As part of the mini-series of 2015 sabbatical interviews, the Wessex Scene team are interviewing all sabbatical officers this week to catch up on their progress, what’s gone well or badly so far and what plans they have for semester 2 and beyond.
At the midpoint of her term, I caught up with VP Engagement Ellie Cawthera to talk General Elections, communications and communities.
What will be the biggest priority for the remainder of your time?
Can I pick two?
General Election, and encouraging and supporting student voter registrations, getting them to vote, and advising students on what issues are important to them so they can have an educated vote. Also, the other priority is Community relationships, and an initiative I’m doing in January as part of Building bridges, door-to-door with police, students and council, student safety and theft, reminding students not to leave their windows open, putting footprints through the door. Also giving out teabags, which seems quite odd but it is going to have a message on it: have you met your neighbor, how about offering them a cuppa?
One of your biggest projects is going to be student participation in the General Election 2015. How do you think putting £20,000 into promoting voter participation will benefit students?
Union councilors have approved for SUSU to spend to up £20,000 but have been given £18,000 by trustee board. SUSU are doing a huge amount, and the initiative isn’t just for University of Southampton students, it’s for Solent and Further Education (sixth-form) students too. We’ll be arranging hustings, which should engage loads of students. We’ll be doing large scale advertising, lobbying to make Mayflower Halls a polling station. We’ll also be creating our own website, where students can find out how they register, it’s also going to have a list of issues which will effect students, which they can order which is most important to them. So by the end of it we have a list of issues that effect students, and we can shake that stick to MPs and candidates – “what do you think about this?”
What do you consider your most important achievement so far?
Community engagement stuff has been really positive, I went to the national community conference in Manchester and that was about students and their negative impact on the community and how do we tackle students and it was awful!
I was probably the only Student’s Union rep there who stood up and said: “What are you doing for students? What about the great effect students have on the community? Have you thought about why students are having house parties – maybe their really poor? They can’t afford to go to nightclubs.”
Over this two day conference this changed the whole feel from how we punish students to how do we prevent it – how do we make it a nice environment for students to come into, so they don’t want to mess it up.
One of the biggest points in your manifesto was communication through video, and that you wanted there to be regular updates to the SUSU YouTube page. As far as I can see the last upload was 2 months ago, have you changed your mind about this strategy, if not, what are your plans to reform it?
Definitely not a mind change – I’ve been so excited about community stuff that communication has been put on hold for a semester, but it’s not been forgotten about at all. Yesterday, I managed to get my email address approved by the University to send out all student emails. A survey was done for University of Southampton students about how they wanted to be communicated to, and the number 1 thing was emails, as long as they’re relevant. That’s absolutely the thing I’m focusing on. Moreover, we now have a black magic camera set up in the Sabb office, which we’re being trained on, so all of us Sabbs can say our bit and upload the Vlog.
Your manifesto talked a lot about communication – but you’ve only written two blogs so far this year, compared to other sabbs that have written more than 15, how do you plan on improving this?
It’s been stressful and difficult, because I’ve been only wanting to communicate via Vlogs, and I didn’t want to go against what I said in my manifesto about dishing out continuous prose. And now I’ve got that ball rolling we should see some improvements.
I just want to say that being VP engagement is amazing, and if anyone is thinking about running do – and get in touch!