Interview with Union President, Emily Harrison about The Plant Pot: SUSU’s New Vegan Cafe

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Wessex Scene sat down with Emily Harrison to find out more about the transformation of The Cafe into The Plant Pot, the new vegan, zero-waste hub on campus. With the cafe opening tomorrow, we asked our Union President everything students wanted to know about the new venture.

Tell me how this all began.

It came about as a combination of things. Firstly, the previous Café offer hadn’t been looked at for several years and it was basically offering the same as Piazza. Therefore, the time felt right to re-assess. Additionally, although some people were very attached to the Café, the reality is that it was losing money consistently. Obviously, we don’t want to be running outlets that are financially unsustainable, as that money could be better used to support clubs and societies and other student activity.

Increasingly, student feedback showed that students wanted more veggie and vegan options. We also know that Sustainability is becoming a very prominent priority for students. Therefore, it made sense to use this opportunity to change the offer of the Café to match this.

When will students be able to see the new menu for The Plant Pot?

Freshers’ Week.

When will The Plant Pot be open for business?

 23rd September!

How will you ensure that The Plant Pot shop is ‘zero waste’?

Our products will be sold in gravity and scoop dispensers and not individually plastic-wrapped. This is really exciting as there is only one other place in Southampton that offers such a range of products in this way. 

Some students are arguing that the low number of results from the survey isn’t enough to justify this change, whilst others claim they weren’t consulted at all. What is your response to this?

We’re sorry that some students do not feel that they were consulted in this decision. Of course, we would have loved more than the 275 responses we got. However, an email was sent out to every member of the student body with the link to the original survey asking what they wanted from the food on campus and specifically the Café. Unfortunately, we cannot force everybody to participate, we can only ensure that we offer the opportunity. It’s also important to note that this change was not based solely on this one survey. In the past year, we have been consistently asked for more vegetarian, vegan and sustainable options in previous surveys and through You Make Change, our student idea suggestion platform.

Rebrands at SUSU have always been a bit mixed… what makes you think this one will succeed?

This change is much more than a rebrand, it’s a completely new offer. We believe that this will succeed as there is not currently a solely vegetarian/ vegan catering outlet on campus and therefore The Plant Pot will be able to fill that gap in the market.

The SUSU Café has always struggled with visibility… do you think making it the vegan hub of campus will change that?

We certainly hope so! There are a number of things we are doing to improve the visibility of The Plant Pot. This includes opening up the entrance via the stairs at the side of the building and increasing the signage. We are also transforming the seating area to be somewhere that students want to stay in with a similar atmosphere to the Bridge, so students can use it more as informal study space. When the weather warms up, we will also be able to use the balconies, so people will be able to very visibly see it in use! 

A lot of students are disappointed that the ten-item/pay-per-item breakfast doesn’t appear to be an option at The Bridge. Are you open to making this an option in the near future?

Potentially, but it wouldn’t be at the same price. The reality is that the previous pay-per-item breakfast was not financially sustainable so it was going to be stopped, regardless of what happened with the Café going vegetarian and vegan. However, we are definitely going to be developing other deals and ensuring that the menu is affordable for students

The new Bridge breakfast menu has been available all summer and will continue into next term.  However we are expanding and creating a new, fuller breakfast menu.We are currently looking at a breakfast deal we can put on for the start of term.

Generally, are you open to student suggestions on how to change/improve the menus at The Plant Pot and The Bridge further down the line?

Absolutely! Everything that we do as a Students’ Union is student-led so we absolutely want to hear student feedback about what we can do to improve. In the Zero Waste Shop, we will also be installing a few empty dispensers and asking what students want to see in them. So we really want student feedback to shape the offer of The Plant Pot!

Are there any further plans to reduce waste and promote a sustainable lifestyle at SUSU?

Yes, there are lots of exciting plans in the works! I can’t share my Sabb plan until Senate has approved it but stay tuned. Staff at SUSU take Sustainability very seriously so it’s high on the agenda. There is currently a staff Sustainability forum and I will be setting up a similar student forum going forward. We’re very excited to hear what students think!

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Wessex Scene Editor // meme queen // fan of chocolate digestives // @colombochar on Twitter.

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