An Interview with Billy Fitzjohn

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Sasha Watson: Hello, today I’m with Billy Fitzjohn, your SUSU President. He had a landslide victory in last year’s elections, studied History as his degree, and used to give out tour guides around campus, if any of you recognised him when you came. How does it feel to be SUSU President

Billy Fitzjohn: Absolutely amazing, it’s an absolute honour! It’s very exciting and quite overwhelming actually, time is flying by with Freshers’ week already upon us. I remember starting in July thinking that Freshers’ was miles away, but it’s come up on us so quickly! It really hammers home how short a time we have in office to do the things we want to do.

SW: Looking back to when you applied for the role in February, is what you expected it to be?

BF: Yes and more, probably. It is what I expected it to be, but also the Union is a lot bigger than I realised when I was running my campaign; there is so many more problems that you don’t really hear about as an average student, and there is so much to do and change, especially just being in one year (or two if you re-run). That’s the challenge though, and the responsibility that comes with the role, making you step up to the plate.

SW: We’ll start with your manifesto; the Cube was a big part of it. What have you done over the summer?

BF: We’ve changed the timetable of events completely, with now 3 student nights as opposed to 2, and the Cube has been completely re-branded with I Love College on a Wednesday, Twisted on a Friday, and SUgar on a Saturday which is run by Orange Rooms.

We haven’t just renamed the nights, but we’ve lowered drinks prices, like £2 a double house spirit. We can’t say come to Twisted, it’s the cheapest student night, but it is very reasonable and suits what student want more.

We also worked on the Cube to make sure it was re-branded; Twisted is a lot more different than Kinki in my opinion. We have a new entrance, there are lots of screens for advertising and gives a wider range of information to students. We’re also incentivising students more with the lash4cash scheme (see Teddy’s Interview. Ed.). If students come to the Cube and have a good night, students and societies gain.

SW: Twisted just had its premier; how did it go? What have you noticed that needs changing?

BF: I’d say the Twisted premier went really well; it was great to see so many people, to the extent we didn’t think it would go so well! So many second and third years gave the Cube another chance, and from what we’ve heard, everyone had an amazing time. I haven’t heard the chant of “One more song” in the Cube in a long time, or see it be one-in one-out either. It felt very different with the new entrance, and felt more club-like. We’ve had lots of new furniture like the high raised tables, which students seemed to have liked.

A couple of things we are looking to improve are the bar queues and bar staff service, trying to make it a little bit quicker, making sure students are getting served as quickly as possible and the right amount of staff are there. I think we will look at outside heating as well for the winter, or a cover, to try and make sure people do use the outside space, as it is really good for people to sit down and socialise. Lots of things still to be down, which requires a big level of effort every week to make sure the Cube remains full for the foreseeable future.

SW: A big part, and hence the name, of Twisted, are the twists. Can you explain what are you going to do each week, or are they going to be random?

BF: This is one for the brand manager, but it should be weekly, be it small or large. The thought behind it is, without giving too much away, is that every week something a little bit different happens, be it sprung up on the night or even the week before. One week we may say you can win this prize, or we will have a secret guest or act. We will try and do it as regularly as possible and keep it varied, so that when we think student attendance might dip a bit, we have something that will keep it fresh and keep people interested in the Cube.

SW: The Sabbatical Review is also a big project you’ve undertaken, can you explain in greater detail what you’ve found so far?

BF:  It’s an ongoing process, which has been keenly debated. It’s gone really well, and we’re now at the point where, as an Executive team, we’ve decided that the President and VP Academic Affairs should definitely exist. The job titles and remits of the other roles are still to be decided, but we are going through and making sure that all the roles best suit student needs.

We’ve been blogging it, so that students can give their comments and know what we’re talking about in these meetings. We would like more comments and student input, but that will naturally happen now that the students are back and Union Council has restarted. We want it all done in time for the next elections, and aim to be done this calendar year, but we want to make sure we have got it right. There are so many changes going on in SUSU at the moment, and the Sabbatical Review is the pinnacle of that, as the team has to be perfect to meet all the student needs.

SW: You mentioned Union Council; what is it, and what is it for?

BF: Union Council is held every 3 or 4 weeks, and is the highest decision making body in SUSU. It’s a chance for the Union to speak out on what its students believe in, by raising issues and mandating action on certain points. Students can come along, hear what we have been doing in the last few weeks, as well as hold us to account. The can even ask SUSU for support to promote a campaign or a cause that they need help with.

Anyone can come and observe or contribute to discussion, but not everyone can have a vote. We have voting members, who are elected as either Sabbaticals, Executives, School Presidents, or UCOMs (Union Council Ordinary Members). The new SUSU website will also have easier access to the minutes of each meeting, so that students are aware of what decisions have been made at Council, which will hopefully have knock effects on the AGM.

SW: You’ve managed to set up a referendum on the NUS; when is it?

BF: Yes, it will be in the last week of November, and will be the next big focus after Freshers’ week. It terms of how it will work and run, we’re still in the process of planning of, but it will be around the same time as the NUS demo in London, and follows the release of the Browne Review, so it will be at a good time when people have become really involved in what’s happening with Higher Education.

SW: What haven’t you been able to get done, that you would have liked to?

BF: We’ve moved office, and the whole building has changed, so there are a lot of signs that are just wrong. A lot of people are getting lost, and we need to get it sorted so that people know where they are going. We haven’t had a chance to do it because SUSU is having its own re-branding process of the next couple of months, so logos could change, so we have had to wait.

SW: What was your proudest moment of the summer?

BF: Probably the Twisted premier. Not just because it was a great event, but it was great to so many familiar faces there, so many people willing to give the Cube another go, and they really enjoyed it. The complimented a lot of the changes that we introduced, which is the start of the process for people to get involved in the Union – if they have great events, they can then begin to talk about other Union things, and it was great to see so many students there.

SW: Looking to the AGM at the end of the year, what’s the number 1 thing you would like to report back to Union Council.

BF: Well first of all I would like a lot of people to be there, seeing as we had a problem of quorum at the last one! I’d like to be able to say the Cube was “fixed”, and that people were now really enjoying the club nights. I’d also like to say that we, as a Union, fought and did all that we could to challenge the findings of the Browne Review, and acted in the correct manner. There is a lot of uncertainty around Higher Education, and this year is a pivotal year for that, so I would want people to be proud of Southampton and say we did the best we could.

SW: Finally, who is the biggest prankster out of the Sabbs?

BF: It’s a tough one! I would say Rob or Charlotte; Charlotte steals things like my notebooks or leaves post-it notes, but then Rob does like to hack into people’s Facebook – you can’t leave it on around Rob for more than a minute!

SW: Billy, thank you very much!

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Afternoon! Welcome to my political world, reporting on all things studenty and politics-like. I do most of my writing whilst browsing the Internet when I should be doing other things, and I do love a good stat, so do expect links and numbers that are meaningless yet informative. Enjoy!

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