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Monday, 1 October 2012

Welcome speech — delivered 1st October 2012

So, this is it: here we are, assembled, thrust together and about to embark on a journey just 35 weeks in duration, but one which I hope we will all hold in our memories as one of the best times of our lives.

For all of us, this 35-week voyage together will be one of discovery: discovery of self and discovery of others. Like many journeys, this is just one leg of a much longer journey. Our final destination is many years from now, but in only 5904 hours' time, we shall be packing up our things ready to disembark from Connaught Hall — so let's make the most of the time we have together.

My job in the next few minutes is to welcome you aboard the vessel in which we are undertaking this journey, introduce you to the crew, and explain how we can all together ensure that this voyage is safe, happy, productive, and fun for everyone on board.

So firstly, on behalf of the University of London and all the Connaught Hall crew, allow me formally to welcome you to the Hall. I hope you are already calling Connaught Hall “home” and I sincerely look forward to the pleasure of meeting every one of you.

Now, some introductions. The physical fixtures and fittings of our ship, as well as the provision of services like catering and maintenance, are managed and looked after by the staff in the hall office. Unfortunately, no one from the office could join us tonight, but there is a member of staff available in the office on the ground floor between 8 AM and 6 PM every week day. They are your main point of contact for any problems with accommodation, food, housekeeping, security, or maintenance issues.

As your Warden, I am responsible for the welfare and well-being of everyone on board: I am interested in who you are and how you are — physically, mentally, socially, academically . I also look after the Hall’s community and social life, discipline, and conflict-resolution. I have been here at Connaught Hall since 1997, and in my day job, I'm a specialist doctor in accident & emergency medicine at University College Hospital. 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. I genuinely enjoy meeting you, so never hesitate to say hello and stop for a chat even if you haven't any particular issues to discuss.

Five student Senior Members help me in looking after the people and the community on board. They are: KJ, on the ground and lower-ground floors; Zack, on the first floor; Marianne, on the second floor; Benny, on the third floor; and Bill, on the fourth floor. Please feel free to approach them about any problems or for a chat any time you see them. One of the Senior Members is on call at nights and weekends, to help with any emergencies while the office is closed.

Enough about us! Lets talk about you!

You are intelligent, thoughtful, talented young adults. You have been accepted to study at one of the premier universities in the UK, if not the world. You have made some difficult but very wise choices that lead you to be here with us all today. I hardly need to tell you that you can expect a right to independence and self-determination as we set out on this voyage – but if we are all to enjoy our journey together equally, we must all recognise that those rights are limited by an absolute duty to respect one another: our beliefs, our lifestyles, our needs, our possessions, and our idiosyncrasies.

Respect for others's needs for quiet time... the walls, floors, and ceilings of our cabins 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.

Respect for the safety of others... 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's 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.

Respect for the differences between us all... More than that, lets celebrate and cherish our diversity and the fact that together we represent almost every colour, language, continent, religion, culture, political belief and sexual orientation. So many differences, and yet we are one hall, one community, starting out on one journey together. It's exciting. Let's all use this voyage to broaden our personal horizons.

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 can help with putting on events. 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 own bar here at Connaught. 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, but use it sensibly.

The bar is run by the Residents’ Club Committee, who also organise many of the big social events in Hall. Nominations for election to this year's committee will open tomorrow and you will have the chance to vote for your representatives on 18 October. I 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.

Finally, consider making an input to our new Multicultural Students' Forum. I established this new forum this year with the dual, complementary, goals of enhancing the experience of international, overseas, and ethnic minority residents, And introducing the whole community to a broader range of cultural events, led by students who would normally celebrate those festivities at home. Speak with me or Bill for more information.

The chief message is this – we must all get involved in whatever way we can. This ship needs your participation to stay afloat. Not everyone can do or wants to do everything, but there is something for everyone here. This is your hall, your community, your journey. Please make the most of it. This section of our voyage will be finished before we know it.

But our community serves another, perhaps more important purpose. Moving to university in a new city is hard. There are days when even the most independent of us will feel all at sea, far from family, perhaps even a little lost. On days like that, I hope you will be able to call on your hall neighbours to be your family here in London, and always remember that the Senior Members and I have navigated these waters before: we can help.

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.

Keep in touch. Read your Residents' Handbook. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Visit the Hall website and check your email regularly. There's always lots going on and I don't want you to miss out on any of it.

I hope you will quickly come to call Connaught Hall your home. And I hope that this journey we share together will be rich with friendship, good times, academic success, new opportunities, and broadened horizons.

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