As part of a welcome to SUSU series, Wessex Scene are interviewing the 2015/16 Sabbatical Officers. Here I speak to Kerry Sclater, Vice President Democracy and Creative Industries.
What do you hope to achieve as a sabbatical officer this year?
One of my biggest goals in general is looking at how we can strengthen the student voice and making sure that it’s not just the same group of people speaking to us and that everyone is empowered to make change within the union.
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
Because I’ve only been in the job three months a lot of what I’ve done do far has been working towards projects that haven’t happened yet. I think what I’m most proud of so far is the Creative Industries Induction. We trained up all the Creative Industries committees, gave them the opportunity to meet each other and had a laser tag social in The Cube which was really fun. Hopefully they found it useful.
One of the biggest projects you have coming up is the democracy review which will consider both the role of Union Council and the way democracy works within SUSU as a whole. Some students have rather apathetic attitudes towards democracy and this has been a problem for quite some time. In terms of the perception of a ‘SUSU clique’ with only a small number of people centrally involved in democracy what do you think can be done to change this?
So much can be done. A lot of it is to do with awareness and how people perceive the system. We need to make sure that everyone knows they can get involved with democracy and it isn’t just for that ‘clique’ as some people call it. This has been talked about for many years and the policy was passed last year so it will definitely be happening. I think we will have to try and tailor the system to our student body a bit more. We’ve already done a survey but we will be doing a lot more consultation including focus groups and trials to ensure that when we make such a massive change it will be for the better and it won’t need reviewing again in a couple of year’s time.
Let’s talk about the Creative Industries now. In your manifesto you talked about encouraging greater collaboration between societies and greater recognition of achievement. From your position what can you do to encourage this?
In terms of recognition I think a lot of it comes from the personal relationship I have with the Creative Industries groups and making sure they feel valued. This means staying in touch with all the heads of societies and union groups and promoting them in my sabbatical blogs. We’re also looking at introducing a student groups star at Union Council, which will mean that people can nominate student groups they think have done particularly well and some of them will get recognised.
You’ve discussed the importance of personal relationships with societies. The Creative Industries zone is quite diverse, including performing arts groups as well as writing and media related societies. Its true that the relationship between previous VP DCIs and Performing Arts Officers has been somewhat strained, so what have you got planned for PA and how will you build these strong working relationships?
A lot of it is about making sure you stay in touch, so I’ll be having regular meetings with the Performing Arts Officer and the rest of the PA committee this year. Its really important they know they are being listened to as well, so we’ve had feedback about things such as funding allocations and we’re going to make sure we take this into account this year. I’m also going to make sure that they have training and support for the next funding round. I want them to feel like they can come to me to resolve any issues they have.
In your manifesto one of the things you discussed was the space available to performing arts groups and offering them extra support when booking venues. Renovations to The Cube have of course just been announced. What do you think these changes will mean for PA and other Creative Industries groups that use the space such as Union Films?
I think it will do a world of good for any group wanting to use the space. We had a really successful Tap Choose Change on Friday to select the colour of the cinema seats and the stage is going to open a whole new realm of possibilities for performing arts groups. Next year, I think we are going to have to give training about how the block bookings system works much earlier on as there was a bit of confusion about that this year.
In terms of Union Films, you said in your manifesto that you wanted to address the issue of it being run by volunteers yet acting as a lucrative profit making part of SUSU. What will you do to address this?
I think one of the issues here is that as with every student group the committees change each year so some people may not be aware of what is expected of them and the working relationship that should be fostered between Union Films and union services at SUSU for example. I’m going to be setting up a meeting between the Cinema Manager and some of the staff responsible for services at SUSU. Its important to realise that their bookings and the bookings of other student groups still have priority over bookings for lectures etc. so the space is always available for them before it is available to the university for use as a lecture space.