One week on: The Saint interviews the 2012-13 Union Sabbaticals

0

Freddie Fforde (Association President-elect)

The Saint: What were the highlights of campaign week for you?

Freddie Fforde: Two things stand out. One, the talent of the people who wanted to help me out, which was humbling. You see people who want to get involved in student politics, and not just for me but for everyone, and to do it in such a talented way, that really stands out.

The second thing was getting to meet people, going out and interacting with groups and societies. Everyone’s experience at St Andrews is unique and you have to break out of your own bubble, your own life, and meet other people whose concerns and experiences are totally removed from yours. There are so many different people out there in St Andrews that I want to learn from.

TS: What was the overriding emotion on hearing the result on Friday night?

FF: Friday night was a mess of different feelings and emotions. In a way it was one of excitement, seeing the culmination of so much hard work and how people had voted. I knew whatever happened that we’d have a very strong Sabb team next year because of the ability and range of candidates. There was pride, not so much in myself, but in St Andrews, that we can come together and take such an interest.

TS: Have those feelings changed or sunk in?

FF: Not too much – I’ve mainly been sleeping since then! But business has now moved on from campaigning to learning – that’s the focus for the next few months. I’ve met with members of the University Court and societies like LGBT, and continued to learn about the work Patrick [O’Hare] and his team have done. So it’s gone from an immediate impression to looking forward and being well-prepared.

TS: What have you made of Patrick O’Hare as President and what can you take from his time in office?

FF: One thing that’s really struck me about his presidency is the immense passion and hard work that he puts into it. He really cares about the things he fights for, and I respect that immensely. I’ve got a lot to learn from him in terms of the application he puts into the job and the passion and care he puts in. That is something I really want to build on and follow.

He’s achieved a lot as well – today he told me that he’s secured a 3% reduction in fees for Andrew Melville Hall, so they fall into the ‘affordable beds’ category. He’s campaigned very hard on civic issues and what he was elected to campaign for.

TS: What are you going to be doing between now and June?

FF: I will arrange to sit down with them [the other Presidential candidates, to talk about their campaign policies] if they choose to do so. I’ll also be meeting the University Executive, the Court and also leaders in the town. The Sabbatical positions are typically for one year, and I need to learn from and respect the work that these people have put in over 10 or 20 years.

I want to make sure that I’ll come in fully up to speed with what everyone else, like societies, is thinking and their plans – I want to know what those concerns are and not pursue my own agenda, but make balanced and objective decision based on where everyone else is. Working together is my first priority.

TS: Have you spoken to Alistair Moffat about working together next year?

FF: I have, yes. I was informally part of his campaign team, as I looked at the candidates and thought he was the best to take us forward. We’ve talked about a few issues and I’m looking forward to sitting down and going over the issues that face us. He has a different role and mandate to me, and a different insight, so the more I can learn from him the better. I would add that I very much enjoyed his [Rectorial Address] – gaining student experience outside of the classroom is something I’ve always found in St Andrews and I’m sure a lot of other people do too.

TS: Looking at your campaign policies, you’ve spoken about building relationships and improving transparency – how do you plan to achieve that?

FF: On relationships, it’s something I already have and I’m building on – I’ve worked with the Rector, the Principal several times and various leaders in town who I’ve met over the last few years. So a lot of those relationships are in place.

With transparency – for me there’s a difference between transparency and visibility. Transparency for me is the publication and demonstration of things like the Court minutes, which are available online. Visibility is how well they are marketed to the students, and I feel that will be my role. Throughout my time as President I’ll be blogging and using social media to give people access to what I’m doing. Also we need to communicate the decisions of Court, which is perhaps more removed from the student body, and those of town organisations as well. I’m very keen on the idea of ‘Sabbatical question time’ and I’m hoping to spend as many meals as possible in student halls, if that can be worked out. The main thing is to be visible and accessible, using web media and regular surgeries to explain and clarify and market the decisions that I’m taking.

As for the structure of the SRC and SSC and how they feed in to the Sabbatical team and how that feeds into the University organisation overall, I’d like to build a visual diagrammatical representation of what that looks like.

I’ve got from June to September to work on these ideas, so they’re ready for students coming back. The most important thing is not to make false promises but – as I did in my campaign – emphasise the way I want to approach these things; through relationships, transparency and visibility and collective leadership, i.e. listening to what everyone has to say and representing everybody’s views. Once I have that knowledge, I can use my experience to communicate that directly.

TS: How will the innovation workshops (for accommodation) you spoke about actually work?

FF: That’s a conversation I need to have with Roger Smith (head of Residential and Business Services), but when I raised the suggestion he was very keen indeed. I think it feeds off the visibility I was talking about, because once we see these decisions being made then we can take part in them. Patrick’s accommodation meeting in Lower Parliament Hall was a very good first step, and I want to do more of that and make sure the good ideas that were had in that room can be harnessed, like in the innovation websites, to give students a direct say

TS: You’ve also spoken about student experience – what ideas do you have relating to that?

FF: One illuminating thing I learned from the campaign trail was how many barriers there are to people enjoying their time in St Andrews. Typically it’s been financially-related, or about accommodation. I have already put time into three things related to that – a freshers’ website (standrewsfreshers.com), written by students, that explains the St Andrews student experience; there’s the History of St Andrews blog, which I’m putting together a managing committee for; plus the Scott Lang Dinner, a way for students to engage with their executive decision-makers. The key priority for me on this is identifying what the barriers are and then working hard to get rid of them.

What strikes me about our traditions is that they’re run by us for us. I don’t think it’s right for anybody to lead that or instruct that, it should be reflective. I don’t intend to impose any of that on anyone, but rather focus on the barriers, like cultural ones for international students, preventing people enjoying themselves. Translating the student experience, and not just in linguistic terms, is something I want to work on.

I can’t make specific promises, but I’ve shown that I consistently come up with ideas and implement them, which I’ll do in the next six months once I’ve listened and learned. I invite any group or individual to come to me with ideas, because my role is as a pivot for student-led ideas.

 

Amanda Litherland (Director of Representation-elect)

The Saint: Can you pick out any particular highlights from campaign week?

Amanda Litherland: It was such an exciting week and I had so much fun with it. I told my campaign team that the student body generally doesn’t care too much about policies, so the point of the campaign was to have fun.

We had the video that went huge. That was probably the highlight – we made it on Tuesday, Hannah Frith edited it and sent it to me that evening, and watching it I thought, ‘We could seriously win’. I knew before that I wanted to win, but that was when it dawned on me that I could do it. I had the policies but the video got the message out to the student body. I also enjoyed just talking to people and the other teams – it was a friendly, carnival-like atmosphere.

TS: What was the overriding emotion on hearing the result?

AL: It was relief and joy – I didn’t expect to win, no matter what people told me, I just couldn’t allow myself to think like that. I was completely fine up to about half an hour before the results, and then I was sat in the bar and just went weird – people were trying to have conversations with me and I was just talking nonsense! There’s no words for how I felt; I was just so overjoyed because of the work put into it and it was all I’ve wanted to do this year.

TS: A week on, has the feeling changed?

AL: A little bit, like the sentimental things like walking along the beach and realising I don’t have to leave or be hanging around with no reason to be here. It’s started to sink in, but I’ve been so busy this week with ‘The Frogs, a musical’ and catching up on work. I’m looking forward to Easter for a chance to sit back and think.

TS: What’s your assessment of Sam Fowles as DoRep and what he can pass on to you?

AL: Sam’s done a good job and spoken out on a lot of things. He’s had a lot of criticism, which is fine, as he’s come back from it stronger and been a really good leader. He’s done a lot of good stuff – like campaigning for the Rector and establishing the ‘Forward Thinking’ conference that has got a lot of big names coming. He also started up the academic mentor system that I’ve been talking about. I’ve been talking to Sam for a while to get in-depth knowledge of what the job’s about. We get on very well and have a good working relationship, so that should really help with the handover period.

TS: What are your plans for between now and June?

AL: Salvage my degree! I’ve done no work this semester and I’ve had a lot of advice from people, like Owen Wilton [Association President 2010-11], saying concentrate on your degree. So that’s the priority for now. I can do small things, like seeing how the new SRC gets started. I won’t be taking on as heavy a role right now, but I’ll be getting into it slowly and seeing how things go.

TS: One of your policies was to push for a 24-hour Library and increased study space – what’s the latest on that?

AL: I spoke to people from the Library before, to check it was possible, and they said it was something they wanted to happen and the gates there are step one towards that happening. We also need to convince the University – they don’t believe students should be studying 2-6 am but, to be honest, we are – if you walk into Butt’s Wynd it’s full. This won’t happen until exam time, the busiest periods. I’m going to have some meetings with the Library as soon as I can and I’ll be here all summer to get it sorted.

For more study space, I’d like longer opening hours for other libraries like St Mary’s and the Science libraries. There should also be more publicity of the places that you can go. Departments have spare rooms that can be used and they need to get that information out as soon as possible, which I believe they’re already working on for this [semester’s] exam period.

TS: What is academic mentoring and how will you make it work?

AL: Sam has already spoken to the University about it and they’re keen to do it. Essentially it’s an extension to advisers, who most people only see for five minutes a semester – honours students will opt in to mentor sub-honours students so they’ll have an hour or two a semester to talk about issues and questions they might have. Honours students will be trained in how to do it, in terms of sharing experience. It would be helpful to have that in place for students’ first semester of first year, like for advice on changing subjects.

The honours students who do that will be given the option of being mentored by a PhD student and it’ll go on the transcript of their CV, so there’s those benefits. I’ve heard people say they’re just like academic parents, but let’s not merge those things – they’re a beauty in themselves. It’s going to be one of my big projects – it’ll hopefully be in place for September 2013, and fulfil what people have wanted for a while now.

TS: You also mentioned an independent accommodation audit – how would that work?

AL: I’m going to working with Freddie [Fforde] on that one, going over ideas and giving my thoughts and support. There’s been a lot of good ideas come through the campaigning process, like student-run or University or Union-run letting agencies so we could control the market in a way. The audit would be to get actual statistics on what is actually happening in St Andrews – where are people living and what are they paying – as we don’t have that at the moment.

Accommodation is a problem we can deal with, and it’s a lot better than the situation in my first year with people sleeping outside the estate agents waiting for lists to come out! We just need to work as hard as we can to ensure we make those improvements.

TS: You’ve promised representation through ‘open communication and accessibility’ – what does that mean?

AL: I’ve got loads of ideas for doing that. One is ‘Sabbatical question time’ at least once per semester; we’ll do a presentation on what’ve done and then students can ask us questions, like ‘you said this in your manifesto, what’s going on with it?’ That would help us live up to our promises and also stop the St Andrews rumour mill.

I’m also going to have mobile office hours in different places, like in halls, the Library cafe and the Gateway, so that people will know me as a friendly face. Patrick [O’Hare] in particular has been really good with that this year, being out and about and at student events so people know who he is and can chat to him. St Andrews is a small place and everyone should know each other. I don’t want to be a figurehead stuck in the Union, I’m just one of you guys.

We’re all going to work on the website and we’ve started publishing SRC motions alongside the minutes from meetings, publicising them on Facebook and Twitter so people know what’s happening and what will be going on the next week if they want to come along. I’d like the Sabbs to work with BubbleTV or Rogue to do a regular ‘videocast’ on what we’ve been doing and what’s happening, for example with Union redevelopment. People are more likely to watch a two-minute video than read a long email. We’re also keen to do a Sabbatical radio show on STAR. We’re thinking, ‘let’s be pragmatic about this’, and make use of student media to get our message across.

 

Jules Findlay (Director of Events and Services-elect)

The Saint: What were your highlights of the campaign? Did you enjoy it?

Jules Findlay: It was really fun but very tiring. I had quite a big team full of very dedicated people so it was really well managed. My highlight would have to be the party that we ran at The Vic. We had some strobe and some smoke machines. Everyone who had been out campaigning was there so it was a great end to what was a really long week. I could never have achieved anything without the team and the support that I had.

TS: How was election night?

JF: Everyone on the team kept telling me that it was going to be really close between me and Tom [Burns]. But people on the street were saying things like, “Jules I’m voting for you” or “I think you’ll be fine”. But up until that night, I really think it could have gone either way. I think Tom was a really good candidate, he ran a really strong campaign. My first emotion was definitely relief when I found out I’d won.

A week on and it’s back to the grind with essays unfortunately. But there’s still a lot of stuff that the new Sabbs are involved in. Over Easter, we’re going down to Leicester to see the new Union there and it’s been great getting to know my colleagues for the next year. I’ve already started to think about acts for Freshers’ Week as well and I’ve been in touch with the Kate Kennedy Fellowship, talking about how we can do things together. I support what they’re doing; I think it’s really good [note: this interview was conducted before Thursday’s KKC announcement]. I’m not really focusing on the job as such at the moment but definitely having thoughts about what we can do.

TS: You have a very impressive CV and would clearly be very employable. Why do you want to stick around in St Andrews after four years in the place?

JF: To be honest, I don’t really know what I want to do job-wise. As far as it goes, I could really do whatever I want. I had a job in marketing lined up down in London which I turned down for this. But it’s not every day that you’re given this sort of graduate job where you’re given a business with a turnover of £3m and you’re solely in charge of it. It would take me 10 or 15 years to get to this position elsewhere. As far as I see it, it’s a really good opportunity. I’m not doing it for the money; I’m doing it for the experience and what it teaches you because I’ll probably be worse off next year than I am now.

TS: What are your principal aims for the year coming and how are you going to improve on your predecessor’s performance whilst in office?

JF: I’m going to be focusing more on the internal logistics of the Union so that people can book equipment and the Ents crew are kept in the loop. I want to lay on more drinks promotions because there haven’t been too many this year.

In all honesty though, Rollo (Strickland) has done a really great job this year at quite a tough time. He’s brought in some big names and the Union’s making a lot more money now because people see it as a place where they might see quite a good act. I want to make the Union the place to be again. I’m going to spend some money on the bar, refurbishing it so we can compete with places like The Vic. I’ll be working with other student groups to make sure that the Association’s more open and transparent in everything it does. The website as well needs to be completely redesigned. I’ll be heading down to London as soon as I start to talk to the designers. I’ll look to have a Freshers’ Week website, just dedicated to the events.

I would like to run the biggest and best Freshers’ Week ever that brings in the most amount of money. I’m going to bring back a dance music festival; maybe Starfields festival or something similar. I also want to make sure that people can put on their own events. I’d like to top Rollo’s successful Freshers’ Week this year and look to make around £50,000 maybe and then keep the momentum going throughout the year. I’ll be throwing around £200 at each bop to get some good DJs every Friday. I’m also hoping to set up a Students’ Association ball but it wouldn’t be competing with the Kate Kennedy Opening Ball. The Union has to extend further than the exit and cater for all tastes.

TS: What kind of acts are you hoping to get in? Tickets for big performers this year have ranged between £12 and £15. Do you think next year’s students will be happy to pay this amount for a ticket considering many of them will be paying around £9,000 in fees?

JF: For next year I’m looking to get some big rave names like The Bloody Beetroots and some crazy stadium names like some of the acts that play at T in the park. Calvin Harris is one that I’m thinking about. The thing is that you have to get big names but names that people like but are also mainstream. It’s a tricky balance. I’m having some thoughts about Florence and the Machine. Maybe The Maccabees and Chase and Status is another one I’m thinking about.

I’ll be trying to keep tickets as cheap as possible but I would rather pay £15 to go and see some great acts than pay £5 to go to a bop. I don’t think shelling out £15 for a big act is that bad considering you’re getting three big acts for the price that you’d pay for the Opening Ball. So I’m happy to charge a bit more to put on a quality performance.

TS: You’ve mentioned before your aims of improving the travel service and breathing some life into the Union shop. Is there the money to fund these improvements?

JF: What we’ve seen this year is that Rollo’s done up the bar and the money’s flowing in and I really feel that you have to spend money to make money. Similarly, I want to spend some money on the café, redoing the menu and re-establishing it. The prices won’t change, Tennant’s is staying at £2. I want to clean up the shop a bit. It needs to have a website. I don’t know who goes in there to buy stationery and the clothing is really expensive so I’m going to try and drive prices down.

TS: With regard to the redevelopment of the Union, it seems like a lot of the decisions have already been made without student input. Will students have a voice?

JF: I’ve seen all the plans and there’s huge amount of flexibility for the these to change and as soon as I take office I will open up the plans to all student so that they can see and I’ll be asking for feedback in Freshers’ Week. The process will change entirely with me on board and I’ll be making sure that the redevelopment is all about students. All the work will be done over the summer and Easter but there will be some disruption, but it will definitely be worth it. If all goes to plan, the redevelopment will be finished in September 2013.

 

Meg Platt (Director of Student Development and Activities-elect)

The Saint: What were the highlights of the campaign for you?

MP: Oh wow, there were so many highlights! I think realising that friends from other circles were coming together to help me campaign, particularly campaign novices. I had the best campaign team!

TS: How did you feel on Election Day?

MP: It was really bizarre. We’d been flyering all day and it had been raining. I’d also had no sleep and there was barley anyone in the library for me to encourage to vote so I ran to the Management Building hoping to flyer postgraduates – I was literally assaulting them! I think the strategy worked because a bit later I was in the Union when my friend showed me that I had 4,000 votes and I just felt so excited. My friends’ energy definitely inspired me when I heard the news!

TS: It’s one week on, has the feeling sunk in?  

MP: I’m really excited for next year and I feel really energised for July I when my role officially starts. I have to finish my dissertation before then and put my head down and work but I’m sure that by July I’ll be raring to go!

TS: How do you feel your predecessor has done, and what have they passed onto you?

MP: Well David Graves has done so much this year – he set up things such as Dragon’s Den and the Professional Skills Curriculum where he set up a series of workshops for professionals to give career advice to students. It’s a tough act to follow but I’m excited by the prospect.

TS: You say that you would like to improve Town and Gown relations – how are you going to do that?

MP: I think the University has a good relationship with the town and I would like to strengthen that relationship by putting on events for both students and the wider community. I helped organise the Royal Wedding Breakfast last year and it took serious co-operation from both students and locals to make it possible. Events such as the Wedding Breakfast have enabled me to meet lots of people, including those who have businesses, and it’s through contacts such as these that I hope to open up more internships for students. I also taught a bit at Madras School as part of my IR degree where I was able to meet local teachers and I would like to make it possible for secondary school pupils to come and see the activities and societies that we have here at the University.

TS: If you could prioritise one of your three main goals for the job (increase the Union’s efficiency, revamp the Union’s website and improve Town and Gown relationships) what would it be?

MP: They are all important but I’d priorities the Union’s website because the efficiency of the Union is the framework event organisation. It needs to be more accessible for students. I’m also very keen to create more opportunities for local internships and to organise an Employability week in November instead of the Spring because I think it would come in time for peoples’ job applications.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.