‘24,000 Student Engagement!’ Interview with VP Sports, Stephen and VP DCI, Evie

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VP Sports, Steve Gore and VP Democracy and Creative Industries, Evie Reilly, paid Wessex Scene a visit prior to freshers to catch us up on their new roles, to address some of the concerns clubs and societies are facing, and to provide a little advice for how freshers can get involved.

WS – Can you describe your role for the students that may not understand what you do?

Credit: Steve Gore

Steve – So I oversee the budgets of the sports zone, funds to the sports clubs, make decisions on block bookings and run the intramural league. A lot of what I do is looking at ways to increase participation and performance at the same time, to make sure we’re reaching higher in league tables but also reaching more students.

Credit: Evie Reilly

Evie – I definitely have two distinct halves to my role. I look after all of the creative industry groups, including the big ones like media, performing arts and cinema. Then the other half is focused on democracy, so my number one thing of the year is obviously elections. We’re working hard on the Autumn elections this year, and making that a big deal.

WS – If you could dream big and accomplish one big thing this year, what would it be?

Steve – I’d like to see Varsity as big as possible. We’re looking at ways to increase engagement and make it more spectator-friendly. Okay, so if I’m being as ambitious as possible, I want to see every single Southampton student come to Varsity. 24,000 spectators for every game!

Evie – I guess my ambition would be the equivalent for elections. I want to improve elections as much as possible. In Autumn, we’ll be focusing massively on academic representation. Then in the Spring elections, we’ll address things like candidate welfare and prioritising nominations over voting. We’ll focus on getting people to run for the role and informing people rather than just mindless voting.

WS – I guess a big problem that comes with voting is a lot of people don’t know or understand what exactly they’re voting for. How do you think we can improve that?

Evie – Yeah I think that’s why we went so crazy last year with pizza and candy floss. We definitely had record turnouts, but you wonder how much of that was random probability -so yeah my goal is 24,000 voter turnout, why not?  

WS – Steve, how would you address the concern that AU clubs feel that they aren’t massively apart of AU? 

Steve – This is definitely something I want to change. We’re making sports teams fill out pledge cards to say what they’re going to do to promote inclusivity. So we’ll be able to reward clubs who fulfill their pledges. I think things like the new kit being available on The Shop on Top is also really going to help build the team atmosphere.

WS – The same concern can be said for some societies that don’t feel apart of the Students Union. Evie, do you have any plans to change that?

Evie – Yes, one of my projects is looking at what we ask societies to do in terms of being a member of the Union. I think at the moment it’s very minimal; you just have to update your committee on a website. But we’re looking at there being more things to do during the year. Just like sports are doing with the mandatory welfare training.

WS – Would that mean that the Creative Industries side of the union might also have a big event or training provided? 

Evie – Absolutely. It’s something that was sort of floated last year, like a showcase. I think what would work best would be picking a month, and having creative industries out on campus and getting people involved. All of our groups are amazing and we want to show that; like a big festival type of thing.

WS – I think maybe societies struggle with just getting our name out on campus. For us at Wessex Scene, a huge part of our society is made up by students at WSA, but there is difficulty keeping that connection when they aren’t based on Highfield. Does the Union have plans to get WSA more involved?

Steve – That’s something we’ve all been thinking about. In terms of sports going forward, what we’ve found is that students at Winchester don’t really want it as much as the students at Highfield. But if we went down more of a casual route, and maybe had one-off tournaments now and then, offering a day of sports rather than continued commitment, then we might see more engagement because it’s more relevant to what they’re looking for.

Evie – I think also something that we’ve found is whenever we try to engage Winchester students in general, the default thing is ‘Oh let’s have an art competition.’ I think it’s quite patronising to think that they’re art students so they’ll only want to do art. You don’t want to do your degree all the time.

Steve – Absolutely, we don’t want to treat Winchester students as one-dimensional. We’re very aware that there is a lot more to them than that.

WS – When you first come to Uni it can be scary to go to a society’s welcome meeting or sports taster session. What would be your advice to those afraid of making that jump?

Steve – An easy way of making the jump is to just bring a mate. Drag someone along from your halls, because hopefully you’ll have already met them through the socialising of freshers and living with them. Even if they aren’t that interested, they can just be there for you to chat to so you don’t feel quite so alone.

Evie – I would say that you have no idea how happy the committee running the club/soc are that you’re there and that you’ve turned up. They are going to be so thrilled and so happy just for you to be there.

Steve – Yeah definitely and if you can find a member of the committee before you to go to initial meetup and chat to them a little bit, then that might make it a little easier as well because you’ll already know someone and can say hello.

Evie – At the Bunfight especially, don’t just put your name down. Do have a chat with the people on the stall, even if you just ask their name or what course they’re on. They’ll probably remember you. Having worked at Bunfight before, you do recognise people.

WS – Is there anything else you want to add to let students know about?

Steve – I’d say to keep their eye out for intramural sports. For the first time, we’re doing an intramural bunfight and taster weekend and we’re really hoping it’s going to make the intramural teams feel like they’re wanted and that we recognize they’re a big part of student life in Southampton. The intramural league often has more engagement than the AU, but people don’t realize that. We want students to know that we’re thinking of all levels of sport.

Evie – I think students should know that there are loads of ways to get involved and get engaged at University. If you have a question about anything, come and ask a Sabb, whether it’s about sports or a club or your course. Just absolutely anything.

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