Following Fresher’s Week, we sat down with Guild’s VP of Opportunities Izzy Harrison to talk societies, COVID-19 and the impacts of the commercial transfer on student employability.
É: So obviously Freshers’ week has just passed and everything is starting to settle down a bit. How did you think the first few weeks of university have gone for societies in general?
I: I think it has gone well in general. It’s great to see so many societies running in-person events as well as some online events continuing, and it was also great to see lots of taster events for returners as well as for first-years, which I think is especially important this year given that last year was so different to normal. Obviously being back in-person presents different challenges that we might not have had for a while, so I’m really keen to work with societies on making sure the transition back is as smooth as possible, and I’m also working on how we can make societies as inclusive and accessible as possible.
É: Do you have any particular favourite events from the last couple of weeks?
I: I did enjoy the plant pot meeting Nightline did, although my plant pot didn’t look that aesthetic; I’m not that good at art [laughs].
É: So, what were the big difficulties in organising the Freshers’ Fair in a post-pandemic world? Were you nervous? Excited by the prospect?
I: I think it was a combination of nervous and excited. It was the first time in a long time that we’ve had an event like this in-person, so we were keen to make sure it went well and we worked closely with the Athletics Union and the University to make sure we had a thorough plan. And as you know, the fair can get quite busy, so to try and monitor capacity we ticketed the event for the first time and we also spread out the event over more areas. We had over 10,000 society memberships purchased this year, so I’d say it was a success.
É: What do you think could be improved for next year, if anything?
I: For Freshers’ more widely, I think we could have more taster events. They were fully booked quite quickly and I think it would be great to have some more taster events next year to make sure no one is missing out. Specifically, for Freshers’ fair, we have had a meeting to discuss how we can improve. I think there are a few things, like changing where the tills are situated, altering the one-way system and encouraging students to buy memberships online as well.
É: Speaking to several societies and members of various committees, there seems to be a common feeling that Fresher’s fair guidance felt confused. Do you feel mixed massages surrounding things like banners or handouts punished societies that followed the rules, and why were the Guild not that strict in enforcing their own guidance, particularly during quiet hours?
I: All societies had the same guidance which they received before the event as well as on the day, and because some of the suggestions are no longer legal requirements, we chose to encourage regulations such as face masks but not to enforce them, which is in line with wider University policy. We strongly encouraged societies to follow our suggestions, and did give reminders and nudges about our advice when we saw societies who may not have been following it.
É: But do you believe the societies that followed the guidance strictly didn’t get the same benefits as those that went against the guidance?
I: I’d say all societies had a choice to what extent they chose to follow our guidance and that’s an individual choice. Societies were presented with the same opportunities and the same guidance, and I completely respect that they chose to follow it in any way they felt comfortable.
É: Talking of guidance and COVID-19 regulations, there have been rumours of a winter lockdown being discussed. What plans and contingencies does the Guild have in preparation for such a scenario to ensure the best outcome for societies? And if plans and contingencies do exist, when will they be released to the student body in the name of transparency?
I: We are working with the university on mitigation plans in the event of another lockdown, and any plans will be shared if/when government guidance changes and once we know the government’s plans we’ll work with the societies, and ensure our guidance is clear and transparent.
É: Have any discussions surrounding potential plans happened so far? Is there any early talk about what you would do in the event of another lockdown?
I: Yes, there are outbreak management groups and lots of plans in place for multiple different contingencies for multiple different scenarios. It’s all dependent on how things pan out as we don’t know what things will look like, but there are plans in place.
É: Would you be willing to share the details of some of these plans?
I: I can’t share anything specifically at this point because, as I said, there are multiple different scenarios that we have to account for.
É: Student safety is obviously a huge concern, especially when societies are hosting socials, and instances of drinks spiking have seemed quite common this year. Does the Guild have plans in the works to ensure socials and nights out continue to be the safe spaces they once were, and what plans are in place to tackle spiking in particular?
I: A lot of societies have been very proactive in sharing guidance with their members on ways to keep safe during society events and nights out in general, which is great to see. This year we’ll be continuing to work with the University and the police on how to tackle this very concerning issue. Some of the ways we will be doing this is like during Freshers’ week when estate patrol was handing out spiking testing kits. There was also advice on this issued in the student safety guide, so we’ll be continuing to work on this moving forward.
É: Do you have any wider plans in the work to address this issue now, or is it very much in the early stages?
I: There’s a gender safety group that meets regularly as well as other safety groups which discuss issues like this. I don’t have any more specific plans in place although it is something that we’re really keen to continue our work on.
É: As part of your role as VP Opportunities, accessing career and employability opportunities fall under your remit. As our investigation into the Ram’s alleged mismanagement revealed last week, many students lost their jobs due to the commercial transfer between the Guild and the University. With this in mind and a year nearly having passed, do you think the transfer has been a success in terms of employability and career opportunities given the negative impacts said transfer has had on student employability? And what are you doing this year to rectify the issues that the transfer has brought up in regards to student employability?
I: We are always keen to have as many student roles as possible within the University and the Student’ Guild. We are also collaborating with the career zone to raise awareness and help as many students as possible access advice which help boost their employability skills and opportunities.
É: I noticed you didn’t actually answer the question in whether you viewed the commercial transfer as a success in regards to student employability. Can you give a clearer answer about what your personal stance is on the commercial transfer and whether it has been a success on providing career opportunities for students, or do you think it has punished students who had jobs who have lost them?
I: We do have a commercial collaboration board with the University where we can raise things like this and we would be keen to chat to them about ways to ensure that student employability is at the forefront of our minds and ensure that it is something that is continued.
É: Are there any plans in place to rectify the issues that have arisen particularly following our report into the alleged mismanagement that has led to a lot of students losing their jobs?
I: As I mentioned, we are working with the career zone this year and we are keen to continue our collaboration with them on employability schemes.