Candidate Interview: Thomas Gravatt, VP Engagement


With Candidates for both full-time Sabbatical Roles and Students Leader roles in the midst of campaigning, we interviewed each candidate running for full-time sabbatical roles to find out why they wanted the role and what they planned to do if elected. Wessex Scene Editor Alice Hearing, interviews VP Engagement Candidate Thomas Gravatt to find out why he should be elected.

Hello Tom, so why are you running for VP Engagement?

I’m just fed up with how the Students’ Union talks to students. I think that with a bit of outside-of-the-box thinking and a bit of a review into engagement at the union, we could actually make a Students’ Union that people want to get involved with. Nominations are down again this year – two unopposed positions for sabbatical roles is just a complete failure of engagement in the union.

What experience do you have that makes you fit for the role?

I am frequently engaged in volunteering around the city. I also lead the Liberal Democrat society, so I organise events. I’m also involved in the Liberal Democrats elsewhere. It just gives me a lot of experience in organising things and getting people enthusiastic to volunteer because at the end of the day, in a political party, you’re working with volunteers – they’re not paid. I’m very passionate about talking to people around the city which is something I think we need to do more. For example, last night I went to the society of St James hostel for a visit. I do a lot of work in the community and have the organisational capacity from being a student society president as well.

Why are you running for VP Engagement this year after running for President last year?

Last year was fun, basically just messing around, trying and probably failing to highlight some of the stupidity of Student Union Elections and how they can get cliquey. Engagement is where I think I can make the most difference. It’s somewhere where I see the Union falling down a lot. I’ve heard societies just can’t get the members or feel that they’re not being publicised enough.

What are the main problems that you identify within the remits of the role? and how do you plan to fix them?

There’s an emphasis on things like clubbing within the role, in terms of people who have done it in the past. It’s all about nightlife and less about actual engagement. I’d see the role as trying to get students involved with the Students’ Union and getting them involved in the wider community in Southampton, which I think is incredibly beneficial as someone who does go around and talk to people in Southampton. It helps combat the image of students as loud, drunk vagabonds who are pillaging round the city. The emphasis on clubbing and surface level engagement is the main problem with where the emphasis lies.

So, would you remove the clubbing side all together?

The clubbing is an important aspect of engagement, but I would also emphasise, as boring as it sounds, residents associations and community politics, volunteering within the city for street cleans or homeless shelters etc. There’s a lot more we could be doing. Someone people do it of their own initiative, but it’s actually a matter of showing that these opportunities are available to everyone

How would you improve engagement of students with the Union as well as the community?

I want to try and open up the Union, make it clearly visible how things work and reduce some of the bureaucracy that’s often associated with working with the Union. I’ve certainly noticed it as the president of a society – there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through. I want to try and cut back on that a bit and just try and improve our communication more. So, really put a spotlight on societies using the social media channels, really publicise it well, maybe even promote the Facebook posts if we have to. Just try and improve communication through more channels and clearer messages.

How would you make things clearer?

By having a system in place that’s a lot easier. Societies could have a form where they can submit something to be publicised on social media and then you judge the different events and see how we can better promote societies using Union resources. Then just making sure we have clear simple messages and not paragraphs, not blogs, not consultations that you send over email. You have to actually go out and talk to people, go out onto the redbrick and just shout.

Blogs are one way of making things clear to the student population. What would you do instead?

I’d still do a blog, but that wouldn’t be the end of it. I think the blogs have kind of been emphasised as this pinnacle of engagement. I would love to see the readership numbers on them because I don’t think they’d be particularly high out of 24,000 students.

In your manifesto you talk about democracy and the re-brand. Is that not the VP for Democracy and Creative Industries’ (DCI) remit?

The actual engagement with student democracy is something where VP Engagement and VP DCI should work together very closely on. If VP Engagement’s role isn’t partially to help engage people in student elections then I honestly wouldn’t see why the role exists. It is definitely in the top 3 roles of VP Engagement to get people to vote and engage in elections.

If you were to focus on the re-brand in your role, do you not think that would do more to damage the Union’s reputation than fix it?

I think the union needs to accept it’s mistakes. The full time officers have been quite open that the re-brand was not a good move considering the level of consultation with students. I think the union needs to be open and say “sorry, we messed up, we’ll try not to do it again”. That is something that, during the re-brand anyway, didn’t happen. It was quite disjointed and it got quite defensive rather than actually responding to what students wanted.

And finally, give us a 30 second pitch explaining why students should vote for you, Thomas Gravatt, as their next VP Engagement?

As VP Engagement I will aim to make the students union more open, less bureaucratic so easier to work with for societies and students and generally make involvement with the students union, something worthwhile and not something that feels futile and useless as it does to many. So, if you like the sound of that then #BackGravatt.

Thomas Gravatt, thank you.

More articles in Union Elections 2017
  1. Candidate Interview: Samuel Dedman, VP Education
  2. Candidate Interview: Simon Pinney, Union President
  3. Candidate Interview: Thomas Gravatt, VP Engagement
  4. Candidate Interviews: Greg Williams, VP Democracy and Creative Industries
  5. Candidate Interview: Dan Varley, VP Engagement
  6. Candidate Interview: Sam Higman, VP Welfare
  7. Candidate Interview: Kirby Moore, Union President
  8. Candidate Interview: Ben Parker, VP Sports Development
  9. Candidate Interviews: Flora Noble, Union President
  10. Candidate Interviews: Stephen Gore, VP Sports Development
  11. Candidates Interviews: Alex Hovden, Union President
  12. Candidate Interview: Amelia Ng, VP Democracy and Creative Industries
  13. Candidate Interview: Arun Aggarwal, VP Student Communities
  14. Candidate Interview: Leyla Elsey, VP Welfare
  15. Candidate Interview: Henry Lane, Union President
  16. Candidate Interview: Evie Reilly, VP Democracy and Creative Industries
  17. Candidate Interview: Liam St Dennis, VP Welfare
  18. Union Election: Rumoured Candidates
  19. Union Elections 2017: Who’s Running?
  20. Union Elections: Candidate Interviews with Wessex Scene Published
  21. Voting for Union Elections is Now Open
  22. Voting For Union Elections Closes Today
  23. Union Elections: Meet the Candidates 1 – Liveblog
  24. Union Elections: Meet The Candidates 2 – Liveblog
  25. Union Elections 2017: Post-Election Analysis
  26. Union Elections 2017: Exit Poll Results

Wessex Scene Editor 2016-17 and Features Editor 2015-2016. History Student, Blog writer ( and traveller. Student Brand Ambassador for the i Paper 2015-2016. Tea lover, cat enthusiast. @Alicetotheskies

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