Town and gown relationships
Successful town and gown relationships in St Andrews have three key characteristics: a shared platform to represent both student and community interests; the identification and resolution of practical issues when they arise; and the strength of our shared history, culture, sporting facilities and traditions.
This all sounds very big-picture and aspirational: but what does it actually mean in practice?
A shared platform
The first, most fundamental characteristic is that there is a shared platform in St Andrews for the representation of both student and community interests: three places are reserved solely for students nominated by the Students’ Association on the Community Council. This automatically gives the student body a voice in community matters and enables us to engage face-to-face with each other. One of these positions is taken on by the Students’ Association President, another by the Community Relations Officer and the third by a student on the Community Relations Sub-Committee. The Community Relations officer represents both residents and students on the Student Representative Council and the Student Services Council in the Student Association, allowing for a wide scope for ideas and solutions to be discussed.
Identification and resolution of practical issues
The second key characteristic is that we help each other to identify and solve the day-to-day, practical problems that arise throughout the student year such as refuse collection, transport issues and safety.
It used to be that the refuse collection took place on a Friday at the end of the final semester. However, most students don’t leave for their summer holiday until the Saturday, so that’s when they tend to put out their rubbish including furniture, mattresses and big items they don’t want to take with them. In the past, this refuse was often left for a week (or sometimes even longer) before it was collected. This was identified as an issue and now the refuse lorries undertake special collections at the end of the final semester to deal with this.
We have also worked together to solve transport issues. For example, it used to be that the bus from Leuchars station back to St Andrews left just before the train from Edinburgh arrived at 5pm, leaving passengers who didn’t drive stranded until the next bus came along – not a pleasant experience on a dark, cold and rainy evening. After some lobbying from local councillors, the bus time has now changed so it dovetails with the arrival of the train.
There are also issues that have been identified such as student safety in places such as Kinburn Park: many students use it as a shortcut to the North Haugh and the Sports Centre, so we make sure that lighting is working, and shrubs and bushes are cut back so they feel comfortable walking through there at night.
The need to give information to new students about cycle routes, one-way systems and to promote safe cycling in town has also been identified and we’re working together on this. With people from so many different countries and different road-crossing customs living in the town, we’re also looking at providing information about the various crossings in town and how to use them. This is being incorporated into a campaign that will be released in the next couple of weeks.
At the beginning of this academic year, Community Relations put together a booklet called ‘Your St Andrews’ which highlighted things from etiquette during Raisin and May Dip, important community contacts and safe night out tips amongst many other topics. For next year’s booklet we are hoping to expand this to have more of an input from the Community Council with regards to cycle safety and how to become more involved in the community.
Groups within the Students Association often hold regular engagements such as beach cleans, coffee mornings and concerts to name a few, open to everyone. The most recent have been concerts held in the Bell Pettigrew museum in St Mary’s quad by Music is Love, open to all. These are hopefully going to become a regular occurrence.
Recognition of the strength of our shared history, culture, sporting facilities and traditions
The University and the community share a centuries-old history. Together, with golf and tourism, these form the DNA of St Andrews.
The shared story of the community and the University is built into the town’s stones, into its three streets and its architecture, from the initials that mark Patrick Hamilton’s martyrdom to the iconic cathedral that was ‘cleansed’ by John Knox and his Protestant followers following the sermon that triggered the Reformation in Scotland.
This shared history is celebrated every year in the colourful Kate Kennedy Parade, which is organised by both members of the student body and of the community and attracts visitors from far and wide.
There is also a vibrant arts culture in the town, including student groups and societies as varied as the Mermaids Performing Arts Fund, the Folk and Trad group, and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. The Music Centre has nurtured a wide variety of orchestras, groups and ensembles over the years, which include both University and community players. Membership of these groups is very fluid, with talented students, professionals, local amateurs and sometimes children contributing and playing to packed local audiences.
Another culture event, which takes place every year is the On the Rocks festival, which is the largest student run arts festival in Scotland. This host a variety of performances of music, dramas and shows open to all in the town.
The internationally renowned StAnza poetry festival began as a town initiative in 1998 but is now supported by a planning committee formed of volunteers drawn from the local, student and academic communities who help to plan, organise and develop the programme.
Many of these cultural events take place at the Byre Theatre. Several years ago, it was experiencing financial difficulties and the University agreed to take over its administration. Likewise, some years before that, the local council took over the running of the Botanic Gardens when the University was experiencing financial difficulties. We also help each other out during difficult times.
Furthermore, the Student Voluntary Service (SVS) organises for students to volunteer in and around St Andrews. This gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the St Andrews community. They provide a platform to volunteer at schools, care homes and in many environmental projects that happen within the town.
There are also lots of collaborations between town and gown in sport. Saints Sport is responsible for managing all sport and fitness related activities, services and facilities at the University of St Andrews and is a partnership between the Department of Sport and the Athletic Union.
Students from Saints Sport volunteer at local schools and help to run a junior tennis programme and summer schools in various sports. Student golfers as well as locals can play on the oldest, most iconic course in the world. The new sports centre is well used by both University and local members.
Perhaps in the future there might be a swimming pool at the Sports Centre that was available to the community, including Madras College, local primary schools and residents? This might be a future initiative for the University and the local authority to collaborate on!
In addition, there are the long-standing, annual traditions that create our shared communal memories and experiences. Those that stand out most, perhaps, are the Armistice Day service and parade, the St Andrews Day parade (and the Civic Reception that follows it) and the University carol service in Holy Trinity church, which holds up to a thousand people, and is always full.
Possibly the most impressive manifestation of the close relationship between the University and local community has been our recent joint opposition to the proposed closure of the Out of Hours Community Service at St Andrews Hospital. The strength and effectiveness of this resistance has contributed to the Health Secretary’s recommendation to delay the decision and explore further options for our area.
The interests of town and gown are inextricably linked: we engage with each other, we identify and solve problems together and we have a shared history, culture, sporting facilities and traditions that bring us together. And when we unite to fight a common injustice, we are formidable.
If you would like to become more involved or have any ideas please do not hesitate to contact the Community Relations officer at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Chairman of the Royal Burgh of St Andrews Community Council at email@example.com.On a final note, Candidate nominations must be submitted by Thursday 21st of February if you are wanting to stand as a candidate in the Community Council Elections. (You must have already registered to vote) If you need more information please follow this link: http://www.fifedirect.org.uk/elections.