As part of the mini-series of 2015 sabbatical interviews, the Wessex Scene team are interviewing all sabbatical officers this week to catch up on their progress, what’s gone well or badly so far and what plans they have for semester 2 and beyond.
This is your second year as VP Welfare. What has been different, and do you feel you’ve been able to achieve more this year?
I guess I’m a bit different from a normal second year sabb, because I missed 3 months of my first year (Beckie broke her back in a climbing accident last year). Second year sabbs probably always achieve more, because they know what they’re doing from the get-go, and who to talk to to get things done. They’re more experienced with the whole process of running a project. I think I have more drive because I missed some of last year; as soon as I started in July I wanted to get as much as I could done from the start, so I’ve been relentlessly pushing things forward. The team’s different, it’s interesting seeing how that’s changed, having different team dynamics and people having new goals, and different personalities. I came into the role not knowing anything about SUSU – I wasn’t a student leader, didn’t have any SUSU experience and knowledge, 6 months in I was still learning things about it. Now I feel like the one who can help the other sabbs and let them know about it all.
On your manifesto this year, one of your focuses has been the “Don’t Rush” housing campaign – do you think this has gone better than last year?
It’s a very different campaign to last year. David Gilani took it on for me then whilst I was away, and he did a brilliant job. Letting agencies even told us that they’d seen an impact, in November they said they’d let a lot of houses in Polygon (down in town) in the first few weeks and hardly any in Highfield, so it was nice to see that the message actually got through from last year. Last year we focussed on pledges based on what we think we should be doing, and we got 5 letting agencies and 2 MPs to sign. This year, I went for the approach of picking one thing we wanted them to do, and getting them all to sign up, which was not to flyer students in halls and on campus; pretty much all of them agreed, except for Posh Pads who didn’t reply.
That was the one on campus a while back?
With the ice cream stand, yeah… We found out and got them taken away as soon as possible. We’ve also sent “Don’t Rush” flyers to all of the halls kitchens. We have the housing fayre, so we said to everyone wait until that happens and we’ll have lots of advice for you.
A lot of your goals were based on wellbeing and mental health, what have you acheived in that area?
Last year I wrote the “Time to Change” pledged action plan, got it signed with the university, and this year I can begin to act on it. It’s about a whole range of things to do with mental health; it’s lobbying the university to do better things, it’s doing better things ourselves, it’s working with the city. I realised that there’s no place that students can see all of the support services together, and there really shoud be. So I’m pulling this together, a poster’s being created, and used to make flyers. I want to say “1 in 4 students experience mental health difficulties, it’s time to talk about it” – and you can talk to friends, or to any of the support services. It’ll be spread through faculty buildings, halls, the library, all of our campuses. We’ll have a wellbeing stand up on Wellbeing Wednesdays with more information, as well.
I wanted to ask about that; they were in your manifesto, but have Wellbeing Wednesdays started yet, I hadn’t seen/heard anything about them?
It’s kind of a soft launch. I had the concept, and we’ve now got a member of staff who can help me with it, which we didn’t before, and he’s sourcing different people who can come in from the community. The tooth bus came in to do dentist’s check-ups, for example. The idea is that students who are on the Wellbeing committee can shape W. Wednesdays however they want to, they’ll think of ideas, and have a budget. Wellbeing committee hasn’t actually met this year yet since exams. So, as and when they do, it’ll pick up a lot more.
There hasn’t been any promotion of it yet, though?
No, we haven’t created a brand around it or anything, yet. So, they haven’t started officially yet, but the first one will be in refresher’s week, and it should pick up throughout the year.
That’s great. You also mentioned a three-year plan relating to body-confidence in your manifesto, has there been anything done towards this?
I have decided not to take that on this year. We can only pick three main goals for the year – although I’ve picked four, because I couldn’t ignore certain things and I just said, “I need to work on four!”, and I think I can balance my time enough to achieve them all. I’ve picked up student employability as one big area, as well as the other things you mentioned. I hope that the wellbeing committee will think about body image and incorporate it into Wellbeing Wednesdays, and we can do some good that way.
Was there much about student emloyability in your original manifesto, then?
I wanted to help students to be able to articulate themselves better. We do lots of things, we volunteer, we take on projects outside of our courses, but then when you get to interview you need to be able to express yourself, to say “I’ve learned these skills, and now I’m really good at these things”, and be confident in doing it. We did a lot of research over summer on what other universities do to help their students with employability, then I created a project plan for the next two or three years. We’re working closely with the university on it, which is great, because it means that it’ll get done in connection with Careers Destinations. So it’s more likely to stick, and it’s a realistic plan, too; we’re going to look at the communications around it and how the message gets out, we want to look at new initiatives like LinkedIn labs, so students can create a LinkedIn profile with help and guidance, take a professional photo.
With the exam-time ‘Stress Less Fest’, do you still plan to run the petting zoo?
Definitely! It wasn’t available for when we wanted it in January. We did other things, though, in the second week back after Christmas, we had thousands of bananas, and we gave away free bananas, among other things. But we are going to do it in May. There are some people that don’t agree with it. The farm who visit us is in the New Forest. They have schools visit, they animals are used to being petted. They don’t travel around the country, they just have small schools groups come to them, and then they come to us just once a year, or twice, depending when we can get them. If it was a travelling show, no, it wouldn’t be that ethical, but the way they work is ok for the animals.
You ran interfaith week in November, how do you feel this went?
I think it went well. There was an event held in the Vedic temple in the city where lots of religious and faith groups sang their different religious songs in different parts of the temple, and you could walk around and listen to them all and meet them. We’re going to look a lot more at faith provision on campus over the next six months, and the university are realising it’s on people’s radar at the moment, so they’re talking about it more. I’ll be holding a focus group in February for anyone that wants to come and talk about faith, whether they’re religious or not religious, just an open discussion about what they want from the university and from SUSU.
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently or dedicated more effort to?
Hmm. [Long pause]. No. I think… no. This year, we’ve had a lot of support in creating our plans, and choosing how we wanted to use our time. I noticed things throughout last year that weren’t in my goals, that I could have worked on, so I thought if I ran again and got in, those were areas I would work on. You start creating a picture of the areas you know need work. Employability, for instance, we’d not done much for. We have the Your Skills programme, which is brilliant, but apart from that we hadn’t got anything, so I knew that was an area we wanted to work on. It’s all a learning curve, as well, so looking back I could have done things at different times or in different ways, but you only have so much time, and you learn as you go along. I think everything turned out ok.
What are your plans for the rest of your term?
Lots of things! I’ll talk about the most exciting ones. Linked in to the support things I mentioned earlier, I want to start creating a kind of buzz around mental health to get people talking about it more, as well. So, using the “elephant in the room” idea that mental health isn’t something people normally talk about, we want to get a big elephant sculpture. We’ll move it around different sites and campuses, and on it will be some wording around the idea of talking about mental health. Just to spark discussion. We’ll also be looking at running an anti sexual harrassment campaign alongside Solent University, which is in its very early stages right now. I think that’ll be a really postive move. We’re going to try and involve nightclubs in the city as well as part of the campaign. There’s lots more… but if you read my Sabb blog that’ll tell you what else is coming up!
What has been your highlight so far, your best acheivement?
It’s honestly so difficult to decide, because this role has so many aspects that you don’t realise – being a trustee, being a director, leading student volunteers, leading projects, speaking to the university, it’s so multi-faceted. I think, although it hasn’t happened yet, the best thing will be the bringing together of support services. It sounds boring, but when it all comes together, I’m hoping it will last beyond me and be something sustainable for at least the next five years. So, in freshers, students will receive this information as soon as they start.