double-take to see my name bolded on the front of the Lifestyle section. I had honestly completely forgotten my article would be in this week’s paper, and never expected that my first attempt would be given almost a full page (pictures included) on the front of the section! I don’t think I fully processed what I was doing when I submitted my article, but I’m pretty chuffed to say the least 🙂 I love writing in any form, but the satisfaction of seeing something I’d reworked over several days in print was something I hadn’t anticipated. I’ll definitely be writing for Exeposé again if I get the chance!

As a bit of a cheat post therefore, here’s my Five Best Exeter Eateries to take Guests article, as published in this fortnight’s Exeposé, reproduced for my blog.

We’ve all been there; you’ve got guests trekking their way across the country to visit for the weekend whether you like it or not. You can’t be expected to sacrifice that lone can of Heinz beans left in the back of your cupboard (or that tin of tuna that might, one day, finally get eaten) so eating out it is. While Exeter is blessed with a plethora of eatery-options don’t worry about trawling Trip Advisor attempting to come to a decision – here’s a fool proof guide to impressing friends and family with some of the best, most iconic places to eat out in Exeter.

Tea on the GreenFor Breakfast

Imagine every possible egg-related breakfast you can. Double it. Now throw in a front-row view of the Exeter’s best-known landmark, and you have yourself a winning combination. Tea on The Green is about as quaint, cosy and quintessentially English as it sounds, and while it’s perfect for afternoon scones, I’d argue it’s the breakfast takes the biscuit, guaranteed to keep everyone happy with options ranging from the lowly ‘Monk’s Choice’ of marmalade on toast, to the full-out Full English.

Boston Tea PartyFor Brunch/lunch

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

Ideally located for a quick, tasty, mid-shop lunch – Boston is the home of honest, nutritious food, and particularly fancy latte art. Second only to Tea on the Green on the brunch front, Boston Tea Party also offers a whole host of mains, from burgers and toasties to butternut squash mac and cheese and roasted sweet potato cous cous. The unexpectedly huge upstairs seating space will impress guests too, especially if you manage to nab a couple of the vintage chesterfields in the corner.

Exploding Bakery For Coffee and Cake

Space is definitely limited in this wee little cafe tucked in a corner by Central Station, but the Exploding Bakery is about as wholesome as it gets. While it offers a relatively limited lunch-time range of homemade soups (rustic hunk of soda bread included), savory croissants and tortillas, it’s the coffee and cake that it’s really famed for. Costa, Starbucks and Café Nero too mainstream for your hipster, organic friends? The Exploding Bakery’s cappuccino and carrot cake is where it’s at.

Thai Restaurant For the Fancy Dinner

Bae is visiting for the weekend; the Firehouse has been done one too many times, and even with Valentines over and done with you’re thinking about pulling all the stops out. Allow me to recommend the humble Thai Jasmine. A little on the pricey end for student-eateries, but oh-so-worth it for the delicate lemongrass curry, the oozing deep fried vegetables, and the soup so fragrant it’s genuinely like drinking perfume (and I mean that in the good way).

The Old FirehouseFor the Pub (and pizza) Experience

The Old Firehouse

The Old Firehouse

This is an article about student-recommended eateries in Exeter, did you really think The Old Firehouse wouldn’t make the list? Home of many a society social, and the famous Firehouse Challenge of an entire pizza (and a bottle of red wine, depending on who you talk to), the Firehouse is an Exeter student staple and rightly so. Treat friends and family alike to a pint of west country cider and make them jealous of the fact your local pub is such a Harry-Potter-esque haven of twinkling-fairy lights, live music and constant buzz.

The Old Firehouse

I could write odes to The Old Firehouse pub. People probably already have. And I wouldn’t blame them in the slightest.

I first trekked down to the Firehouse in Freshers’ Week (with the Harry Potter society for their Welcome Banquet) and one step into the courtyard with it’s twinkling fairy lights, beer barrel stools, glowing candles and overwhelming smell of freshly cooked pizza, I was sold. When the society President told us – with an air of slight smugness – that the Firehouse was the unofficial inspiration for ex-Exeter student J.K Rowling’s Leaky Cauldron I could instantly see why. ‘This is my new favourite place’, I decided and a term later I’ve yet to be swayed on that.

Firehouse 2The Old Firehouse is an Exeter student staple and is the sort of place where if you go after 7pm, even in midweek, you’ll have a hard time finding a table. Every time I’ve been it’s been teeming with students and locals alike, and the constant buzz is probably part of its charm. It is what I’d consider a Proper English Pub, or, to be more accurate, a Proper Devon Pub. Plenty of beer, ale and West Country cider, with some lovely homemade fruit ciders (think pomegranate and raspberry as opposed to the standard stuff). The food menu is nothing to sniff at either, with your staple fish and chips, burgers and rustic sandwiches, alongside the more creative vegan and vegetarian options – butternut squash and three bean chilli. I’ve yet to go for the full Sunday roast, but it’s on the top of my to-do list for this term.

PizzaWhen it comes to food though, The Firehouse’s real claim to fame is its pizza. Presented in huge 14-inch square trays, at pretty darn good prices considering we’re in the South, Firehouse pizza is a true gem of Exeter. With plenty of toppings to choose from (I recommend the pulled pork), the pizza is also huge enough that one will comfortably fill 3 hungry students. I’ve been told numerous times of the ‘Firehouse Challenge’- to eat a whole pizza to yourself (and down it with a bottle of red wine, but that depends on who you’re getting your information from) and I’ve yet to meet someone who has managed it.

As well as being a constant location for Society socials and it’s own weekly Monday  night pub quiz, the Firehouse is also a showcase of Exeter University’s very own musical scene. From Jazz bands to Acapella performances, the Firehouse is the perfect atmospheric venue for a whole host of student music groups at it’s Sunday Night Extunes evenings. Alternatively, on Friday and Saturday evenings, expect to be audience to a variety of local and visiting bands, playing everything from indie acoustic to world music.

A great place to meet with friends, a great place to take visitors, and just generally an awesome place to be, the Firehouse was my favourite thing about the Exeter pub/eatery scene from the start and has yet to be shifted off the top spot. That being said, honourable mentions must go to:

1. The Imperial – the poshest Wetherspoons I have ever seen.
2. The Boston Tea Party – the only place for an amazing brunch.
3. The RAM Student Union Bar – for the legendary curly fries. And the convenience.

To see for yourself, check out: www.oldfirehouseexeter.co.uk