When asked about her “Jess Do It” election slogan, Jess Walker, the president of the Athletic Union, chuckled and said: “Well, it was a bit of a running joke between me and my friends and using it for my campaign just seemed to good an opportunity to miss. But I’ve always enjoyed a good challenge.”
This became clear as Jess outlined her plan for the AU in the year ahead. Pleased that the Athletic Union had hosted yet another successful pre-season for the University’s athletes, she said that Freshers’ Week and in particular the Sports Fayre were “the biggest challenges in communicating our ideas and getting people to get involved with what is a vital part of University life.”
While people will obviously want to play sport at University, Jess very much sees it as her job to build it so that the masses will come; to this end she has instigated a revamp of the AU’s media strategy.
“A great amount of credit has to go to our communications officer Lexy Martin for revamping our whole media strategy. We’ve launched a new Twitter feed, Instagram account and made sure that our Facebook account is up to date. We’ve also made sure that the individual club websites and pages are streamlined and up to date, which is something that we hope that the clubs will put to use. We’ve also had the admissions department send out emails to incoming students about the AU, the Sports Fayre and have published our club guide online so that all new students are very much aware how big a part sport plays in University life.”
Even when talking about something as seemingly mundane as an email there is an evidently transparent and boundless enthusiasm in Jess’ attitude to her role and sport in general. When not saying that she has a fondness for working long hours or continuing to praise the fantastic team she has around her, she says she still hopes to remain very much involved actively in sport.
“Sport is my thing. I loved playing rugby when I was a student and allowing for time I would still like to do it occasionally. I’m also a fitness coach in the gym here so I’ll still be firmly involved with things when I’m not in the office.”
Indeed, there will no doubt be a fair amount of office work in what is a fairly pivotal time for the Athletic Union. Last year’s well publicised reforms of the AU Executive will continue to be pushed through.
“By making it a paid position I feel that those who are involved will gain a lot from it and that the student body will get more out of it too. For those involved they’ll develop professional skills and in turn the students will get a group of responsible, professional people who are there on merit attempting to provide the best service possible for them.”
The most tangible sporting question on the mind of student athletes is probably the redevelopment work to the Sports Centre. Jess laughs when I suggest that it is something of a throwback to the days of a downtrodden and unloved council gym but immediately became serious, a recurring theme throughout our discussion.
“I agree with you. The demand is there in that the students at this University expect the best in everything and sports facilities are no exception. To give you an example, at our badminton give-it-a-go session over 100 people turned up and we simply couldn’t accommodate them. If we’re to be a welcoming and active organisation then we simply have to have basic provision for sports.”
To this end the facilities are going to be remarkably upgraded and expanded.
“By August 2014 a new eight-court sports hall will be in process. This summer we have basically renovated the entire gym, which was essential. A new conditioning suite has been installed, our cardio equipment has been updated and we have replaced the weights machines with equipment of the highest standard. As was shown last year with the arrival of the 3G pitch teams ranging from football to ultimate Frisbee have really benefited from having the best in facilities available to them. It’s a long term project but I am delighted that I can at least play a part in providing the best circumstances for the student body.”
The AU is continuing to show that sports is merely not about competition. A number of charities such as Wooden Spoon and Johnny Wookey will continue to receive contributions from Sinners and a number of club’s various charitable activities will be encouraged as much as possible: “We are a large family and community in St Andrews so it is only natural that our clubs should give something back to the community which we are so lucky to be part of.”
It is clear from our conversation that Jess views the AU as a vital and functioning part of life in St Andrews yet sees that its role extends beyond weight machines, a highly admirable point of view.
“I am very lucky to have this job to do. It’ll be very rewarding,” were Jess’ final words to me as I left the office. The hour or so that I spent with her was one charged with excitement and energy.
The Athletic Union seems to be in very safe hands and any work done this year will be conducted with determination but with a smile on its face.