Hey David, how do you think your first term has gone so far?

I’d like to think it’s gone pretty successfully so far. There were a lot of things that I managed to do over the summer months when there weren’t as many students around and I’m quite proud of what we managed to achieve. So this was stuff like sorting out all of the student groups funding, making a new system for timetabling and room bookings…Also having creative industries together for the first time has on the whole gone pretty successfully I think, and being able to do more collaborative projects.

Okay, and what is your proudest achievement to date as a Sabb?

I think that the way we managed to get a new online funding and room booking system and the fact that we were able to give out £195,000 earlier than we ever have done at any other phase was good because student groups are at the heart of everything we do here. Alongside that, we got a lot of feedback that the bunfight went really smoothly this year which I was heavily involved with which was good.

So looking over your manifesto, how much of what you set out to do have you managed to do so far?

The thing with the manifesto is that sometimes you write a lot of stuff down and realise when you start the role that some of what you said is quite aspirational and can’t really be achieved. Looking through it, some of the points were to some extent, quite vague, and so I’ve been able to fit them in where needed. Some of the things I have been able to do for example with storage, I’ve been looking to putting some lockers in. Space and storage is a constant problem for the SU, we are limited by capacity but we are still doing the best that we can. We have done more in Democracy and restoring faith which is something I’ve been really keen on doing, so making us more accountable, more accessible and I think more people are engaging in the democratic process. Last year we had the NUS referendum and that tore a lot of people apart and I think we are a new fresh team of sabbaticals and student leaders, which has been quite promising so far.

What is the next project that you will be focusing on?

I would say it is a combination of two things. We are preparing for the spring elections already because that requires a lot of marketing, publicity and communication so working out the logistics and everything for that. I’m also working on the renovation of the Activities Room, a survey was sent out and we have just finished doing the analysis of that and we are going to be working on renovating that room.

In your manifesto you mentioned that you would work towards creating a five year facilities vision for Creative Industries, what has been done to facilitate this?

One of the things that I was unaware of when I wrote my manifesto was that there is a SUSU master plan being started. It is widely accepted that the space we have in the Union is too small, we have grown so much as an organisation and the buildings that we have are 40 years old and we are just not able to fulfil the demands that we have. So now we have started developing this new master plan, which is setting out this new project for a new Union space, so the five years facilities plan has been superseded by this already existing plan. And in terms of defending spaces again this is one of those things where it is so hard because there are so many competing pressures on it but I think I have tried the best that I can to defend existing space.

What has been done up until now to defend current space for creative industries?

So for media groups we made some technical renovations to media resources, put a few new computers in there and added some new software. For Surge we have renovated the studio, painted it and added some new screens. We have added a new photographic studio as well down on level 1 next to SUSU TV. Performing Arts don’t really have a space dedicated to performance and that is a problem but it’s not one that we will solve overnight so we are making sure that that is at the front and centre of our plans.

You said that you would be focusing on defending and improving current spaces and specifically mentioned Media Resources. Media resources has recently been taken away without previously being made aware to those affected by the change, why did this happen?

I think there was a break in communication and I take responsibility for that. Why did it happen? We have grown so much as an organisation and there was simply no place for staff to actually do their work, and then we won a bid of £175,000 to do a new sustainability project. With that came a number of new members of staff and because of that, rooms had to be shifted around the Union. As I said before, it’s the competing pressure of space and Media Resources room 2 was not well utilised and although there were lots of plans to renovate the room, and I am obviously disappointed that we couldn’t go through with them, I also understand the wider issues of the Union as a whole and some sacrifices had to be made. And since then, we have worked with the Wessex Scene and the Edge to ensure that all their needs are taken care of and they can book out the new room when needed. So we have made sure that they haven’t been so negatively disadvantaged.

Okay, and what has been done about the problematic issue of union storage? Will we see the opening up of more areas and the implementation of lockers?

So one of the projects I am working on at the moment is buying some lockers, so it would have to be a capital bid to Trustee board but so far feedback has been very positive. As you say storage is a massive issue, we are looking at putting lockers in as part of the renovation of the activities room, not to negatively impact the actual space for the activity. We are also in discussion with the university, because obviously the university have more space than us, in helping to support us in providing that space. With regards to space in the Union we are almost at 99% capacity now and even some of the buildings in the Union aren’t owned by us but by the university and so it’s really working in partnership with them.

And has the university responded well to that?

For the most part, yes, they are under the same pressures that we are with regards to competing for space. There are more students now than there were before, it’s always a battle but I think we are on the same journey with the university.

With regards to the importance of Union discussion, have there been any occasions where a motion has been discussed behind closed doors rather than being taken to Union Council?

There are always cases when things are taken, if you want to call them closed doors, before they go to Union Council because that is how the structure works here. All zone committee meetings (there are eight zones) are open to members and I think it’s also important that things go through those zones first because I think it’s important that the people interested in those areas are be able to shape the things that then go to Union Council and will go on to affect a wider body. The Union Council has definitely become more transparent.

So do you think the Union makes processes clear and easily understood to students?

We are trying, where possible, to remove all barriers and bureaucracy and I think for the most part we have done and that. It is also to do with communicating well between sabbs and together as a Union to everybody.

Do you think the Union could be made more transparent?

I think we are always striving to be more transparent and there will always be people who are concerned that things aren’t happening with their knowledge and I think that part of that is to do with the fact that the Student’s Union does so much and is communicating so much that some of it does get lost in translation and it’s really about focusing on those messages and communicating them to those interested. I’m always willing to hear feedback, if people don’t ask then they won’t have the answers they need.

Although of course if people don’t know what’s going on it’s very hard to ask the questions in the first place.

Yes, of course.

You mentioned in your manifesto that there is a ‘perceived harsh environment’ of the Union and that many people have become disengaged with SUSU because of its politics. Do you still see examples of this or has more been done to engage students?

I still see some examples but I see less and I think that part of that is to do with the fact that at the time when I was writing my manifesto was when the NUS referendum was going on and that caused a lot of bitterness and political rivalry within the Union which was not helpful at all. I would like to think that as a Sabbatical team we are more trusted and that people feel that they can come to us for advice and ask questions and challenge us in an open debate. I think there will always be people who feel disengaged from the process and I think with those people it’s important to have a conversation and get the bottom of the problem but I think disengagement is happening less…I think it is a good thing in a way to have a debate about these things but ultimately, yes, I think it is less harsh.

Do you think that the Union makes the most of student talent?

No, I don’t think it does at the moment but I am hoping to improve that, it is one of my main goals. We run strong training sessions with staff, sabbs and student leaders and I’m hoping that is going to be a real benefit and we’ll be doing stuff around hand over time as well, to ensure that everyone knows what they are doing. Also another one of my plans is to have a Creative Industries handbook for all the respective groups to really be able to access to a simple document that explains the basics about getting involved, and with very little effort gets people trained up to quite a reasonable effort.

Okay, but thinking more about student talent, during the Christmas light switch on and Freshers fortnight, SUSU staff were covering the events as well as SUSU TV, is this not undermining student talent?

I think it’s complementing it more than anything. I think there are certain things that staff can do, being full time, which compliments student television or Surge or whoever it might be but you are right it could cause conflict between the two and we need to make sure that what staff do is just complimenting student talent and not directly overlapping with it because this could be problematic.

Many societies affiliate after a long process but are then left to their own devices, what has been done to support these societies through a feedback network?

This was one of the things I said in my manifesto, which wasn’t quite as true as I said it to be. So one of the things we’ve done with our new zone structure is we’ve introduced a new representative so there are reps from our student groups committee and promote their needs which is a lot stronger than it has been in previous years, especially my zone Creative Industries. We’ve also made the affiliation process much easier so again we have created an online form for that and we have removed a lot of the jargon and unnecessary information, which I think is useful as it creates less barriers for students wanted to join. We’ve also ensured that we have these How To guides so they are all on the student groups hub online which students are using more. It has a lot of information about how to run a group, how to market your group, how to apply for funding and so on and so forth. You also have to take into consideration that some student groups prefer to be left on their own, but for those who do affiliate there is the relevant support out there.

In your manifesto you mention the importance of interaction with international students, has the trading of household items between international students at the end of their time here been a success?

That was a curve ball I put in my manifesto, I have some friends who are international students and they said it was something that they said they wanted to see happen, but it is actually out of my remit. It would be nice to see this happen though and I would work with Oli Coles to see it happen. I think it is a simple and easy thing that would be very effective.

Do you think it is important that this year’s sabbs inform students thinking about running for sabbatical roles next year what is actually in their remit so that they don’t write manifestos they can’t follow through with?

Yeah I think that’s absolutely true. One of the problems with last year was that the sabbatical roles changed a bit and no one was exactly sure what their roles were going to involve for example my role was completely new this year. So next year it will be much easier to transmit that information to avoid confusion. It is really important that students have a conversation with the current sabbs to find out about the role and to also make them realise if it’s really something that they want to do.

Would you encourage students to step forward and run for a sabbatical role next year?

I definitely would and I would be doing my job badly as the person in charge of democracy and elections if I wasn’t encouraging people to step forward. It is not something that a lot of people think about naturally but if you are passionate about making a change to the student body and you are interested in student issues, even if you don’t think you are necessarily the stereotypical candidate. There is no stereotypical sabb and you can really make a change and shape the role to suit you.

Okay, well that’s everything, thanks David!

More articles in Sabbatical Interviews 2013
  1. Sabbatical Interviews 2013: Oli Coles, VP Student Communities
  2. Sabbatical Interviews 2013: David Martin, VP Democracy and Creative Industries
  3. Sabbatical Interviews 2013: David Mendoza-Wolfson, VP Education
  4. Sabbatical Interviews 2013: Claire Gilbert, VP Engagement
  5. Sabbatical Interviews 2013: Beckie Thomas, VP Welfare
  6. Sabbatical Interviews 2013: Evan Whyte, VP Sports Development
  7. Sabbatical Interviews 2013: David Gilani, Union President

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