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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Welcome speech - delivered 4th October 2011

Good evening.

If we haven’t already met, I’m Adrian Clark, the Warden.

Let’s thank the kitchen staff for all their hard work preparing tonight's special dinner.

And first of all, congratulations on getting into a University of London college and on picking the best hall of residence in the University!


We are going to spend something like the next 5904 hours of our lives living together here. If for some reason, we don’t get on, that is going to seem like one heck of a long time. But if we get it right, it will seem like no time at all before we’re packing up our things ready for the summer vacation. So we have to make the most of the 35 weeks we have together – and make this one of the best years of our lives.

My job in the next few minutes is (1) to welcome you to the Hall and introduce the staff, (2) remind us all about the compromises we have to make living so close to one another, and (3) explain how we can all together ensure that not my Hall, but our Hall, retains its reputation as the best hall of residence in London.

So firstly, on behalf of the University of London and all the staff, allow me formally to welcome you to the Hall. I hope you are already calling Connaught Hall “home”. And I sincerely wish you a very happy and successful year and look forward to the pleasure of meeting every one of you.

The people you really need to know in Hall are Harriet Harold and Hafsi Bakari, our Deputy and Assistant Bursars.... they look after the day-to-day management of everything from food to telephones, cleaning to fixing things, and finance to accommodation problems. They are in the office 8 till 6 every day, Monday to Friday, and you can just knock and walk in any time you need them. Over the last few years, some functions like payment and room allocations have been centralised to the much larger offices at International Hall and Hughes Parry Hall; but Harriet and Hafsi will make sure you know who to contact if they can’t help you directly.

I have introduced myself already. As the Warden, I am responsible for your welfare and well-being in the broadest sense: physical, mental, social, and academic. I also look after the Hall’s community and social life, discipline, and conflict-resolution. Most of my work as Warden takes place in the evenings and at weekends; when I’m not Wardening, I am a specialist doctor in accident & emergency medicine. I live here in the Hall alongside you, and I’m always happy for anyone to approach me – whether it’s about a problem or just for a general chat – whenever I’m in my office or in a common area like here in the dining hall.

Five student Senior Members assist me in looking after things here. They are Tom, Alyson, John, Ilk, and Zack. They are all either postgraduate students or mature students within the university and please, please feel free to approach them about any problems or for a chat any time you see them. One of the Senior Members in on call at nights and weekends, to help with any emergencies while the office is closed.


I’m going to move on now to talk about those compromises I mentioned if we’re all going to get on nicely.

Everyone in this room is, by any definition, an adult. We are a community of adults – and fairly bright adults at that. That means we can all expect a right to self-determination – but that right is limited by an absolute duty to respect one another: our beliefs, our needs, our possessions, and our idiosyncrasies.

It’s traditional in welcome speeches like this for wardens to go through a long list of rules and the terrible consequences that might ensue if anyone breaks them. But we have the Residents’ Handbook for that, and it’s hardly a welcoming “welcome” speech if it’s full of threats and “don’t-you-ever”s. So I will mention only two disciplinary issues.

First: the walls, floors, and ceilings in this building are thin and far from sound proof. Noise is the most common reason for conflict and unhappiness in Hall. Please, please let’s think about our neighbours: keep music and television volume turned down low, especially at night; don’t run screaming down the corridor at 3 o clock in the morning; and if our neighbour asks us to be quieter, let’s respond politely and try our best to help them.

Second, we all have to remember the importance of fire safety. We have an average of 1.3 REAL fires at Connaught Hall every single year. So let’s make sure we know how to get out if there is an emergency; and be prepared to use an escape route different from the main staircase. If the alarm sounds, get out straight away. And don’t let any of us mess around with smoke detectors or fire extinguishers. Covering up smoke detectors or moving and discharging fire extinguishers could endanger every single person living here.


The third and final task I set myself at the beginning of this speech was to explain how we can make this year one to remember.

We all have a contribution to make to our community here in Hall.

Some of us are very sociable and love meeting people; those sorts will be at every party and visible in the Hall throughout the year. We need people like that. Their liveliness keeps the social life of the Hall afloat. But that is not the only way of contributing.

We need observant people who notice when things are broken and report them so they can be repaired.

We need sensitive people who can listen when their neighbour has had a bad day.

We need organised people who read the handbook and posters, to explain the rules and spread news to their less organised friends.

We need enthusiastic people who will share their hobbies and interests with us.

Whoever you are, you are one of these people. We need you.

We are very lucky to have our bar here at Connaught. Out of eight intercollegiate halls, all of which used to have bars of their own, ours in the only one left – the others have all been shut down. I fully support our bar and value the crucial role it plays in the social life of the Hall. You don’t have to be a drinker to enjoy the bar: they sell soft drinks, too! Please make the most of it, use the bar sensibly, and don’t give anyone any excuse for shutting it down.

The bar is run by the Residents’ Club Committee, who also organise most of the big social events in Hall. You will be asked to elect a new committee next Thursday. And I would really encourage you all to consider standing for election to one of the committee posts: it’s an excellent point to have on your CV, adds a lot of weight to your application to come back to Connaught Hall next year, and is a guaranteed way of getting to meet lots of people in Hall. Come and ask me about it.

But even if you don’t want to join the Committee, you can still set up your own social events and clubs. We’ve had wine clubs, jazz bands, film clubs, table tennis tournaments… all sorts of things. It’s up to you. The Residents’ Club can sometimes help you with funding for these sorts of clubs. Talk to me if you need help setting anything like this up.

Also think about joining the Facilities Committee, where you can meet the Hall’s management and contract staff and make suggestions about catering, cleaning, maintenance, and that sort of thing. The Resident’s Handbook tells you how to get involved in the Facilities Committee.

The chief message is this – we must all get involved in whatever way we can. Not everyone can do or wants to do everything, but there is something for everyone here. Please make the most of it. 

To conclude: this is a great place to live and we’re going to have a really good time together. We are a diverse community but we share much in common. We must all strive to make our neighbour’s time here as happy as our own. We are never alone: there is always someone who can help.

I hope you will quickly come to call Connaught Hall your home, make some great friends here, and that you will look back on this year as one of the best of your life.

Please remember to check the Residents’ Handbook; please come up and have a chat with the staff and Senior Members tonight; and please do visit the bar after dinner.

Now, I’d like to propose a toast to every one of us and a very happy, successful year ahead.