VP Winchester Makes Changes

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Laura Gardner promised to change the students union and how it functioned. Now, almost two months later changes have started to occur. 

How do you feel you are fulfilling your role? Do you feel you are succeeding or failing so far? 
I set out some goals of what I wanted to achieve and I feel like I’m achieving them, some of them more than others.

Your goals were to make more use of the SU, more student engagement and to support the students. Do you feel the students union building is being used more effectively? 
I don’t think people are using it enough yet, but I feel it is getting better. I’ve seen more people down there and we’ve got some big things going on, we’re doing things like the fresher fayre and housing fayre which draws people in. A lot of people don’t realise what’s happening in the student union or what the student union is.

You do your bit, but obviously you can only do so much, you can’t force people to events.
I can’t force people to come, but I think things need to be more widely advertised, if you look at the Facebook group, there are 293 members, but that is not the entire campus, I can post as much as I want on there but it wont reach everyone.

How do you feel refreshers week went?
I think it went well because lots of students participated, it wouldn’t have worked if it was just me. A lot of students seem enthusiastic about using the building. Especially with all the societies we have got now, that’s what made it work really. Thursday night had the successful evening of vintage, there was also free tea and coffee to draw people into the S U. We also saw the re-launch of detention, and the new I heart Mondays, and Monday night will alternate each week between these two. That’s from an outside promoter though, there will be a regular event on Thursday, but if a student wants to plan an event we are flexible, at the moment, whilst we try and get a rhythm and variety of nights that people want.

So we are still at a stage where we are seeing what’s working and adapting to demand? 
Yes, it should be what students want and it should be students running their own events. Once we have an events officer and they have a team, we will get more regular and varied events. On the 22nd of February we have the executive committee elections, there are posters up right now. We will appoint an events officer, who will coordinate students to organise events, it shouldn’t be me who organises all the events, that’s not my job, but I should be making sure they go well.

How is the executive committee coming along?
Is coming along quite well, once we have the officers in place, which is in a couple of weeks time, we will have a more diplomatic committee with official voting members.

How can people become one of these members? 
Apply for one of the positions, there are positions in curation officer, promotions and social media officer, events officer, rag officer, 1st year, 2nd year and 3rd year officers, postgraduate officer, international officer, there is pretty much a role to represent everyone. It is not an application based election, it’s going to be on the day, on the 22nd, you come to the SU and there will be an elections party and you can nominate yourself. You then have a limited time to talk and say why you want that role and then everyone who is there can vote.

So it’s all going to be done on that one day? 
Yes

Have you had many people coming to you directly with suggestions/problems?
I’ve had a lot of emails and I’ve dealt with as many as I can, but I am bringing back the advice centre for a trial period, and if people use it, it might stay. So it is important people use it if they need to. From next Monday (13th February) the advice centre will be in my office. They will be there for six weeks and will offer financial advice and advice to do with students courses, basically things that are beyond my knowledge. I’ve had a lot of people emailing me about events, which I have been forwarding to the events department.

Have many first years been getting involved? Or is it many of the same people?
I think people get into a pattern of going places, and then avoid the places they don’t usually go, so it has kind of been many of the same people. We are doing JCR elections next Thursday (16th February) and we are having an elections party in the JCR common room. That will be good because the 1st years will see what they can do with their common room and then the after party will be in the SU, so maybe we will get some first years here who haven’t been here before. We will then explain what the JCR is how they can become part of the students union, how they can help other first years.

So you are setting up that culture of caring about the university and getting involved with it?
It’s a student involvement thing, people don’t realise how they can get involved, that’s my job: to tell them. The more students who get involved the better because it’s not just about me doing what I want.

Have you been able to achieve everything you have tried to so far? Has everything you have tried to change gone through, or have you been hitting a lot of brick walls?
Things have been more difficult than I anticipated, sometimes I just expect that I can ask something to be done and it will happen, but others may not want it to happen and I am constrained by some things. For example I would like to have the advice centre here all the time, but they have commitments in Southampton so they don’t want to send someone here if no one is going to use it. I’ve been made aware of things I wasn’t aware of before. Realising where our place is in the university. I saw some figures the other day and we are 5% of Southampton University, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering the size of WSA and of Southampton University as a whole, it is quite a lot.

Do you feel we get proportionally the right amount of services and attention? 
I think in some areas we are getting a lot and others not enough. I don’t think we need 5% of the universities services and attention, in some ways we need more than 5% because for so long people have not been engaged here, so we need a big push to get everything going again. If we are consistent with what we receive from the university and how we use it, then it wont need another kick-start, but we haven’t been consistent the past few years and a lot has been changed each year. Now we have permanent members of staff here, we may achieve that consistency.

So, at the moment it appears we are on the edge of a period where some really big changes are going to start happening, however our president can only lead us in this direction, she cannot force us to follow.

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