Wessex Scene interviewed Fiona Sunderland, who’s running for the role of VP Activities in the 2019 Union Spring Elections.
Why did you decide to run for the role and what relevant experience do you have?
I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’ve got a lot of experience and I’m on a lot of committees. I’m on the Performing Arts committee as Music Society rep and I’ve had a lot of things where there’s only so much I can do in those positions, I’m hoping being higher up I would get some influence to actually make the changes I want and actually have a proper influence and make the societies run better.
‘Employability’ falls under the remit of VP Activities. How will you tackle this area?
I will admit that’s probably not my strongest point. Obviously I will talk with the people that are in full-time employment in the Union and see what’s done in the past and speak with, work with Education and Democracy to see what we can do, what we’ve done in the past, what’s worked well, get feedback from students, for example last year, did you attend this, what would have made you attend it…
One of your key manifesto points is that you will provide more support for WSA students’ involvement in activities. How will you do this?
I do think there’s a lack of information, for example apparently there’s a Winchester Bunfight at the start of the year, which no-one gets told about properly. I think not just as a last point on an email, “by the way”, actually properly saying to societies this is a proper thing you need to be going to, making a bigger deal out of Winchester events.I don’t actually know anyone at Winchester so I’m also going to try and make a trip down there and speak and see what they want, talking to the Winchester Campus President, seeing what they think needs more and just generally, anything that’s happening at Winchester, make a bigger deal of it and try and encourage societies there and to see what people down there, if they want to start their own societies, give them more support with that.
You want to restructure funding guidelines. What are the problems with the current guidelines you feel that need to be fixed?
I’d say this is mainly from a performing arts society point of view, but there are caps in places that make it really restrictive. For example, theatrical societies are allowed £200 the entire year to go to costumes and stuff, but societies like Showstoppers do 5 shows a year, so £200 doesn’t go very far. It’s not that they should be getting loads of money because I do expect people to fund from ticket sales, viewing stuff like that, but it’s putting caps in places that make it very restrictive, but then they can get £700 for a venue and they don’t need that money, it’s about putting less restrictive caps on trying to allocate the money a bit more fairly. Instead of just having people apply for a single funding thing, we could make it clear what their incomings and outgoings are. I think smaller societies sometimes don’t need all the money in those caps when they get them, but other times, they need it more because they have less members so they’re not going that money coming in, whereas big societies actually got loads from membership fees which are not being taken to account.
You mentioned in your manifesto that you feel that Union-society communication ‘leaves a lot to be desired’. Could you expand on this?
Societies are not being told things enough, not being kept in the loop a lot. You get told, “oh by the way, funding opens tomorrow” and then wait weeks and nobody actually tells you when something comes out. You could just be told, say a week later, by the way, this is when we’re going to have each funding for the year, so you can plan, so societies can actually plan ahead for a year and say this is when you expect decisions to be made by and keep it updated if it changes. It’s just things like that, like the Refreshers’ Bunfight, not even mentioning it was first come, first serve, and saying it during exams, when committees aren’t going to be looking at it immediately. They should be responding more timely to things and just making sure we’re putting out the right emails and contact details for people that arrange funds, because there’s a few emails that are monitored by a few people so things slip under and people don’t respond to them in time. We need to be making sure we send the right emails and making sure we’re getting back quicker.
You mentioned response times. Do you have in mind a guaranteed time you might introduce?
I know I can respond to emails instantly unless I’ve busy. I’ve not worked in sabbatical offices, I don’t know what’s realistic, but I’d say 48 hours is reasonable and I’d expect a definite response by then. If there’s an out of office thing, there should be a ‘you need to email this person’, to get that response. Sometimes you can refer people to contact, so just saying things like “we might be slow”.
You talk about in your manifesto enabling more use of Nuffield Theatre. However, NST has to be a viable charitable company, and also host an ever-constant number of touring professional productions and talks.
With that in mind, do you have a target in mind for the number of times or days PA societies can use the venue, or is this more about reducing the high costs of housing a show at Nuffield for a PA society?
I think it’s a bit of both. You can’t say, you want to use this space this many times because I don’t know how many societies can viably put something on there, it will have to be a focus. I know a couple of years ago when LopSoc used it they had to properly go for it with the advertising, yet they still made a loss. It’s just seeing how we can look into maybe doing advertising with Nuffield or something to bridge it as a trade for like a cheaper cost to make it, so it is getting used at least in that slot and maybe seeing if they can fit in. Obviously, they are a professional venue and so I’m not massively expecting us to get more time there. Obviously I know cost is a big thing, but seeing whether we can support societies to lower costs because a lot of the time the funding they’re expected to get ticket sales to make things, but ticket sales barely don’t even quite cover the costs of the venue, which can be £6,000 when used for a week.
All candidates for VP Activities mention improving storage space for societies. What is your plan for how to improve storage space and how is it the best plan?
I’ve got a few ideas. Obviously, I’d speak to facilities and see what’s logistically possible, but the first idea is that: lots of societies use the café. I know the music societies have used it, lots of the dance societies and other things use it, and there’s no storage on the third floor itself so I’d be keen for some booths at the back – they’re not movable, it wouldn’t taking away space or anything and I don’t think the café’s ever completely full and at worse, you could replace that with a couple of extra tables. Removing that, putting in a cupboard there, or at least cages and that way, like concert bands are carrying instruments up the stairs, so if it was in the same floor that’d make it a lot easier and that would mean Clubs and Socs are a lot more empty and then more sports societies can use Clubs and Socs.
Another idea would be the Clubs and Socs cupboard itself is really awkward to get to because you have to go through the Clubs and Socs room, often walking through Kung-Fu, then yoga, and you have to try and get quickly through so you don’t interrupt their practice. There’s a meeting room next to it. I’d really love for that to be turned into storage, I don’t think that would be too difficult and I think we have enough meeting rooms that we could compensate for making sure they’re used efficiently, I don’t think, there’s at least 5 meeting rooms that are not all being used concurrently all the time. If it’s structurally possible, maybe even knocking the wall down in between, that’d be ideal, but that one, I do know might be a logistical problem and then having that massive big room that you can then access from the corridor would be a lot better. Also I just think that with Clubs and Socs, making sure it’s only stuff in there that’s being used regularly, ensuring it’s not being used as more long-term storage. A new place doesn’t have to be something used every day, like the performing arts society have the PA house which is at Chamberlain Road.
In terms of if that’s the best plan, I think it’s a realistic plan certainly. I don’t know exactly what the other candidates are doing but I don’t think they’re unrealistic, but I think mine’s a solid, foolproof one, knowing what I’ve experienced and I think it’s something that could really work.
Conversely, no candidate for VP Activities has mentioned in their manifestos about what thoughts or ideas they may have regarding support or otherwise for the media societies and Union Films, which does fall under the remit. Do you have any thoughts or ideas on support for societies, support for Union Films?
I didn’t mention massively about it because I don’t have loads of experience with it and I think I’d be lying if I said I had all these plans. I really want to let them take the lead, like there’s no point in me suggesting a load of things when they’re the people that actually run it and known what to do, so I think it’s more a case of contacting them, meeting with the station managers, the editors, trying to see what they need. Preferably I would be getting in contact a lot over summer so we can really get some ideas down for what we can do for Freshers and how we get them out. Make sure they’re kept really involved, make sure the Freshers know right from the start these are student-run, these are local things, student-run, things you can get involved with. The one concern is giving more exposure to them. I know what the sabbs do at the moment, they do a weekly update of what they’re doing, so I think expanding this would be good. For example, here’s what the performing arts society are doing, here’s what the media societies are doing and just having more of a feature of them, which is more public.
Finally, how would you increase the reach of performing arts societies to attract larger audiences?
That is a good question, something that we’re always trying to work on. I think as a sabb I’d be able to do more. I’d be talk to the student body. I would put out weekly what’s going on, make sure it’s publicised on Facebook, have the sabbs on board, maybe even have a calendar event, a definitive calendar event of what’s going on. We’ve recently, on the Performing Arts committee, started this year launching The Annex as a Union venue so that we put out proper posters of what’s going on. I think it’s things like that, similar to the music societies, it’s more advertisement around campus and then using the reach and weekly updates to Facebook.
Find out more about Fiona Sunderland and her policies by reading her manifesto here.