Union President Candidate Interview with Olivia Reed


Wessex Scene interview Olivia Reed, who is running for the role of Union President in the 2020 SUSU Spring Elections.

Why have you decided to run for the role of Union President?

So, I decided to run for the role because I think that I have a lot of experience as a Sabbatical Officer, and I’m really passionate about the Union in general and its advancement.  I really want to make sure that this is a good place for students and the best place to be.

What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?

As a Sabbatical Officer, I’ve had to do a range of things which fit in with the President role. A lot of the duties of a Sabbatical Officer are similar across the board, and I am a trustee, so I’ve just been at a trustee board meeting, and I think that having the experience of being a trustee board member means that I’ve got really good experience in being able to lead the trustee board as its chair. I’ve also had generic experience in just campaigning for students; this year I’ve managed to lower the cost in sports for kit, for the sports pass, and events tickets such as our Union Ball, so I’ve really had experience in lowering costs for students, helping secure long-term investment, and just doing work to celebrate and encourage our volunteers and the Union’s aims in general.

What are the main problems you identify with the current role of Union President, and how would you fix them?

So, the role of Union President kind of focuses around several key areas, the first of which is leading the Union, and I think there’s definitely work to be done to try and make sure that the Union’s vision, mission, and values are in line with our current student body. The current values were set five years ago, so there needs to be some alignment to make sure that our current direction for the Union is on track with what our current students are feeling, and that needs to be really insight-driven as well based on our new student intake, Generation Z, with figures but also doing some general consultations to make sure that we are on track as a Union, so that’s leading the Union side, it’s also looking at the facilities that we have, both in terms of our building here, the long-term and short-term direction that we’re taking, as well as our presence at sites and halls to try and make sure that student experience is completely represented and they have a place they can go to for advice and support and representation, as well as all the opportunities that we’re offering. It’s about looking at our provisions for students both in terms of physical sites and general presence as well.

With the new SUSU CEO set to come in next academic year, what specifically do you want to work with them on?

So as I’ve already mentioned, a lot of the CEO focus will be determining the new vision strategy, mission, and values of the organisation, so I’ll be working with them on that, as well as things such as our Union services which are also within the President’s remit, to try and make sure that our trading and Union services provisions are doing as well as they can to try and feed back into the other areas that we provide for as a Union, so I’m not sure if you’re aware that the Union services remit we have includes catering, trading, the Shop and Stag’s, and that feeds back into the student experience work so all the opportunities, our student representation, our support networks, so it’s really important for us that those kinds of areas do well, and I’ll be working with the new CEO to improve that area and make sure that the student experience in general is as boosted as it can be.

With the world becoming more aware of the climate crisis, how will you make SUSU more sustainable?

So this is a really key issue for students, and I keep hearing again and again that climate change is on people’s minds – sustainability is an increasing focus, and this year we saw a referendum request for a Green New Deal from students which had a huge amount of support and this is really indicative of the overall opinion, so we have been speaking to Students’ Unions across the country, and also internationally as well. What I’ll be doing next year is trying to address those things both in terms of the Union side and the University, so bringing forward what implementations we can make to make small improvements with the Union, as well as lobbying the University for them to change as well, so I think something that we’re really good at in the Union is looking at sustainability and they have a student sustainability forum and a staff one so every period there’s a staff sustainability forum to look at how we can make improvements with things like the Christmas lights switch-off, and we don’t have so many single-use plastics anymore in our Union services outlets, so we have made steps like that but it’s about lobbying the University to make those changes as well, and at the moment they’re just starting to develop a sustainability strategy after encouragement from SUSU, so it would be working with them to further improve their strategy and see it as an invitation. Also in my manifesto I touch on some other ideas which we could explore such as a Green Wall, which is something that is a carbon trap to try and trap in emissions as we are on a main road here at Highfield; that could be something that could be explored, as well as at other campuses and sites.

How would you work to improve SUSU’s presence and visibility on campuses other than Highfield?

So this year we, the Sabbs, have been visiting different sites as part of a weekly rotation and if I was President I would continue that happening, however I think I’d look at it more holistically, and try and analyse which Sabbs are going to which site, so for example I think it makes a lot of sense for VP Sports to be at sites such as Jubilee and Wide Lane to make sure that they have the most engagement with the relevant students there, so as part of my manifesto I’m addressing the sending of Sabbs to student sites where they should be at. The Union also has a general sites’ strategy, which we are trying to implement at the moment with the University, so as Union President I’d see the implementation of that, which calls for a more physical presence at all sites, so we have a physical desk at Avenue now, but seeing the implementation of that across the board.  That’s backed up by a lot of student research and consultation as well, so site such as the NOCS and the NOCS cafe could really do with some physical SUSU presence, and the hospital and Boldrewood similarly.  Just having a physical presence at those sites as well more than just a weekly drop-in. I think it’s really important for all of our services but particularly our services such as the Advice Centre, for which it’s really critical that all students have access to that so we can see a noticeable improvement that SUSU can have in that area.

The University is facing its third lot of strikes in years: what will you do to ensure that students aren’t negatively impacted by them?

This is something that really has to be driven by students, so yesterday we announced another student vote to decide what the Union stance would be on this, and back at our AGM in November we voted to support the strikes, but this week as a Union we decided that it was really important that if there was a new set of strikes happening, there should be a new student say about what level of interaction they want the Union to have regarding that because the issue of strikes is quite complex.  The UCU does represent a lot of PGRs as well as lecturers, so at the Students’ Union we have a duty to look out for the interests of PGRs. However, we also know that strikes can also adversely affect students, so it can become quite a complex issue which is why we’ve put an advert out for students in the form of a referendum to kind of get their view. Going forwards, I will be supporting whatever view the students hold as a majority. Three years ago, when strikes were happening there was a pot of money put aside to invest in the student experience, and that’s where we saw things like the WSA Shuttle Bus coming through, so I’ll be looking for similar investment from that pot for future years.

What does accountability mean to you, and how will you ensure that SUSU and Sabbatical Officers are appropriately held to account?

I think accountability is making sure that you’re open to students’ criticism and praise as well and being able to hold yourself up for review from the student body. At the moment we have several ways for Sabbatical Officers to be held to account, the main form being Senate. The Senate’s job is to make sure that the Sabb is on track and that they are following their Sabbatical plan. One of the key ways that myself as President could encourage the accountability is to increase the attendance of Senate – that’s actually a remit held by the VP Education and Democracy, but the team in general can try to work to increase the turnout of Senate and make sure that people are aware of what it is and what it’s doing, because I think that’s something the Union struggles from at the moment is that people kind of hear the words AGM and Senate and they don’t understand what that means, so having some better promotional material about those events, and also more information being made available on the website. Other Students’ Unions have progress trackers for Sabbatical Officers so their plans are really clearly available and as are updates throughout the year as to what’s happened, so that’s something I’d really love to see if it’s possible with our website to see a more ongoing track record being implemented rather than just the quarterly Senate review.

There are concerns that issues such as a ‘perceived clique’, difficulty in accepting criticism, and an apparent lack of transparency, have all led to a huge gap and a lack of trust between SUSU and the student body. How will you work to address those issues, bridge that gap, and restore the students’ trust as President?

Those are really difficult issues, and something I think most organisations struggle with. I think that a lot of progress has been made in the last few years and especially the last year to try and tackle all three of those, but there is always going to be a distance that exists. I think something that massively needs to be improved is the understanding that all students are part of the Students’ Union, and especially that all volunteers are the Students’ Union, it’s not some distant body that is SUSU: that is them. So, by being a member of Wessex Scene, or another club or society committee, you are the Students’ Union, and I think that understanding is part of breaking down that barrier. In order to address cliques I think that is quite difficult because I’d actually say we’ve gone very far this year in trying to break that down; a legislation point that came in a couple of years ago is that people running for Sabbatical positions can’t run as a group at all. This year’s team, for example, no one knew each other coming into the role and that was really nice because it meant that we had a fresh environment and that led to a really professional working group, and I think we’ve had a lot of feedback that this year’s Sabbatical team has been much more professional in its outlook to things, and I think it’s just trying to continue with that, so as President I’d continue to keep that professional outlook from the Sabbatical team rather than just a group of students who are just clinging on to student life still.

Do you have anything to say about difficulty accepting criticism?

I think that is something that SUSU maybe could do better because, and again I say SUSU as a brand term because it is a very generic term and it depends what area you’re referring to. So if you’re referring to the Sabbatical team, no one’s perfect, I mean the Sabbatical team is certainly going to make errors in its time, and sometimes it does need to hold its hand up and say, ‘yes, we didn’t do this great, we’ll try to do this better, and this is how we’re moving forwards with that’. I think it’s quite hard with the year-on-year turnaround, so that is one of the things it struggles from, and that’s mainly what students see as the Sabbatical team involvement. I think doing more things where we are publicly putting ourselves out there, so as VP Sports I started the sports forum which I’m hoping is going to be a more regular platform, and part of that platform was just to say, ‘look, we asked for students’ concerns’, and it’s just kind of addressing them and saying ‘look we know this isn’t great’ or ‘actually this is what’s going on’, and just trying to address those issues in a more open platform.

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

Massively the climate emergency that we’re facing, so doing work with the University to look at their sustainability strategy, and our own strategy, but that massively folds into other things like our food waste provisions, making sure that we are responsibly getting rid of waste and doing recycling. We are also developing things like a community fridge, so we are looking out for the most vulnerable in society, and that also relates to issues such as period poverty. So sustainability, main point, and secondly our offer at halls and sites – I think more needs to be done at halls such as a 24 hour provision of staff and better signage, and also more can be done to improve our offer and presence at halls, and especially to make sure that that’s equal across all halls and not just focused on the largest ones. Thirdly, making sure that our catering offer is as good as possible – obviously the Plant Pot is a new development this year so we’re making sure to see a greater intake of students into that and greater publicity that it exists, and similarly with our zero-waste shop that has just been developed as well.

Whilst the installation of a Green Wall on campus would be effective, is this viable financially?

I don’t know – that’s the thing that I’d have to explore as President, because I’m not President yet and it’s not something I’ve explored, so I’d look into it. What I want to do as President is look into a series of ideas like that, so certainly looking into ideas like a Green Wall, but also other new technologies like new provisions, so we’ve just introduced terracycle on campus and that’s something that we didn’t know if it would be possible a year ago, but was looked into and it is possible once we started doing it, so I think it’s just continually looking at new measures and exploring new ideas like the Green Wall. I’m not President yet so I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’d hope so.

Would you like to take the opportunity to explain what a Green Wall is?

It is essentially something that does carbon emissions trapping, and they’ve just developed one down in the city centre. It’s a hydroponic living wall which features living plants and foliage which grow without soil and they absorb air pollutants such as CO2.

How exactly will you work to establish better links with local communities?

So this is a project that I think is really important; I myself have stood for city council within Southampton, and I think a lot of students don’t really know what there is available in Southampton – I don’t think many students would know what’s in Thornhill or Bargate, despite living in the city, so I think some work needs to be done alongside groups such as Southampton Hub to work on our community provisions and making sure that there is more of that community sense. There’s a lot of events that happen all the time in the city like road fairs and actions which call for young people to be involved, which I think we could better promote to students, and a lot of it is to do with the promotion that we do to students and the collaborations that we do with the community. I think a lot of students for example wouldn’t know necessarily who their neighbours were, so if there was an emergency situation or if they needed someone to turn to, having that kind of support within their neighbourhood to be able to go to someone, or know where their local police station was. I think this is particularly prevalent for some international students who might not understand how the UK systems work, and really, I think promotion and sharing of these opportunities are key.

Finally, after a year as a Sabbatical Officer, is there anything you would have done differently?

I think if I was going to redo the year, I’d certainly hit the ground running a bit more, but part of that is just that I’d have the contacts and the feel for how the organisation works, and I think that going forward that’s something that I can really bring to the President role: I wouldn’t need to do a lot of that establishment again, I wouldn’t need to know how to function in a working environment, or the people to know who to go to about things, both within the University and within the Union itself, so that’s something I think I could really lend to the President’s role in the future. I don’t think there’s massive changes that I would make, I think I’m quite happy with a lot of the successes that I’ve had as VP Sports; the University has recently committed to massive facility investment, putting its facilities in the top ten for sports facilities, so I think we’ve had facility investment, we’ve had lowering of membership costs, and investment into other projects which I’m really passionate about such as free sports and our casual sports offer. I think just having that knowledge and experience going in is something which if I was to redo the year would be really key and I could hit the ground running more.

To find out more about Olivia Reed’s policies, read their manifesto here.

Editor’s Note: Wessex Scene repeatedly attempted to contact Jacob Smith 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

Travel Editor 2019/20. Sub-editor 2018/19. Currently studying English and History.

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