It is that time of year again ……. Chester Students’ Union elections!
If you can’t be bothered to read the rest, check out this video to see what is involved in being an elected officer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Y-476iB4iY
Are you thinking about running in this years elections? Here is what being a sabb* really means from YOUR Vice-President, Academic and Welfare – little old me!
*Sabb = Sabbatical officer – an elected representative of the student body. The most fulfilling, hilarious job you will ever have the pleasure of having!
I would be lying if I said I am 100% looking forward to elections. Of course, I am excited to see candidates, talk through manifestos and see you all battle it out until the bitter end but if truth be told, I can’t imagine life after Chester Students’ Union. This role is much more than free entry into nightclubs and a few free hoodies now and again, it is lifestyle. A lifestyle you live and breathe students and their student experience. (Although it is rather nice to get the perks here and there!).
I was in your shoes once …
2 years ago I was in your shoes; scared, probably not really knowing what the job was about, nervous and verging on a mental breakdown trying to juggle my law degree, being the skipper of the W football team, working, volunteering and campaigning for this role. It took me quite a long time to build up my self confidence, and a city break to Amsterdam to make the decision. The decision that I was going to run and I was going to win.
(I won by 11 votes, I would call that efficient campaigning!)
Now, fast forward 18 months; 3 elections, lot’s of rain, 1 sports personality award, 1 graduation, lot’s of pairs of shoes …..
I would be the first person to put my hands up and say I wish I had done more (but let’s not forget we still have 5 months left!). But what you will not realise until you are sat in our chairs is that things don’t just change overnight, but actually it takes time to build trust among University staff, it takes time to engage students and it takes time to break the mould and be the officer you truly want to be.
A key rule to remember is the most important impact you can have is to change the culture. When I came into office I felt as though University staff did not necessarily talk about students as partners, students as key change makers in the higher education sector. Now, there is rarely a day that I am not meeting with an academic, a Pro VC or the Vice Chancellor about student engagement and how the institution can work better with the Students’ Union.
The biggest difficulty I have found is that we are often a victim of our own success. Now I am not blowing any trumpets here (although I can play the trumpet rather fluently) but the more you do, the more projects you launch, the more proactive the union is , the more work is ultimately created. You will often have points when you are stuck behind the desk writing local and national policy rather than doing the student facing stuff you stood in elections for.
So the moral of the story is – the quicker you type the sooner and more often you can play in Chester, Kingsway, Riverside, Thornton and Reaseheath!!
If you are thinking about running in the elections do it! Because for the 12 or 20 of you who do you are the only ones out of 17,000 students who have the bravery, courage and passion to engage in such a huge opportunity. Even if you do not win, you will meet so many new people and who doesn’t like democracy and a few new Facebook friends hey!
Looking ahead ….
Now 2014/15 year is going to be a very interesting one! You have the general election next May which you will have to prepare for. You will no doubt be at the receiving end of further HE cuts. You will probably be still campaigning for a library at kingsway, water fountains, provision to eat your own food in all canteens and continually battling to tackle ‘lad culture’.
At first, we were tipped that varsity could not make a come back, neither would the University allow us to have 50% partnership into the StARs project (never mind £15,000 investment). But your success will rely solely on your passion and how much you really want to make that vision a reality.
A key ingredient to being a successful sabb is trust.
1. The Union have to trust that you will do the absolute best you can and that you will at all times conduct yourself as a professional.
2. The university have to also trust not only in your ability but what you are saying is representative of ALL students
3. Most importantly, students have to trust you.
Not all students will understand that you will not be out every week because you have a big meeting the next morning. But these are the sacrifices you will have to make. Trust does not just come from being elected. That’s popularity (I mean policy!).
Trust comes from showing and proving that you are a teamplayer ready and willing to learn and listen, it also comes from respecting your peers.
Yes you will ultimately be the boss of 25 members of staff and 40 student staff and the head of a multi million pound company and you will have to make some difficult decisions as a trustee but always have in the backof your mind why you stood for election?!
You probably stood because you want to make change for students, at times yes you will have to be the boss but the SU is not about hierarchy, we are a team, a dedicated family, motivated to changing and enhancing peoples lives.
Fact: You will not appreciate the hard work and support from Union staff until you work there.
It’s difficult for me to write this blog because the SU is not just something which happens Monday to Friday and pays for my expensive taste in shoes.
For me it is who I am and who I have been for the past 4.5years. I often talk about how without the Union I would not have been able to stick uni out and I am sure many others feel the same.
Here is a video called ‘lollipop moments’ which paints the picture i am trying to create! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVCBrkrFrBE
You can be the change you want to see at Chester
The difference you can be in people lives within this role can genuinely be the difference between life and death.
It can be the difference between students having the most amazing experience of their life compared to attending a few lectures to get a piece of paper at the end of 3 years.
It can be the difference between students leaving university as graduates or leaving university as a well rounded citizens with integrity, skills and friends for life. You can be that change.
For those who are running. Good luck.
Top tips for campaigning:
1. Be true to who you are.
2. Play nice. (There is only the candidates who will truly understand what you are feeling during the next few weeks, support each other).
3. Talk to existing officers.
4. Believe in your campaign – if you believe in everything in your manifesto, campaigning will be easy.
5. Remember that the WHOLE student body can vote, remember that all students are equal – not all students are 18 year old, male, white, straight, undergrads, from the North West. Think outside the box.
How to look after your mental health during elections:
2. Eat – Prepare meals before campaigning begins – you will thank me for it in the end!
3. Take a break – You may feel as though you have to go out every night but give yourself a curfew because who is going to remember your policy conversations after 1pm in Rosies or Cruise?
4. Campaign team – Many hands make light work so get your pals in campaign t-shirts and sharing your spiel on social media.
5. Be prepared – The journey to becoming the next Pres/ VP is not easy but the experience whether you win, or do not win is totally worth it.
Still unsure about what the job actually entails?
Here are some of my highlights from the past 2 years, delivered by teamCHESTER:
- Secured funding for and launched the AAB awards
- Fixed the Church College Close path
- Ran 2 marathons in 2 months and raised £2500 for the local hospice
- Green Impact Bronze, Green Impact department, Gold
- Secured £20,000 for a new officer and an increase to campaigns budget
- Brought back Varsity
- Launched mental health work >> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VFwlfjoTac
- Re-elected with the highest votes for one candidate in SU history
- National Demo
- 50% partnership into the StARs project and £15,000 investment = 700 StARs
- Elected on to NUS Higher Education zone committee
- No.1 Students’ Union in the North West
- Can eat your own food in Kingsway, Wazza and Riverside canteens
- Water Fountain in the SU
- Won the NUS referendum by 89% >> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2OgS4SupPQ
- SHAG week
- Times Higher Education awards
- Securing Chester students of the future £765,000 in bursaries
- Being part of a national campaign which saved student £300m
- Time to Change pledge (still to come!)
- Above and Beyond awards (Still to come!)
- Always remember who you are and why you stood for election
- Remember that there is no I in team, you win as a team, you lose as a team.
- Enjoy every minute!
- Keep going to the gym, I am working on a stone per year! #Sabbflab
- Keep a journal of the highs and the lows. It will be a roller coaster, you have no option but to ride it.
- Always keep in touch with family and friends, (especially those who do not care what you do) …… it gets lonely on the pedastool.
- keep up with hobbies
- Remember that there is a WHOLE network of officers across the country going through the same ups and downs as you
A few recommendations for future work of the VP Academic and Welfare from the current VP!
- Coordinate work around accommodation (e.g Rate Your Landlord scheme)
- More campaigns and work with liberation groups
- keep fighting for a library at kingsway
- Keep lobbying the University for more support as the University continues to grow
- Work with the VP Campaigns and activities to coordinate community work
- Get feedback and submission online
- Continue mental health work and try to embed it into the academic curriculum
In true Oscar awards fashion there are a few people I would like to thank for making the past 2 years the most enjoyable, invigorating time of my life!
First and foremost, the student body – who always keep us on our toes, drive us mad, pick us up, drop us down, but make every single minute of the day worth it! .. And of course for electing me, not once, but twice.
Chester SU team – Everybody at the SU work to their full capacity to do the best they can for you. They are a family who often keep us in line and will always be there with a Starbucks/Bazza when we need it the most!! I can’t thank these people enough for what they have not only done for me as a person but for students at Chester.
Fellow officers – Katie, Sav, Dan, Roberta – I would have to write a whole new blog to say thank you to these cheeky rascals. Always laughing, always a unit, always teamCHESTER.
Family and friends – Big shout out to my Dad who came up with my campaigns slogan! .. (Easy Peasy vote for Leesy).There have been some weeks which have been some of the most challenging, but knowing you always have a home to run away to is delightful.
That’s all folks …..
I am going to stop here because I could literally keep going forever. I hope you will take a few key messages from this blog, a blog I have tried to be open within (which does not come naturally to me!). My key messages to anybody thinking about running are;
Do it!, if you get it – enjoy it, work hard, work with integrity, and respect and always keep your feet on the ground. Because after all you will only be a big fish in a little pond!! This job will give you so many opportunities which you must grasp with both hands.
Enjoy every minute and remember that students ALWAYS come first.
Now …. I am going to go cry into my vast range of free hoodies.
Over and out.