Following their election in March, we often hear very little of the Sabbatical Officers and how they’ve adapted to their respective roles and what they’re working on until they announce something or comment on an ongoing issue. Well, unless you read the all-student email sent out every week by the Sabbs, something the current Director of Wellbeing (DoWell), Nick Farrer, was keen to stress when The Saint caught up with him last week.
The obvious place to begin the interview was asking Mr Farrer how he had found the role over his first few months. He was refreshingly honest, acknowledging that he has had to make changes to some things he had initially hoped to work on.
“It’s going well. Everyone in our positions, in terms of Sabbs, faces roadblocks that jump up and our plans can change as it were, and although plans have changed, I feel positive.”
One area that has required a lot of attention has been the proposed changes to the Out of Hours GP service provision across Fife as part of the new Fife Health and Social Care Partnership. Mr Farrer has been at the forefront of the campaign to fight the changes, speaking up at the public consultation meetings and noting to The Saint that he’d been looking into buses to help students passionate about the issue to go out and protest somewhere “that’ll get press attention and the attention of Holyrood”.
The urgency to protest, according to Mr Farrer, stems from the fact that the official consultation period is now over, with a final decision on the matter not being made until December, meaning that the only thing students and locals can really do now is “make our dissent very publicly known”.
When discussing the Out of Hours issue, Mr Farrer was also quick to praise the work done by the MSP for St Andrews, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, at Holyrood and the comments made by East Neuk Councillor Linda Holt, who caused controversy for her remarks about the HMO ban earlier this year, at a recent emergency meeting of the North East Fife Area Committee that both Mr Farrer and Students’ Association President Paloma Paige attended.
Speaking of Cllr Holt, Mr Farrer said “[she] spoke very authentically and honestly about the expressions of anger she was feeling and that had come from the community. I was very impressed by that.”
Since our interview it has been confirmed that there will be a protest, facilitated by the Union, next Tuesday (20 November) to protest the Out of Hours decision publicly.
Aside from this issue, which has taken up a lot of Mr Farrer’s time since taking on the role, he says he has tried to stay loyal to his manifesto, which he keeps “pinned up on the wall next to me to try and keep me right”. He was worked hard to bring the Ask Angela campaign to St Andrews and he was delighted by the recent partnership struck up between the Students Association and Marks Out of Tenancy.
Mr Farrer’s manifesto spoke about holding landlords more accountable and this partnership seems, organised mostly by Ms Paige, to have struck the right chord.
He said, “In practicality, it can be difficult for us to do things regarding housing in St Andrews beyond lobbying, going to these meetings and making our voices heard, but this website is community-organising, it’s us coming together and saying, we can’t make more houses and we can’t make the houses better but if a house is in a poor state, you can be aware of it. If a landlord is a poor landlord you can be aware of it. When word gets back around, hopefully people will want to change their properties and be a better landlord.”
He also added, “The upshot as well, which Paloma is emphasising, is that it rewards good landlords and good properties which is good I reckon. We want to reward the good ones as much as we want to turn the screws on the bad ones.”
Aside from that, one of Mr Farrer’s main aims remains to bring the Citizens Advice Bureau into the Union, in a similar capacity to what they currently do in Dundee’s Students’ Association, to further empower students and make them more aware of their rights, especially with regards to renting. This is something, however, that Mr Farrer acknowledges is a difficult aim and one that may not come to fruition.
“This is a very active building though and it’s hard to make promises. I’m passionate about it, but I can’t promise something I can’t give away. The Union are being very supportive in that as much as they can”.
Furthermore, Mr Farrer says that now he has moved into a “relatively quiet period”, he will be aiming to tweak bits of the current student ouncils set-up and will look into the potential of a new councillor role that would sit on the Wellbeing Committee. His reasoning was, like most of his actions thus far, highly logical; he pointed out that there are currently few elected Wellbeing roles before the Sabbatical position itself, and suggested that the current Union set-up should offer more development opportunities of this nature to students.
Discussing councils and Mr Farrer’s role inevitably moved the conversation round to the fact that elections are only a few months away. Professing to have not been “much of an academic” himself, Mr Farrer said that he ‘absolutely loved’ his job as DoWell, as it had been a “natural and beautiful extension” of the lobbying and wellbeing-oriented volunteering activities that he had engaged in whilst an undergraduate student.
He suggested that for students interested in running for any elected position within the Union, that they should think about it soon and work out what changes they’d want to make.
“Think about it earlier, think about what you have done and think about what you could do. If something has bothered you for years and years and you want to right that before you leave, this is one of the best avenues to do that.”
Even for those not interested in running for positions, Mr Farrer encouraged people to get involved with the elections committee, saying that they actively want to encourage students not currently part of the Union set-up to form a large cohort of the committee in order to make sure the process is “as fair as possible”.
A further piece of advice, one that was more general, was for students to go to the Sabb office and ask questions. He said that they all try to keep an open-door policy to students and they’ll answer all questions students have to the best of their abilities and help them in any way they possibly can.
To conclude, Mr Farrer summed up his time in the position so far as a “challenge” but in a decidedly positive way, saying “it’s been great, it’s been really rewarding. It’s great coming into work and feeling challenged every day in a satisfying way and it’s really good to be able to work through those problems”.
For more, see The Saint’s Facebook page for the detailed video interview with Nick Farrer, conducted by Editor-in-Chief Andrew Sinclair.