Bartlett students protest over role change for ‘beloved’ security guard

Between 300 and 400 students took part in a sit-in at the leading London architecture school on Friday (2 February) afternoon, alongside a number of alumni and other security guards.

The protestors are unhappy that Donatus Onyido, who currently works just at the Bartlett, is set to be given a wider role that would see him cover a broader swathe of University College London (UCL) facilities, including the architecture school, as part of a ‘zonal’ team.

Friday’s protest took place from midday to 3pm at the Bartlett’s 22 Gordon Street building in central London. A banner on the wall read ‘Done without Don’.

The protesting students want Onyido, who has worked at the Bartlett for over 20 years, to be given a permanent position at the architecture school.

The university made the initial decision to transfer Onyido as part of a wider scheme to move its security guards outside, away from desk-based posts inside, so they can cover a larger area and react more quickly to incidents.

But Onyido’s move has been paused pending a review after the initial decision caused an ‘instant eruption of anger’, according to students.

The protesters described Onyido as ‘perhaps the most well known, and loved figure within the Bartlett community’, who is known for ‘greeting those who walk through the doors with warmth and joy’.

Students said they went to look for the Bartlett’s senior management during the protest but were told they were working elsewhere.

They have since launched a petition calling for senior management to respond publicly. Signatories have written their names on a large roll of paper laid out at the protest, which stretched to the front entrance of the building.

Onyido – widely known as Don – won an internal UCL prize in 2021 and was nominated for another. A submission for his nomination for one of the awards said: ‘While fulfilling the core tasks of his role with immense diligence and professionalism – much of which is tough and arduous – Don manages to maintain an almost universal mood of optimism, friendliness, and generosity.

‘Don has an extraordinary memory for the names and faces of staff and students, with an equal gift for key expressions in multiple languages. He is an exemplary human being and an inspiring figurehead for standards on how to conduct ourselves every day.’

A UCL spokesperson said: ‘We have been working alongside our security providers, Bidvest Noonan, to enhance the security service at UCL by making security teams more visible across the Bloomsbury campus; redefining roles to have clearer duties, accountabilities and better training; and using new equipment to enable us to deliver a more efficient, tech-enabled security service.

‘This process has involved extensive engagement with security staff, union representation, and staff and students working in affected buildings and we are continuing to take on board feedback.

‘The new working pattern has seen a shift away from desk-based roles within buildings, to more mobile and patrolling security staff around campus, which will allow us to cover a wider range of buildings and areas, and react more quickly to incidents, no matter where they take place. Most buildings will be monitored by security staff pro-actively patrolling zoned areas.’

The protests come less than two years after an investigation into the school found bullying, sexual misconduct, racism and a ‘toxic culture spanning decades’.

The university suspended some school staff from ‘student-facing and administrative duties’ with immediate effect after the investigation firm Howlett Brown received scores of complaints against tutors and staff. UCL has never shared the names of those removed from duties.