The start of every new academic year brings with it a new bunch of freshers, many of whom are still naïve and bring their youth and vitality to this wonderful town. The week is a blur for all, with so many new friends to make and experiences to appreciate, as well as first nights spent at the Union. Behind the scenes of every Freshers’ Week, however, there are those organising events to make new students’ introduction to St Andrews more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Many of these individuals are new to their roles, and the week is just as much of a blur for them.
One of those new faces is Ben Peddie, this year’s president of the Athletic Union. He was elected on 12 March to the role that had previously been filled by Sarah Thompson. Ms Thompson had filled the role for two years prior, and that was something that could have posed problems for Mr Peddie as he attempted to find his feet in the role.
However, as he explained to me in an exclusive interview, his predecessor’s two-year tenure was in many ways a blessing. Mr Peddie had previously been treasurer of the Athletic Union and has worked in the Sports Centre since he joined the University. He therefore had a good understanding of the role before taking over. Mr Peddie explained that one of the issues many sabbatical officers have is the length of their one-year term. Officers may set the ball in motion for many of their ideas but cannot finish them, leaving their successor to oversee many incomplete projects. Because Ms Thompson held the role for two years, she was able to implement new programs and see them come to a positive conclusion, meaning that by and large, Mr Peddie has been able to start the 2016-17 year with a blank slate, something that bodes well for the year ahead. One project that is yet to be completed, though, is the redevelopment of the Sports Centre.
Many of you eagled-eyed observers will have noticed that the building work is still not finished despite statements last year that the work would be done by the start of this academic year. When quizzed on why the redevelopment work was yet to be completed, Mr Peddie merely sighed and began to explain the numerous issues that have arisen over the summer. The original Sports Centre was built in the 1970s, and during work over the summer it was discovered that remedial repairs were needed to make the older fountaion stable. That took time, and extra work needed to be done before the remaining work could be completed. That has pushed back the opening time of the new gym until the end of January 2017, just in time for the start of second semester.
One of the most striking aspects of my discussion with Mr Peddie was his enthusiasm for the role and all the work he has already overseen in his new role. This year has seen a generous budget increase for the Athletic Union, something Mr Peddie helped push for last year in his role as treasurer. Part of that money has been used to purchase two new vehicles for sports clubs to use during fixtures, whilst another portion is going towards the vending machines in the Sports Centre. The machines in place are new, and the plan is for the current contents to be replaced with healthier snacks during the year. Another project that had been part of Mr Peddie’s vision was a smoothie bar for the Sports Centre reception, but that was deemed not financially viable. The first major events on the horizon for sports at the University have been pre-season and Freshers’ Week. Pre-season was altered this year in order to restrict the number of teams participating in it to the 12 performance sports offered at the University. This meant that the clubs had a lot more room to work and managed to accomplish much during their pre-term weeks together.
Once term began, there was the inevitable eager surge of Freshers hungry to try out new sports, and that hunger was well and truly quenched this year with all 59 of the University’s Sports Clubs offering give-it-a-go sessions (all of which saw high levels of attendance). They were deemed a success by Mr Peddie, as was the Sports Fayre, but he was also honest enough to admit that lessons were learned from the week and improvement could be made by future AU Presidents. With most sabbatical officers only enjoying one year in the role, it can often be hard to properly leave your mark on the University. Ms Thompson’s campaigning to get the Scottish Varsity game played at Murrayfield will always be one of her lasting achievements, and Mr Peddie has used that as a vehicle to stamp his own mark on the role. As someone with a rugby background, the varsity game was something quite dear to Mr Peddie, and he has really stepped up the occasion for this year’s marquee fixture.
Not only is Mr Peddie trying to beat the huge attendance of last year, but this year’s event on Saturday 24 September will see 23 games of various sports involving over 300 St Andrews athletes. These individuals will be competing as part of the Kingdom vs Capital Cup, building towards the main game as part of the “Road to Murrayfield.” These changes are a brilliant concept and will make the day even more inclusive. The varsity game is an integral part of Mr Peddie’s vision for a “Saints Sport spirit” and increased camaraderie among our numerous sports clubs. The other major project in the pipeline is making a Wednesday Night Lights event a regular part of the St Andrews sporting calendar. Similar to the concept of the Fright Night Lights American football fixtures across the pond, Mr Peddie wants clubs that use the rubbercrumb pitch by the sports centre to have evening games in the floodlights. He is also in talks with the Fife Council about getting licences to have a pitchside bar and music playing during the fixture. Provisionally, the first of these would be a women’s football varsity rematch, with ultimate frisbee and lacrosse among other sports set to be featured. If the project succeeds, Wednesday Night Lights would provide some of the best events at the University, at least sport-wise, and undoubtedly help foster this “Saints Sport spirit” Mr Peddie is keen to support.