An Interview with Charlotte Woods

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Sasha Watson: Morning all, today I’m with Charlotte Woods, your VP Media and Communications. She’s a former History student, previously the sports editor of the Wessex Scene and once tried to become a warden. Welcome, Charlotte.

Charlotte Woods: Thank you, hello!

SW: Ok so first of all, you live in Poole, and commute from there every day – does that affect your role at all?

CW: Yeah it’s hard, but that’s something I have done since I was in first year. I don’t know how many people know my background, but I didn’t live in Halls, and I have been commuting throughout my degree, so it’s something that I have got used to. I think it’s something that’s actually really good and representative of students who don’t go through University in the same typical way that most students do. I think the fact that I’ve managed to do this, whilst still doing 50 hour weeks and some weekends, I think it proves that any student can get involved in SUSU, regardless of their situation, be it mature, part-time or have a family. I think I’m also proof that if you get involved in SUSU late on, and you can still do good things.

SW: Talking about your role, how does it feel to be VP Media & Comms?

CW: It feels fantastic, considering how late I decided to apply for the role; I think Dan Webb, who was Sports Editor with me, and now Editor of the Wessex Scene, decided he wanted to run next year before I decided to this year, so I came into it quite late. I didn’t really get involved in anything until third year, so it was hard to run, but joining the Wessex Scene, for me, was just the best thing I had done since I arrived at Southampton – and it absolutely changed how I felt about University as a whole. I think it made me want to help people like myself get involved and reach out to people who didn’t feel like they could get involved and wanted to have the same experiences as I did in third year. So yeah – it feels great!

SW: You’ve gone from being involved in one media, to wanting to create a Media Empire of all 5 outlets, how’s that coming along?

CW: It’s coming along better than I hoped! I think it’s difficult for Comms to start delving into their manifestos and to start getting things in place, as there is so much that just needs to be done throughout the summer, that day; you have to get the Wessex Scene done, you have to train the media departments, you have to get the DVD off and the Fresh magazine. Those kind of things just happen, and you have to do them, so spending time sitting back and looking at what you are doing is a little bit tricky, and Jamie Ings did warn me about that. So far, I think that the fact that I managed to get all the media departments together on one day to do a day’s worth of training, as well as talk to Union staff to discuss how they all fit in, that has probably been the first big step in making the Empire happen.

SW: So what structural changes will we see in the media departments?

CW: Well I’m hoping to really make Media Committee work this year, and fortunately I am very lucky to have very dedicated and talented people working in the media department and heads of departments who are right behind me in getting it to work. What I have already done is to have that discussion with the Union General Manager and with Billy, to talk about how we want to move forward, how we want Media Committee to work – because it has never really worked before. I just want people to be honest and tell me how we can make it better.

SW: So that aside, what else have you been up to?

CW: All sorts really, we’ve been working on all the Communications that go out to new freshers’, we’ve built a new website, which we’ve actually done twice – we had a little bit of stress in getting a site up right away, and then had to correct it and update it in time for move in. We wanted it to have information, but not too much to overload them. The last couple of days, we’ve put up the latest version, which isn’t perfect, but it’s a much better effort than the website last year, and I’m really happy to have it up and running. One of the things I was told last year when I was running, was that if I wanted a new website, I would need to really fight for it, but it’s not been a fight, and it’s been something everyone’s been really positive on to make sure it happens. I’ve been doing so much this summer, it’s quite hard to keep track all the time, but I hope you saw the DVD and all the effort the people at SUSUtv put into that; I helped with ideas there, and made sure their welfare was looked after and made sure they were OK. My input was mainly checking, and what they did was incredible and I’m really proud.

SW: Well it all sounds very busy! Coming up in a few months is the referendum on NUS, when is it, and how will you process it, as you are in charge of advertising and running it?

CW: That’s something we have had a planning meeting on. I’m not going to lie and say we’ve had a huge strategy on it so far, but what we’ve done is decided when it’s going to be – the end of November – fitting in nicely with everything else the NUS are doing. We have a deadline for a marketing strategy soon after freshers’ as well. The way we are going to run it is student lead – there will be a YES campaign and a NO campaign, and were hoping to do it in a similar way to the student elections for SUSU, where candidates fight for either side, and they’ll have to encourage people to get involved, campaign and vote online. As a Union, we have to try and remain neutral, so if we have a flyer, we will have both arguments on each side, which is one idea we’ve had. That’s the strategy were going to work with the Marketing team on.

SW: If people want to get involved, how do they go about doing that?

CW: At the moment they can pop in and talk to us, in our new Sabb Office on Level 2 of SUSU, just along from the SURGE studio, which is probably the best thing to do now. What people should be thinking about if they are wanting to get involved, is if they have a strong opinion either way, and start thinking about other people you might want to get involved with and work on the campaign – we want students to completely run the campaigns, so they need people to lead, and people to help out.

SW: Do you have a personal preference on the NUS?

CW: I’m remaining neutral and letting the students decide; I think it would be wrong of me to say how I feel about it as I don’t want to sway people at this point of time.

SW: Union Council is starting up again – last year there was a problem of quorum, how are you going about raising the profile of Union Council this year?

CW: That’s an interesting one. I think it shows how disengaged I was from SUSU as I was talking about having an open forum in my manifesto, which is quite worrying as I was part of a Media outlet. It just shows how little I knew about Union Council and how much we weren’t pushing it enough – so that is my next big thing. Rather than going down the route of following my manifesto, I want to work on what we’ve already got and make it better. After freshers’ week, when I can relax and stop running from one place to another, I am going to sit down and think how we’re going to do that as its massively important.

SW: I was going to ask you about your open forum – so that’s definitely not happening anymore?

CW: Absolutely, and doesn’t that show that people can come from away from the Union, work in a Media position and not know about it? So we really need to start encouraging people to come along, especially those who already volunteer and get involved in SUSU. Hopefully by bringing Jackie Booth and Billy to talk to the Media departments, that has begun as we’re all now talking and sharing common goals.

SW: What was the biggest shock when you entered the role?

CW: I think I came into the role a little naively, thinking that there were problems and that we could just see solutions and fix it like that, and that there wouldn’t be solutions. Obviously, you run into things that you don’t expect, and you have to justify that to people. I also thought you could solve things on the spot and make everything perfect, but it’s really not like that- being a Sabbatical officer is hard, and you need to make people aware that you are doing stuff FOR them. I think this is going to be my biggest problem; everyone knows their students union is there for them, and there is nothing else we are here for, and we need to make sure being a student at Southampton is an amazing experience.If we cannot get that message across, then I will have failed to be honest. It’s not like in the 60s where students were in the union, and that was THEIR union, and I feel that people are sometimes disengaged, which I really want to fix.

SW: Of all the things you’ve learned, what have you seen that needs to be changed, having been here for 100 days now?

CW: I think I’m going to come back to Media Committee, which I’m really passionate about making work- this year were going to be introducing much more transparent things like budgeting, so I will be taking the budget to Media Committee and we’ll all be having a discussion on how it’s going to be decided. I also really want to make people feel that they can come along and feel like their voice be heard, including things like who can go to Media committee. As I hadn’t got involved until last year in SUSU, I’m coming into the role still thinking I’m just a sports editor, and I’m trying to keep the thought that people can criticise freely, and we will try and change it.

SW: Thinking to the last AGM of the year, what do you want to be able to report as your accomplishments?

CW: I want to be able to report that every media department feels like they are part of the union, and that it is their union, we are here to support them. I don’t think it’s any secret that there were problems between the Wessex Scene and the Union last year – if I can go some way to making the Wessex Scene, and all the media departments, feel like we’re working together, supporting and listening to them,  then I will feel like I am doing a good job.

SW: OK so finally, of the SABB team, who looks the worst when hungover?

CW: Oh, Teddy! Teddy definitely, he just can’t hide it – although Billy was face painted the other day as a Panda and looked absolutely horrific, I’ve never seen anything like it.

SW: Thank you very much, Charlotte Woods.

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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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