Running uncontested on a platform of four key issues – communication, activities, redevelopment and employability – Kelsey Gold was elected director of student development and activities in March 2013. Speaking to The Saint, she reviews this manifesto and the accomplishment of its targets.
Reinforcing good communication between the Union and the wider student body was central to Kelsey’s campaign. Membership Services Limited’s takeover of the Association website this academic year marked an important milestone in developing such lines of communication.
Ms Gold believes that this is “a vast aesthetic improvement over the old website”. For instance, the renovated Societies Portal is helpfully split into categories such as ‘Academic & Education’ or ‘Arts, Media & Music’. This may make it easier for students to research and involve themselves with extra-curricular activities. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement: many sections of the website contain dated information and some descriptions on the Societies Portal need to be properly completed. She admits that there is currently not enough institutional support to comprehensively manage the Association website.
However, her efforts to improve interactions between societies and the Union are commendable. She has regularly communicated with groups such as SSC sub-committees via social media, email and face-to-face meetings in the weekly Societies Clinic. In such an intimate University, improved relations between various student organisations can only be positive.
Ms Gold aimed to provide some basic training for societies, as well as affiliating smaller societies to create sub-committee style groups. She argued that this would aid the management of such societies and make interactions between the Union and students generally more effective.
Saying “our affiliation rates have never been higher”, this is clearly one of her most successful endeavours. It is certainly encouraging to see so many smaller factions of the student body co-operating with the more central Students’ Association. Broad-ranging training is now also available for newly affiliated societies, covering safety and the management of finances. Whether this training will positively affect the operation of societies in the long run remains to be seen, but Ms Gold said the Union had “had good feedback from training and the new Societies Handbook”.
With redevelopment underway, the smooth operation of daily Union activities was always going to be a pressing issue. One of the most obvious problems was the closure of the Union bar, a popular night-time venue throughout the week for undergraduates in particular. Ms Gold admits that this has been challenging: “We have expanded access to the committee room and Venue 1 to help keep up with demand, but we always need more space! I am continuing to work with the University so that we can offer free room bookings in the Medical Science Building and other University venues.” These efforts have also been aided by the Mansfield building and halls of residence, who have both offered space for activities.
This part of the job has regularly overlapped with that of the director of events and services, Daniel Palmer. She said: “He deserves a medal for all that he has done to keep the building as functional as possible”. Notably this includes the opening of the Building Site Bar, which temporarily replaces the Main Bar following its closure in December, 2013.
Arguing that Employability Week did little to improve students’ career prospects, Ms Gold proposed large employability workshops collectively run by the Careers Centre, CAPOD and the Association. It is perhaps here that change has been most visible.
The well-advertised Career Launch: Employability Conference in January 2014 is one clear example of her achievements. Activities included mock assessment centre exercises, CV management and talks from alumni regarding a variety of career paths. Ms Gold says that this event received much positive feedback and that she hopes to pass it on to her successor.
However, any future conferences may benefit from being set over a period longer than two days. Held before the beginning of semester two, when many students would have been abroad or busy, the conference may not have been as widely attended as it could have been. In the future, such employability schemes may be more useful if staged during term time or the spring break.
The introduction of an SRC employability officer, Lonie Sebagh, is another landmark achievement. Ms Gold said: “Lonie is wonderful and I am so glad the SRC employability officer will continue next year”. Ms Sebagh’s responsibilities include liaising with and lobbying the Careers Centre and CAPOD to address student employment needs, and working with school presidents to establish school employability needs.
Aiming to provide “a really solid activities program” is, Ms Gold says, also key to becoming more employable. She has therefore increased student spending to £90,000 for a variety of activities, events and charity fundraisers. From Music is Love to the Union Debating Society, her support for a hugely diverse selection of extra-curricular activities is admirable.
The Saint’s assessment
Ms Gold was a strong candidate in the 2013 elections, with both previous experience as Charities Convener and clear determination. But fulfilling her broad, somewhat ambiguous manifesto has not been straightforward. Though the refurbished website may not be completed and the Union itself remains a less than ideal venue, her success regarding society affiliation and the employability conference in January is praiseworthy. Many of her other employment policies, including the establishment of an SRC employability officer, will have a lasting, hopefully positive bearing upon university life. She leaves an overall legacy of improved communications with many societies, the impact of which will likely be best felt after the Union redevelopment.