Sabbatical Interviews 2013: Beckie Thomas, VP Welfare


The three sections in your manifesto are housing and finance, well-being and equal opportunities. So beginning with housing and finance, what has/will be done this year to restore students confidence during the rental process?

I haven’t been caught up completely on this yet because David Gilani has taken this on for me. We are taking pledges for letting agencies to basically say they’re not going to be putting letting signs out as soon. It’s quite comprehensive and it’s nothing unfair to expect of them as agencies. But it’s everything we’ll do when we have our agency so we expect it of them. I hope that we will have some kind of forum online to help students look for housemates and hopefully somewhere to report to if their letting agency or landlord is being unfair. And we can somehow try and help students with that and give them the right way to report it back and deal with it in the right way.


One of the student concerns in relation to housing if the fear of the ‘nightmare landlord’. Is there anything that can be to done to reduce student anxieties over this?

I think it comes down to us giving students a place to complain to, a forum in which to send complaints and we can contact landlords for them. And in the vent about your rent survey, we will add a landlord aspect to that so that we can look at which are bad and which are good. And I know a lot of agencies don’t want to take on bad landlords as it gives them a bad name. So hopefully in the next few years we can look to finally getting rid of bad landlords.


Another one of your aims was to create more accessible financial advice for students. What has/will be done throughout this year to help achieve this?

Nothing as yet, we have just got a new payday loan policy so they won’t be advertising. Part of the policy is to advertise to students where else they can get financial help. We’re going to have a notice board in January in the advice centre to advertise jobs within the city, so that’s not direct money but a chance for students to make their own money.


Another goal under finance was to create transparency, meaning students will know how their tuition fees are being spent. How can this be achieved and what will this do for students?

I will be working on this with VP Education, David Mendoza-Wolfson. For students, seeing as they’re paying £9,000 now I think it’s really important to know where the money is going….because its just fair. It’s a lot of money and it doesn’t feel like real money now but when they’re old enough to start paying it back they’ll wonder ‘what did I actually get for that?’.


Under your well-being aims, safety is a key goal. With the number of burglaries and other criminal activities that have been taking place so far this year, what can be done to make students feel safe both on and off of campus?

There are several aspects of safety. We’ve got personal safety, safety of belongings in your home and then safety when you’re out so laptops in the library and bikes your at university. So I know we put signs out in the library during exam times and were going to do that again this year to say: ‘Don’t leave your laptop unattended’. We’ve got newer, cheaper, fancy bike locks in the SUSU shop which are really awesome. I’m hoping to run a self defence class again next term with one of the martial arts groups and encourage everyone to come to that because it’s handy for everyone to know some self defence. Also were going to remind students to be careful when they go home for Christmas and keep all their things safe, so there will be a blog about that coming soon.


Health is the next topic that you discuss in your manifesto, some of your goals being to make physical activities more available and placing healthy vending machines on campus. Has there been any progress so far and is there anything planned for the rest of the academic year?

The sports zone are looking at widening participation in sport so that’s something I’ll work with them on when I come back to work full time and see what they get up to with that, which will be exciting. And healthy vending machines, nothing as yet, I think its going to be more a focus for me now, (Ive realised since my manifesto) its going to be more about getting offers on healthy food in the shop because people go to the shops loads and there’s always pound zone goodies that are unhealthy so I’m trying to get that more even with healthy food.


Something you stress in your manifesto is to ‘start talking about those issues we don’t talk about’, including mental illness, sexual health and body image. What has/can be done to help students open up more about such issues?

This is one of my major passions and main goals. We’re going to get the union and university to sign the ‘Time to Change’ pledge, which basically means we’re going to fight against the mental illness stigma and get people talking about it more. So as part of that we’ll have a campaign in May time, there’s going to be a mental health conference that anyone can come to. And hopefully it’ll be something that will last for the years to come; a yearly campaign that gets students talking about things, embed it into the institution of the university and the union.


Student stress levels often peak around exam time. One of your aims in your manifesto is to provide free movie screenings and chill out sessions to help students relax during exam time. Has this or anything else been done to support students for their upcoming exams?

I would love to hear ideas from students of what they’d like because next week we’re planning the ‘stress less fest’ for January and we want to do things that are not going get in the way of studies but just to help them relax for an hour or so. So we have lots of ideas but if anyone has any they want to suggest then they can email us.


You also talk about making SUSU ‘greener’ – can students expect to see anything throughout the rest of the year to help achieve this greener goal?

I have not worked on the greener goal yet. Something I really want to do is advertise valley gardens behind the union, because it’s a great place and people don’t realise its there. So that’s what I’ll be working on when the weather gets better.


The final section of your manifesto is about equal opportunities and in relation to this you talk about putting on bigger events that encourage equality. What sort of events can students expect to help promote this?

So far we’ve had ‘Inspiring Women’ which was a couple of weeks ago and that was really successful…it was an amazing night! I’m considering running it again, a similar sort of event because it was so popular and people gave really good feedback on it.


Lastly you talk about recycling. What can be done to encourage students to go that extra mile and recycle?

Sustainability is massive this year in SUSU. We’ve got a whole zone for it and there’s loads of stuff going on. So hopefully were going to have a sustainability section on the website coming so that should get the message out a bit more, make people more aware of the responsibilities and the effects they have. And we’ve got the new BEES project which is starting. That’s ethics, environment and all things sustainability. So if that message gets out, hopefully people will begin to realise.


Editor of Wessex Scene 2014-15 Features Editor 2013-14 Writer 2012-2013 I have been involved with the publication throughout my time at university. As editor, I have worked with my team to redesign the magazine, the website and even create special editions on top of our monthly issues. I primarily write news, features and lifestyle pieces.

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