VP Activities Candidate Interview with Fiona Sunderland


Wessex Scene interview with Fiona Sunderland, who is running for the role of VP Activities in the 2020 SUSU Spring Elections.

Why have you decided to run for this role?

Well, I hope as people reading this might have noticed, I already hold this role, so I just think there’s a lot that I’ve started and put in motion that I just want to follow through a bit more, like the grant restructure – it’ll be put in place, but I won’t be able to be there for its input. There’s just a lot of things I think I can keep going on and it’ll be a lot more consistency to have the whole two years in a row.

So obviously you said that you held the role last year, but what experience do you have that makes you the best candidate for this role?

So yeah, I’ve done it for a year, I very much know what the role is, and I think that’s not a dig at anyone that’s running, but I think there’s – this was me last year as well – no one quite knows what the role is. It’s never that clear, and I think there’s a lot of nuances that you don’t realise until you’re in the role. Like, sometimes there are bits about the other Sabb’s roles that we don’t even know about each other, so I think it really does mean I know my – which doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t then come into it, adjust, and be good. But yeah, other than that, before, same from last year, I’ve been on a lot of committees and in a lot of societies. You know, I’ve been president of a society, tours officer, ordinary member. I’ve done a lot, and been in a lot, and I try to get heavily involved. I know sort-of the general issues of societies; I know what the good things are and I know where there’s room to be improved.

What do you think are currently the main problems of the role that you can fix?

I think a problem of the role itself is that no other Sabb represents the interests of Creative Industries or External Engagement, so I think it can come across in the role, like I’m obviously very performing arts background based and sort of the CI stuff, and I know like Corin who’s running is very much from a volunteering background, someone in the role could easily be mistaken for focusing on the things they like, but actually that’s what the role has. So, I think it’s just having a bit more infrastructure, knowing and clearing it up a bit and making it a bit more obvious that that’s the thing. I think probably a bit more of the role a bit more clearer than clearer of the coordinators who does what who you’re working with, and stuff like that. It’s a new role, I’m there trying to find my way – I’ve got no one to go on. I think that’s more of an issue that hopefully I’d be reducing.

For media societies, editorial independence is important, especially when it comes to holding SUSU to account. Do you agree? Given that there’s been renewed concerns about censorship this year, how will you work with media heads to ensure that the principle of freedom of the press is upheld?

I think with that, me and the Wessex Scene Editor always have our little clashes that I’m not sure that can be there when we want to check. I think, one thing that I always find really difficult is I don’t want people to stop posting things, but I don’t want them to post things that will distance them from SUSU more and I think that’s the important thing where I’d like to find the line. I mean, ‘Yes, I really do want you to criticise us and make a fuss but I also don’t want more students to be alienated,’ so I think it’s about finding a balance. I think one thing that I – this is something that I put in my manifesto – I’m hoping will start working on it this year but it’s something I really want to be implemented next year is just, media, there being a standard when we’re going to use media. We did Senate last term and we two days before went, ‘We should invite Surge to do it in the future and Wessex Scene to come along and talk.’ It was quite late planned the Senate but I said, ‘That’s really great but we should’ve given them a schedule at the start of the year saying that.’ So, I really want it structured; when we’re going to do that and if you do something go, ‘Does this benefit having media there?’ As I said in my manifesto, I’d really like – and I’m talking to the Senate about this now – having a question time run by media if media are up for it. I think getting them involved if they are up for it, would be really good because another conversation we’re having is trying to hold SUSU to account, and I agree, and I think that’s a really good way to do it. It gives a really fair, ‘You can ask the questions, they have a chance to answer.’ Lots of people will have the chance to answer, and not just one person in an article saying great things – people have a chance to answer, have their questions answered. I definitely wouldn’t censor the questions, I’d have the Chair of the Senate doublecheck some of them, check no one’s personally calling out or has a vendetta, have something like that so it’s good. That’s once a term, and it can extend to the Officers as well because the Officers are a lot less heard of – it’s also a good platform so people can know what’s going on, and maybe the media involvement will get a bit more hyped so people can know about the Senate and other things.

The role VP Activities involves a LOT of responsibilities – least of all 214+ societies! How will you balance the different elements of this role to ensure that nothing is neglected?

I see it as 214 societies, I am there for the structure. I will be there, when we’re in meetings I will always talk about societies, I’ll try and go, ‘Performing needs this! Cultural Societies need this!’ and try and balance that and I think that’s what my role is in the meetings to be I am talking about societies when I’m doing university stuff, and when I’m doing other stuff in the Union I am thinking about structure that works for everyone, and then when it comes to individually repping stuff, it can be split amongst the Sabbs, so if it’s a cultural based thing Laura can help promote it, and if people come to me I think some of the stuff that doubles meaning me and the other Sabbs it’s more, if you come to me I will present it like I’ve helped the Christian Union out a bit with sharing – as long as you come to me and do that, I think possibly giving some more opportunities like if you’ve got some events, have a calendar. I’m working with the music rep at the moment – he wants to put the calendar on the website for music. I think also the calendar on the website – really great idea! We need to just put one more because I think societies are using it inconsistently. Some are really great, put everything on it, like Zumba put every week what they’re doing. I think it would be great if we had two sections: one is, ‘Here is what we do every week, look what’s on in general’ and then if we had one that’s, ‘This is special things that are happening here: we’re doing a festival here, we’ve got a demonstration here.’ So it’s a bit clearer and be more consistent. I’m really hoping – again, this is something I hope to implement this year, it’s hard when you’re already in the role to balance what you’re doing now – I’d really like to work with the PA committee. Another thing about balancing the role, is that’s a really good start that took up a lot of my time, put a bit more to be student led and help them out. So giving more, ‘I’ve started an idea, would you like to follow it up.’ I think the live music in The Bridge worked quite well, I think that would be a good opportunity – not just for P.A. societies, for anyone who’s a music student, even cultural societies, it can extend to more than just singing, it can be about more about spoken word. A bit more for all societies, we’ve got creative writing, I’m sure Wessex Scene probably has people that are interested in that sort of thing. So I think it can be extended a bit.

How will you support and develop employability for students?

I think is one, I will admit, is probably one I’ve done slightly less on, it’s a bit shoehorned into the role. I think – this is going on a slight tangent – it’s enterprise, I think that’s quite important – because that’s another thing that’s just me – is making more of the enterprise fund. We had some spare money from the external engagement zone in last grant round, why not put that on the enterprise, have more people that can come and be supported by it, and then work more. We started these serial entrepreneurs in The Bridge on Monday, and I think it wasn’t quite joined up because one of our directors decided they didn’t quite link up with our coordinator. I’d really like to put them back in but then doing a lot more of the careers serving things and entrepreneur side of it and having those regular networking sessions – that is a really good idea, I think we just need more follow through. I think in a future meeting we need to re-decide how we do that and talk to the enterprise team at the university and use their resources. In terms of employability itself, that’s obviously one link of it. I think the role obviously makes sense with education, so I found this year that when Joe’s doing stuff, Joe will do something with it. I think the biggest thing that I like to focus on is from the society angle. There’s been a lot more LinkedIn labs, we’ve had wandering volunteer week, I think it’s a lot about so many people do societies myself included – that’s where all my skills are on my CV, that’s going to be there, all the things I’ve volunteered for – It’s just being able to help know how to present themselves.

We did it during Volunteering Week, but I’d like more of the LinkedIn labs. Write about how the society has helped you. To go on with that, me and Olivia are currently planning – Olivia being VP Sports – what training we want to give for committees. What we’re really focusing on is what are transferable skills, so not just ‘Here is how to apply for SUSU funding.’ That’s a very specific thing, but ‘How do you write a budget.’ I think that’s a thing that lots of people will have to do and it’s an important skill so how do you write a budget, how do you write a risk assessment. A lot of people, even if you’re not in office-based work, you have to write risk assessments. It’s a lot of stuff, so we’re going to maybe some treasurer training, we’ll have someone from HSBC come in and talk about signatories. It’s stuff that everyone will need to know, it tags on to that, ‘What skills have you learnt from being in a society?’ So, we’d really like to go with those transferable skills, possibly with SUSU President, ‘How to chair a meeting,’ because I think that’s a thing that gets overlooked a bit. Like being the President, I sit there and I’m a bit like, ‘Does anyone have anything they want to say?’ How do you that? How do you manage people? That’s something we lack on a bit. Even with Sabbs/Vice Presidents, we don’t get any training on that even though we have Officers we need to support so I think a bit more on how to manage other people would be really helpful and really important skills to learn – just how to manage your committee, how to delegate almost. Just a talk to make it a bit more interesting, maybe get an inspirational leadership speaker in.

With many societies and Union Groups expressing concerns about the impact of SUSU budget cuts, will you ensure resources are fairly allocated across all societies?

I think this year, the fact that it is separate, I know sports are separate, the fact is one role, it is a lot more fairly allocated this year and I think what the problem has been is that change of how it’s being allocated because I think in the past particularly one of the Sabbs, they’ve got a small pot with not many societies asking for it, they’ve been like, ‘We have the money so we’ll give it out no matter what.’ And I think me having a little bit of wiggle room, if I go £50 over in one zone, I can take it from one or the other. I try to not do that too much but there is a little big of wiggle room. So, people are a bit surprised like, ‘We got this last year, why aren’t we getting it this year?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m literally following the guidance we have up and it’s a bit about the non-consistency sometimes.’ So, we’re actually going to look a bit at being less strict on some of those things because that’s the problem. There’s some things we don’t have a problem with funding for, but we have that guidance there so I’m following it to the letter in most cases.

So, what we’re doing for grant restructure, few kinks being worked out, we’re doing more, ‘Please send us your finances for last year that you present at the AGM, send that, that’s your evidence, that’s the only evidence you’ll need because that’s how it’s proved every year, and please send us your budget.’ And I think it’s going to be a lot more, and I don’t necessarily agree with doing this because it’s consistent for everyone, is we say, ‘You haven’t provided evidence of this exact thing you’re going to use,’ is don’t be as strict at that and I think that’s always the case for people thinking it’s strict. But it’s a lot of, ‘How much do you have for membership fees? How much are you charging for them? How much do you have coming in from fundraising and sponsorship? And how much do you need to spend and how much are you asking us for, as in the general sum?’ And we’re not going to go, ‘Okay you can’t have money for this bit of food and have this,’ it’s going to be an overall budget and because we’re judging it on how they did last year. It’ll be a, ‘We’ll know what you need to run.’ Another thing in this is the one thing that I think can be a little bit unfair at the moment and it’s really hard to navigate is when we take into consideration people’s bank balance. So, if you have 10 grand in the bank and you’re in an oversubscribed zone and you’re asking for £100, I’ll be like, ‘No, we can’t afford this in this round and I think you aren’t a priority.’ But as people rightfully said through our feedback is, ‘why aren’t we rewarding people who are good with money management rather than people who are bad?’ So, the idea would be definitely in the section when you’re applying for a grant, there’ll be a section like, ‘Please tell us if you’re making a surplus this year or if you have a lot of money in the bank, please tell us about it, like how is it working?’

So we have an opportunity, if you’re saying you’ve got enough in the bank to be able to run for two years even if we don’t get any money, that’s really fair and that’s really good planning and we should be rewarding that and allowing that. And if you’ve got 10 grand in the bank and you’re like, ‘Well we’ve been saving up for the past few years to replace our boat,’ just as long as you can say why it’s there, not just you’re getting grants and not spending them and collecting them. That’s why we take the money into consideration to make sure people need it. If they can say why they need it then, it’s just getting people more, not less specification on what they’re going to buy exactly, just more on why and how just more about what the impact it’s going to make, like, ‘We want £100 so everyone’s ticket can be £2 cheaper.’ If then it might be that everyone gets free entry to a really fun event then it’ll be impactful, but if the £2 cheaper means people’s tickets will still be £48.78 then we might rethink it as that doesn’t make that much of a difference. It’s just about seeing what impact it makes as well.

If you were elected, what would be your top two/three areas of focus?

I think I’m going to say more with the enterprise side of things because that’s something that was very new to me and thrown into me, but now I know better I think I can plan it earlier on. Just to be honest, the external engagement stuff in general is definitely putting a lot more focus on that. Particularly our external engagement coordinator will be on maternity leave, so I really do want to pick up on that, start planning probably the summer before she goes and start having a full-on schedule, so I know what’s going on, tell people then. Second priority is probably the general point of spaces. So, I know I’ve said I want more space here, but it’s happening – promise! But things are slow with the university because it’s the university owned buildings so everything has to go through the university and anything that’s not priority takes longer. So, I’d really like to work on how we use it.

I’d really like to talk about how we do block bookings, how we do this sort of things, there’s always problems with how The Cube is allocated because The Cube is a great space and we give it to people for block bookings but then they have to be bumped for every event that happens. It just has to be looked at how we manage that and then also, within the concept of spaces, the Nuffield being refurbished and what’s happening with it. Something I’m really keen on working with the Associate Director of the Arts is having a consistent performance opportunity and what I mean by consistent is something we’ve discussed. We might over the summer have a load of space, but what we’re really keen on is we don’t want to say, ‘Hey we have it free for a month! You can all perform here as much as you want for this month!’ And then never be allowed to perform in the Nuffield again. We really want to work on is we’re not just going to give the space because we have it once, we’re going to work on what can consistently be upheld and make sure societies know what they’re expecting. Just how can we work with them, how can we advertise it? We’ve been on a lot of Union visits and the Associate Director of the Arts mentioned to me UCL, I’ve seen their theatre, it’s really great, a bit smaller than the Nuffield but it’s a really great space and the societies get it for 14 weeks out of the year and the external pay for the rest and they get an allocated time to rehearse and have it. I think that’s really great, that’s the model that we eventually want to get to.

Is there a future for the Annex?

We are really, really working on the Annex right now. I just suddenly went and chased it up and they said the board got cancelled again. It really riles me up. Because before it was a bit of a theoretical concept, I think it’s bad in principle, so I’ve reached out to a couple of students – someone who directed a show in there but couldn’t even go down to the floor. I literally said to him, ‘Do you want tell me about your experience? It made me really sad.

This is to do with accessibility in the Annex.

So, the Annex is where most students do shows and there’s no lift access, no disabled access at all. If you’re watching a show, there can be one wheelchair fit at the back right at the side of the tech and you can’t two because it starts to be a hazard. I’ve seen someone walk in with a Zimmer frame before and have trouble. It’s always been ridiculous to me that that’s the case and I’ve just heard a statement from a student that said about how they were really excited about performing arts when they came here and how isolating it is and it made me feel really sad. I asked him to write me a statement and I sent it to them saying, ‘I want this done.’ The board was supposedly yesterday so if something’s not gone through or anything then I’m going to start looking into it. I think the thing is some of their umming and ahhing is, ‘We don’t know what’s happening with the campus in the future.’  Even if it’s two years, that’s two thirds of someone’s degree. If you’re a PGT, that’s all of your time here. I think the short term needs a bit more thought because students are here for a short amount of time so that’s something I’m really pushing for at the moment. It’s really just gone to me.

A third priority?

I’d say about the structure for committees. I know other points have been, ‘We need to let societies do what they want,’ and I do agree with that but I think we need to be clear and not go, ‘You can do whatever you want,’ but suddenly go, ‘Hey you didn’t do this, you’re in trouble now.’  It’s just being a clear structure. The activities team have a calendar of the year and it’s a very internal one and I’m not meant to send it out, but I think we need an outward one as well so committees can have all year round. People have asked me, ‘When’s grant free round open?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know actually.’  Just having that on the calendar so we know it’s there. We send out so many emails as possible but it’s fair enough if people don’t want to scroll through ten emails to find the one where we mention that date. We’ll still send those out to remind people but if there’s just one consistent place where they can go and check, and then if it’s not on there, we probably don’t know yet.

After a year in the role, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would use the summer a lot better. I think it was really hard coming into a new role. I got a good handover from the SABBs that were there but bearing in mind, quite a large part of what my role is came from external engagement and I didn’t have anyone to handover from that. No one had the general society, so I think using that summer better for planning so I think I can do a lot of the society calendar, sit down with the coordinators and plan out the year and do a lot more of that. I think I also had the problem that, because it’s a new role, people didn’t know to come to me so definitely use that better to reach out a bit more. At the start of the academic year, I sent out an email entry for myself but maybe I could do that sooner and say a bit more about that. I think just planning out the year so I know a rough plan and so societies can know that too.

To find out more about Fiona Sunderland’s policies, read their manifesto here.

Editor’s Note: Wessex Scene repeatedly attempted to contact Hao You for interview, but they never responded. You can read their manifesto here.

More articles in SUSU Spring Elections 2020
  1. Student Candidate Spotlight: Sites Officers & Trustees
  2. Student Candidate Spotlight: Academic Officers
  3. VP Activities Candidate Interview with Corin Holloway
  4. VP Activities Candidate Interview with Fiona Sunderland
  5. Student Candidate Spotlight: Liberation and Student Life Officers
  6. SUSU Spring Elections Exit Poll
  7. Student Candidate Spotlight: Creative Industries
  8. VP Sports Candidate Interview with Kiera Spencer-Hayles
  9. VP Sports Candidate Interview with Luke Jefferies
  10. VP Welfare and Community Candidate Interview with Nicole Akuezumba
  11. VP Sports Candidate Interview with Samuel Tweedle
  12. VP Welfare and Community Candidate Interview with Kayleigh Littlemore
  13. Union President Candidate Interview with Olivia Reed
  14. Union President Candidate Interview with Kendall Field-Pellow
  15. Rumour Has It… 2020 Union Elections Rumoured Sabbatical Officer Candidates
  16. SUSU Spring Elections Exit Poll: The Results
  17. Election Night Live 2020 Liveblog
  18. SUSU Spring Elections: Sabbatical Officer Winners & Voting Breakdown
  19. SUSU Spring Elections: Student Officer Winners
  20. Remaining Sabbatical Officer Positions Filled in Academic Elections
  21. Confirmed Candidates for Previously Unfilled Positions in SUSU’s 2020 Spring Elections
  22. Confirmed Candidates for SUSU’s 2020 Spring Elections

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