Shadowing Amanda
Photo credit: Toby Renouf

9:30am. Amanda opens the door of her flat. This is the first time I’ve met her, or indeed any of the sabbatical officers (the Sabbs). Over breakfast, a Da Vinci-esque last supper scene unfolds, except with OJ and scrambled eggs and the big Ff at the centre of the table flanked by his team. A regular Monday morning feature this year, we’re told.

Questions fly around about meetings, the new semester timetable, and Goldfish. And so begins the unravelling of the dark arts of the Union Sabbs.

At 11am the Sabbs go into a closed-door General Management Meeting. Less transparency, more transparency-lite, for those who remember the management-speak which plagued the last elections.

With the highest mandate in the UK, this is a confident and close-knit team. But confidence cannot achieve everything. Although Amanda says “there’s a lot of good stuff in with the bad,” bureaucracy is a recurrent theme. You have to go to meetings to sort out meetings. A while is spent answering the 30-odd daily emails. “It’d be nice to have a PA,” she half jokes.

It defies much of the predictability of a 9-5 job, so “you react to what comes up.”

At the end of her narrow office Amanda taps away intently, occasionally leafing through a briefing document for a later meeting. Indeed, she prefers project management to nitty-gritty admin, adding that most of the work “is not very sexy.”

In the DoRep office a sofa is pushed up against a wall plastered with safe sex posters. Opposite, next to Amanda’s campaign t-shirt that has been pinned to the wall, hang A3 pages – one for elections, one for projects. To-do sheets, if you will.

There’s the Forward Thinking Conference, the AU, a graduation video (so people know what to do, rather than trying to work it out by watching Kate Middleton graduate on YouTube) and, among a plethora of other things, the elections. Amanda heads the election committee.

At lunchtime a Saint team arrive to talk about election coverage. Amanda’s aim is to boost turnout to 55 or 60% following last year’s record high of 52%. Downstairs, posters cover the wall of the Union Bar with witty role synopses. Publicity, videos and communication – hands on work – has started early this year in an effort to reach that goal.

Elections bring the conversation full circle to pre-Sabb expectations and the reality of everyday representing.

Continuity is an issue. With just one year to complete a project, “if [your successor] doesn’t want to continue it won’t happen.” You focus on smaller things you know you can do, which limits radical changes. Candidly, Amanda admits that “things take longer than expected.”

There are high profile successes like the 24hr library. Conversation lingers on the possibility of another 24hr opening timed with major coursework deadlines. There aren’t very many “tangible rewards” – unlike the DoES role (the Director of Events and Services) – yet Amanda says that she “doesn’t feel meaningless.”

The number of people in contact with the DoRep is striking. Two final meetings are with the Widening Access Committee, charged with challenging St Andrews’ image (which hasn’t met since Cava-gate) and then an audience with the School Presidents. Representing students’ voices in education is a priority. The Internal Schools Review about teaching and learning practices is yet another plate the DoRep is spinning.

Of course, monumental changes don’t happen on a daily basis; even a small union is unwieldy. As for Amanda, she simply says: “To get things done you’ve got to play the game.”

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