Wessex Scene interviewed Olivia Reed, who is running for the role of VP Sports in the 2019 Union Spring Elections.
What makes you an ideal candidate for VP Sports?
I have got a variety of experience within sports at SUSU as a president, club captain, a member of the Athletic Union and part of the Sports Participation Committee. Throughout those, there have been different areas of sports that I was involved in, seen a lot of projects come to fruition, and would love to do more in the future.
A rather large concern students have is the price of the gym membership. Some claim that it is unrealistically high and that they are not given the option to have a reduced membership and have to pay for the entire academic year. How do you plan on addressing this issue?
Finance is a massive barrier for people participating in sport, and this is something that I really want to tackle. The Sports Experience Board has been working for two years to put forward a strategy for sport at university, and that is something I would love to implement and see to fruition. This involves looking at the pricing structure and how membership is managed as well as maybe putting forward a free sports programme, which is something else I have in my manifesto. I think it is a real shame that there is no way to exercise and participate in Southampton at the moment for free.
Sports societies frequently voice their dissatisfaction at the funding they receive. Nevertheless, many other societies particularly those in the Creative Industries feel that sports societies receive an unrealistic amount of funding. How do you plan to ensure that funds are distributed fairly and addressing the concerns of the sports societies?
The sports societies have a set budget and this tends to be larger than other societies because of the way Sports & Wellbeing split from SUSU a couple of years ago and also because sports societies do generally require a lot of money. I’ve got a tournament in a couple of weeks that costs £70 alone to enter, so things do add up, and in terms of splitting the budget I don’t have a magic wand to increase the budget, unfortunately it is what it is. Unfortunately, SUSU has seen a lot of cuts over the last year which has meant that budget has decreased slightly, and I think it’s just making sure that the guidelines is really clear on what clubs can apply for and to avoid them being left disappointed. We also need to make it clear that it is a grant rather than a funding so that it isn’t something SUSU is offering out. Clubs need to be sustainable by themselves.
Which problems do you believe are the most concerning and how do you plan on combating them?
I think the participation in sports at the moment is quite low, and that is something I would really like to see increase. I think that through steps like decreasing funding*** and making casual sports programmes more accessible we would really see that increase happening. We should also increase publicity of Team Southampton as well as individual societies through initiatives such as ‘club of the week’ to try and highlight what societies and opportunities we have at SUSU.
***Editor’s Note: While ‘decreasing funding’ was what Olivia said during the interview, since the article’s publication, she’s kindly contacted to clarify that what she meant to say was ‘decreasing financial barriers’ to students.
What previous experience do you have that could help you with this role?
I’ve been a president and been involved with sport as an athlete myself, so I have dealt with SUSU and Sports & Wellbeing before. I’ve also been involved in the Athletics Union Committee and Sports Participation committee, and have led campaigns such as Women in Sport Week to try and make sure that SUSU is providing the best service possible.
What do you feel are the main challenges you will face with this role?
I think the main challenges you might have already brought up, being finance. Finance can be such a big issue for people and people can get quite sensitive about it and upset if things are too costly or if they perceive things as being unfair. So I think we need to make the SUSU guidelines really clear and ensure that things are dealt with as fairly as possible.
In your manifesto, you talk about running a “Disability Awareness Campaign”. Do you feel that the union and in particular sports societies as a whole, are welcoming and inclusionary to students with disabilities?
I think many are but there isn’t much highlight on those you can participate in if you have a disability – whether that be visible or invisible. I think it should be better highlighted what you can get involved in if you have a disability. I think some sports will be impractical with facilities, but I think it would be really nice if there was a real focus on disability in Southampton, like there was Disability Awareness Week in Southampton but I didn’t really hear a lot about that. Seeing some bigger campaigning around it would be great.
You mention the creation of a “gym buddies” platform to alleviate feelings of intimidation within sports. Do you feel that these feelings of intimidation are present in many students within the university?
As part of my preparation for the role, I spoke to many students who weren’t involved in sport at the moment. Something which they named is feeling a bit intimidated going into a competitive environment or not knowing how to use any of the equipment. So, with the gym buddies platform, people could sign up and find someone who would also like to get involved with sports or perhaps has some prior experience and would be willing to teach. They could learn from each other and help to increase each other’s confidence in exercise.
Could you possibly explain further on what this platform will entail and how it will work?
I think it would depend on where it was based, whether it be on the SUSU website or on social media. I think it would work well as a Facebook group, where someone would post “Anyone want to go to the gym today?” and then people could comment like: “Yeah, I’d like to go”. This is something that can be easily set up and help people participate.
Can you tell me a bit more about the ‘storage pledge’ on the SUSU website and what you want to do about that?
It’s always a major concern for sports societies as they have a lot of equipment and they need to find places to store it. There is an annual review about this, and we’ve had one this year about storage. I would like to make it an annual thing where storage is being assessed to ensure that it is being allocated correctly and to enable societies have more space to store stuff. This might be a case of reallocating the storage we already have or finding new places to store kits. A few societies have come forward and said: “Look, I think this is a place where equipment can be stored”.
This year, our current VP Sports has run campaigns related to drugs, hazing and welfare in sport and health. Do you plan on continuing this work?
This is something that I am really keen on continuing, there’s been some excellent initiatives. I would love to continue the welfare training and continue having welfare officers in societies. I think that’s a brilliant initiative and I have seen a decrease in initiations and hazing. There’s also stuff like ‘Look After Your Mate’ which helps club members look after each others health and wellbeing. I would also like to push training for other committee members. It’s great having training for Welfare Officers but I would also like to see training for treasurers on how they can deal with a club’s finances, because there’s a large amount of money going in and out and I know from when I was in the role there was some concerns about getting this right. Not everyone going into a club management committee role has had any admin, management or financial experience so putting some training in place would really help them work out how to deal with the club and will help the club become more financially stable.
As part of your role, you also have to raise awareness of student health and fitness. In the past, we have had campaigns such as ‘Safe Sesh’, which concern student drug use. How do you think you will address the student relationship with drugs?
It’s a difficult one, and I think Steve [Gore, current VP Sports] has got the right approach in understanding that drugs will happen regardless and not turning a blind eye to it. So, I think it is a case of working with people to try and address the issue rather than just saying ‘no’ and having a complete crackdown on it. It’s about working to reduce it from the inside.
So is your approach more about ensuring people are using drugs safely because we know it is going to happen anyway?
Well obviously I would never encourage drug use, but there needs to be some recognition that it does happen and we need to work with individuals to help them rather than just having crackdowns.
Find out more about Olivia Reed and her policies by reading her manifesto here.