In all the turmoil and confusion caused by the resignation of Simon Protheroe, WSA was in need of a new leader. It could well come in the form of Laura Gardener, a third year fine art student, who was recently voted VP Winchester. I managed to catch up with Laura and find out how she plans to lead WSASU to glory.
Firstly congratulations on winning the recent election. Can you just outline your role and responsibilities?
Basically my role is to bring SUSU to Winchester, which encompasses quite a lot of things, its not just running the venue as a lot of people think. Its about supporting the students, bringing a voice to them, anything from dealing with academic issues to making sure the SU building is utilised for the students, not just in the evening for events but in the daytimes so students can set up student groups. Mainly my role is about making sure students are represented fully within the university.
Why do you think you won the recent election?
I think a lot of people know who I am, because I previously worked in the bar, I have been a student representative, so maybe a lot of people have met me. It was very close though. Only fours votes in it.
Would you say one reason why you won is that you are a person of strong opinions?
Obviously I do have strong opinions but I don’t think that’s something people vote for. I think people vote for you because you are good at speaking up. Having strong opinions isn’t always the best thing, because you need to basically take on the students opinions so I think its the ability to speak up that is important.
Lets talk about student awareness. A lot of people I spoke to weren’t even aware of an election going on, there didn’t seem to be large amounts of publicity around the university. How do you plan to raise awareness of yourself as the new VP and what you do?
I’m planning to send an email around the university to make everyone aware of who I am. The Winchester site officer, has recently put up a notice board, just in front of the canteen. That will have information about everything we are doing and will have our contact details.
Okay, lets talk about your manifesto. Its is available online (http://www.susu.org/elections/by-election/manifesto/laura-gardner), but could you give a brief outline of what is most important within it?
I want to ensure students opinions and suggestions are heard. I’ve outlined this in my plans for the year. Every sabbatical has to have a yearly plan, where you choose three points that are most important to you, which will be announced at union council on Monday. My goals for the year are:
- Increased student engagement which includes things like promotion of SUSU services, union activities and elections in the future. Using the Winchester committee to gain the views of students and making sure there’s a JCR in Erasmus Park.
- Supporting students, which is about increased advertising of SUSU and WSA’s civic services and making a student services representative available in the student union. Last year we used to have counselling services in the student union, which haven’t been there this year, so we are going to try and get that back. There will be a survey of students to find out what needs are being met, what’s needs still need to be met and how they are finding SUSU.
- Increasing the use of the union building, from getting societies into the building, improving the way the building looks and getting successful events run by students in the union.
In your manifesto you say a lot of what you are going to do, but don’t address how you plan to achieve it. Would you now explain how you plan to reach these goals?
I have just gone through some training and meeting everyone at SUSU. A lot of it is about knowing who you need to talk to to get things done. I didn’t really know when I wrote the manifesto how I’d be able to do that, as I didn’t have the relevant support structures in place. I’ve met a lot of people in Southampton now and I will be going down to Southampton regularly. I can speak to people there such as the people in charge of venues and the people I would need to speak to in order to arrange events. Of course I have the support of all the other sabbaticals, who have more specific jobs within SUSU.
So if people want thing done they go to you and you go to the relevant people?
Yes, I find out how to do them and then do them.
When are we going to see some changes? Obviously there have been some small changes to the SU but when are the big changes going to be seen?
We are still completing the mezzanine upstairs in the SU and we have lots of plans for that to make it in a proper meeting room. The changes will happen gradually but will build up over the year, so that by the time we hand over next year there will be a big change. There will be a big change next semester with events, I’m having a meeting next week to sort out events.
What is this big change going to be?
Basically we are going to do a review of the events we have have going here and the success of them and see if anything needs changing.
The success of things like fat panda have be in decline recently, how do you plan to pick these events up?
Well there’s been a lot of competition on Friday nights in Winchester, so we may well change the night if that is deemed necessary. We’ll look at whether or not we need to change the way we run them, whether prices are right, a total review. In semester two we will relaunch the events and have a refreshers week. Lots of other changes and things that have already started happening, such as the start of societies. We are looking to get storage for societies and making sure students know how to set up societies. Also we are working on publicising other SUSU advantages, such as the safety bus and the housing services they have down there. A lot of the support services they have down here aren’t well known, so I want to start publicising them..
Obviously this is a lot to do for one person, are you going to be building a team of students to help you?
Yes, we have just written up the roles of officers, who will be able to vote on the Winchester executive committee. Officers are going to be in charge of things like events, social media and societies basically there has to be support structures in place so that other students can be involved with how there student union is run. Anyone can come along to the committee and make their opinions heard. We will have officers who have official votes on the committee.
How are you going to choose these officers?
The roles have just been written, we are going to publicise them on the notice board outside the canteen and online, so any student who thinks that they would be right for the role can come to the executive committee, we will announce when this is going to be, and they can give a short speech on why they think they should be an officer, why they would be suitable for that role and then we will vote and people will be elected in a similar way that people are elected in the union council.
And finally anything you want to add that hasn’t been said already?
Just that students should be aware that there is a lot SUSU can do for them, its not just about events and a bar. There are so many things you can use this building for, if you want help you can just contact me.
And how can people contact you?
I will be in the office in the SU 20 hours a week, I also have an email address which is firstname.lastname@example.org so you can reach me on that if I’m not in the office.
Excellent, thank you Laura and good luck with everything.