DSU Election Interviews 2013: Activities Officer

The DSU is home to over two hundred societies, as well as student media and DUCK

Activities Officer candidates:

  • Mark Heads
  • Krystina Warrington

MARK HEADS

What are the key things you want to change?

The big thing is getting people more involved in the Union. It’s just a big ugly building for most, and many people don’t know the Riverside bar and café is even open. I want to make Riverside somewhere people actually want to go. We need to put on events that are actually wanted- niche events which people aren’t used to in Durham, e.g. swing society putting on a swing night, the Chinese Students & Scholars Association putting on a Chinese New Year event. There were six people in here last night, which shouldn’t be happening. The student union shouldn’t be empty. I’d like to hold ‘give it a go’ events each week for societies. There’d be no strings attached, and no fee- one hour, try it out and see if you like it. Currently there’s Freshers’ Fair then nothing till January. If things go on throughout the year people will remain engaged.

What would you say the DSU’s biggest mistake is in your time here?

Societies feel like they’re not involved in the Union, like they’re affiliated by name but the only real link is paperwork. The college system does affect this, so the Union won’t ever be as good as, say, Leeds or Warwick. We need people to see the Union as a place that puts on great events. I love the college system, and wouldn’t diss it, but it does detract from the Union. We need to do something different, share expertise, and do things, and support societies, that colleges can’t.

What should the DSU’s attitude to student media be?

I’m lucky in coming from a media background. I’ve been on DSU media comm and as Station Manager of Purple, I’ve seen the benefits of media outlets working together. For a long time the outlets all thought they were in competition. We’ve tried to work round this this year with Palatinate News on Purple. The DSU needs to get student media to work together. There are no media courses here, so we need to use student media to provide training for interested students. There’s lots of opportunity to make that happen. If the student media outlets all work together, this can only be good for students, providing better coverage of student events.

What student skills development would you like to focus on?

There’s lots of expertise out there among the societies, but it often might be limited to one society- someone knows how to run an event, someone knows how to promote events. Much of this will come under the new Development Officer. Having run a society of two hundred people this year I’ve learned a lot on the job this year. We need to provide more support for execs, as they’re often being thrown in at the deep end. There’s expertise from staff and sabbs, so we should be passing on more information. I don’t want to drag them in for a two-hour seminar, just let them know who the people to talk to are for help. For example, there’s expertise in promoting things via media I’ve learned from Purple that could be used. It’s important to share expertise that will actually help both in societies and in the real world.

How would you want to run Activities’ Fair this year?

Every society needs to be there, to be seen and to get footfall – and that’s where the one way system helped, though it did have flaws with people getting stuck in it. Everyone walked past every single stall. We do talk about raising awareness. It’s a failing for the DSU if individual societies get no footfall during the day. There may be a system that works better, I’m definitely not saying we would or wouldn’t do the one-way system again. We’ve got to look at it from all perspectives, and see what benefits societies most. We need to make sure societies get a lot out of it – it’s demoralising to put all the work in if no one comes along.

How do you see working with Paul Mason (the Societies Development Coordinator, a staff member)?

First and foremost is making clear who is responsible for what. It’s no good emailing the Activites Officer about something Paul deals with, or vice-versa. Having Paul on board is fantastic, as it takes pressure off the Activities Officer. You do need a bit of help to deal with over two hundred societies. It also adds consistency across the years. An extra pair of hands can only be a good thing. Paul can help make sure everyone is doing the right thing- Paul was very helpful with Purple’s risk assessment. This expertise can be filtered down to societies. I’m very excited to work with him next year if I get the job.

What societies have you been involved with?

Purple Radio itself is a society, though a student media outlet, which won Best Society of the Year last year, so is obviously working! I know the framework of societies from this, such as room bookings. I made sure coming into this that I was chatting to people from dance societies, Yoga Society, etc. – societies I’m not involved in – to know what their concerns and wants are. I made sure when compiling my manifesto that I knew what the issues affecting students and societies are. Another large part of the role is making sure I know how to help people with events, whether for societies or for DUCK. I’ve been involved with DUCK since first year – I help plan events at college, and I’ve been involved on social committee at Trev’s, running a wide range of events from small to big.

KRYSTINA WARRINGTON

What are the key things you want to change?

The key thing is to build awareness of societies, e.g. I have no idea what Poetry Society [which the interviewer happened to mention] does. This sort of thing stops people getting involved. I want an events calendar on the website, which needs revamping over the summer. Working with college DSU reps to spread awareness is important. For example, people want to come to open mic nights but don’t know they’re on. I aim to increase communication between societies and between societies and the DSU. Improving room booking is vital: I want a timetable online so that everyone can see what societies are using what when, with online booking. This would include a list of rooms that are available across the university – with details of size, projection equipment, etc.. Every society has to bring in their own sound system to the DSU currently – we shouldm train exec members to use the DSU sound system, so long as they understand their liability for using it. We also need to increase the amount of Union-owned resources that all societies can use, and increase cooperation between societies, e.g. Durham Student Film filming Instep and so on. It’s good to share and utilise things like DST’s electrical equipment.

I’d like to see training for execs, e.g. explaining what a treasurer does – this would be better than the currently poor guidance documents online and stop bad handovers. Durham students go off to different competitions all the time (Instep went to Edinburgh for a competition on the weekend and won an award) but hardly anyone is aware, so I’d like an awards cabinet in the DSU for societies to show off what they’ve won, so people will see this and be more likely to get involved. A bimonthly newsletter to tell people of society achievements would accompany this. We should try to avoid clashing society events (or at least between more similar societies) by having an event calendar. I’d try to increase awareness by having an Activities Awareness Week with all societies involved, e.g. a sport day, a day for cultural societies, and so on. This will take a lot of work and have a lot of students involved, so is unlikely to happen next year. This would increase the cultural diversity of students. I also want to increase the number of societies going down to Queen’s Campus.

What would you say the DSU’s biggest mistake is in your time here?

The floor in the ballroom palaver. It was flooded and not replaced, but then replaced by a floor that you can’t tap on or do ballroom dancing on. BALADS can’t dance on it with tap or street shoes. I understand that they have to accommodate all societies though. Wasted space is another issue, though it’s being sorted out, albeit slowly. Things are improving.

What should the DSU’s attitude to student media be?

The DSU should be there for student media but should not stop them publishing things that are close to students’ hearts. The DSU won’t know what’s good or bad if students don’t publish coverage of their events and actions. The DSU supports Purple and Palatinate already with facilities; perhaps DSU reps should be involved in distribution. We should give media advice if things go wrong. I like the idea of looking critically at yourself, so perhaps Palatinate could review issues such as their printing process and editorial board setup. We should make sure they’re moving forward and not being inefficient.

What student skills development would you like to focus on?

Employability is massively improved by getting involved in societies, so this should be worked on – indeed it is worked on by getting involved in societies. Training for execs will improve this employability. Health and safety training for events should be improved – DUCK expedition coordinators do a huge amount of training on health and safety, suicide awareness, etc., so perhaps we should make other societies more aware of this training and offer it to them as well. I’d aim to consolidate and integrate all societies together. I’d help societies use social media better, as many don’t use it well – for example people don’t use Twitter as much as they should. Updating your Facebook status is not enough, you need to get people looking at it – for example, getting pictures and tagging them on Facebook, and getting people to like statuses.

How would you want to run Activities’ Fair this year?

The Fair is a hard one as it will always be crowded and have a lot of freshers. The one way system was good as it made sure everyone saw every society. However, I’d say you should be able to go in and out of the building freely, but have a one-way system round each room, which would be advisory. It’d be better if there were more space around society stalls at the Fair as queues formed, and there should be more wardens checking how many people are in each room. The colleges should be staggered better over several days. The sports fair needed much better publicising, too – we must make clear they’re two separate events but as important as each other. The Fair was much quieter on the second day – we need to make sure it’s publicised well and get freshers down the second day. We’re limited in space ultimately. I want online signup for societies, so the Fair isn’t your only chance – a one-click button on the DSU website for automated email signup to a society should be introduced.

How do you see working with Paul Mason (the Societies Development Coordinator, a staff member)?

As I understand, Paul does more of the ‘boring stuff’ – paperwork for grant applications – and can sort out training for societies having knowledge of how societies are run elsewhere at other universities. He’d do more of the everyday stuff. The Activities Officer will focus on raising awareness, talking to students themselves, and introducing initiatives such as Activities Week and the trophy cabinet. He’ll also be there to keep me in line and tell me if something is inefficient or wrong. He can help with building the website and events calendar, for example sourcing people who can program. The Activities Officer will be the ideas person, but the implementation would be passed on to specialists and staff members. The Officer will be the voice of the Union.

What societies have you been involved with?

BALADS in first year, and I do a lot of Instep. DUCK – I was the social secretary for the RAG conference in my first year, then Jailbreaks and Hitchhikes Officer, and am now Endurance Officer. I’ve been involved in Gymnastics Club, in Fame with DULOG, Surf Society, I work on the bar in Cuths, I went along to netball once, and I went along to Lindy Hop jazz once.

Manifestos

http://dsu.org.uk/files/krystinas-manifesto-.pdf

http://dsu.org.uk/files/mark-heads-manfiesto.pdf

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