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'Warm, Welcoming, and Available'

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Alcohol sales cut as AUSA relaunches Union Brew as student cafe


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

photo courtesy of Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco


Union Brew celebrated the return of students to campus with a significant change from previous years: no more alcohol will be sold at the cafe, which is located in the University’s Student Union Building.


As The Gaudie previously reported, the University took over management of Union Brew from AUSA during the summer months amidst declining profits. According to AUSA’s public accounts for the last academic year, revenue was ‘significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels’.


Now that AUSA has regained control of the multipurpose cafe and events space, change is on the way, beginning with the ban on alcohol.


‘Union Brew [will] become a living room for students on campus that is different from other cafes [and] has some great cheap options,’ Student President Vanessa Mabonso Nzolo told The Gaudie. ‘Union Brew as a pub was not sustainable as a business or attractive to students... it is time to move on. This is part of a general culture change in the Student Union as we are trying to offer more socialising opportunities for students that are not [centred] only on alcohol.’


The decline in profits at Union Brew during the last few years was undoubtedly a result of the COVID pandemic, although the venue has struggled to gain traction among students since its reopening in September 2018, despite AUSA spending £200,000 on its refurbishment.


‘Students need to be able to access a social space other than expensive cafes or the libraries,’ Mabonso Nzolo told The Gaudie, ‘Especially, taking into consideration the rising cost of living which will impact student well-being. We want to aim to provide [a] space that is warm, welcoming, and available.’

'We want to aim to provide [a] space that is warm, welcoming, and available.’

The end of alcohol sales at Union Brew finalises what began with the closure of the Student Union in Aberdeen’s Bon Accord neighbourhood near Marischal College. The Union, which originally opened in 1983, boasted a wide range of bars, food options, and recreation rooms; and could accommodate up to 2,000 people at its peak. (Gabriel Kolanen, ‘Inside Our Abandoned Student Union,’ The Gaudie, March 2019).


However, as the University began to consolidate teaching at its Old Aberdeen campus, the Union faced a ‘dramatic downturn’ in revenue. It was ultimately shut down in 2004 as drunken patrons clashed with staff in the wee hours of the night. Since then, the location of the Union was moved first to Butchart, then to Johnston, and finally to its current location on Elphinstone Road (Kolanen, 2019).


However, Nzolo confirmed that a new, independent building for AUSA remains ‘a long-term objective’ and that sabbatical officers are ‘identifying other existing spaces around the campus that could be repurposed for students’ use.’


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