Here you can find a roundup of the Question Time debates for the Community Zone, RAG Chair, VP Community and VP Support.
Community Zone - report by Betsy Goodfellow
Sunday night saw the start of debates of this year’s Surrey Decides, the first being the Community Zone. Roles up for grabs are Community Zone Officers, RAG Chair, and VP Community. Details of all these roles and the candidates can be found on the Students’ Union website.
After Union President, Lizzie Rodulson, opened the event with a short speech, the debates began with the Community Zone Officers. This first debate was chaired by Bethany Dawson talking to candidates Elina, KJ, Matt, Mine, and Theodora and it is worth noting the sixth candidate, Laurie, was not present at the debate. Initially, the candidates were asked to expand on various points from their manifestos.
Elina plans to improve on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and the monthly union newsletters, hoping to encourage more participation in D of E and volunteering opportunities. KJ plans to hold regular LGBT workshops, where he will invite guest speakers and allies, with the goal to “respect, uplift, and empower” LGBT students. Matt hopes to increase sustainability and plans to look for a balance between changes and sustainability; he will investigate doing this alongside budget cuts if elected. Mine wants to redesign campus to utilise rainwater collection technology and is already in contact with a designer, thus beginning to deal with the time constrains of a yearlong role. Theodora hopes to offer £5 laundry credit to students living in campus accommodation; however, she was asked how this would work with budget cuts to which she explained that it shouldn’t cost too much when combined with other cuts.
All candidates were asked how they would tackle students’ post-covid anxiety while still creating a community. Elina focused on volunteering and online opportunities. KJ mentioned his ‘Light Up the Lake’ idea to make campus safer, along with more events in the Basement. Matt spoke about holding a greater number of events including a return to Rubix and smaller events. Mine emphasised the importance of online and Rubix events. Finally, Theodora mentioned about accommodation-based events, plus quieter events including movie nights.
The candidates were then asked about how they would collaborate with the RAG Chair. Whilst Elina and Mine weren’t sure yet, KJ mentioned his ‘Bring Up the Basement’ initiative, using events at the Basement in order to fundraise. Matt hopes to host charity events in Rubix and Theodora plans to include societies and utilise the Thursday Market to fundraise.
Next the event moved to RAG Officer, hosted by Joel Miller with only one candidate, Dan Hood.
When asked to comment on this year’s RAG Officer, Dan discussed how the role has been rebuilt in the last few years and that he would continue this by adding a ‘RAG Committee’. Next, Dan was asked why fundraising should be a priority; he answered that as students, it is our obligation to give something back. In terms of events, Dan wants to increase awareness of RAG week and hold more Basement nights. However, he did mention how there is a possibility for online events if necessary. Similarly, he plans to start events early to ensure some can take place even if we are forced back online. He plans to involve all zones of the union and introduce a level of transparency in funds. His fundraising goal is £50,000 throughout the year and hopes to incentivise students to get involved through schemes like ‘Fundraiser of the Month’ and better advertising. Finally, when asked why students should vote for him, Dan mentioned his fundraising experience, his drive to improve RAG, and ended with a promise to work hard towards these goals.
Next, the debate moved to VP Community, this debate was chaired by Lester Buxton, and saw candidates Nathaniel Nelson-Williams, Peter Ferguson, and Samantha Galea.
All candidates were asked how they would make socialising a priority after a year of isolation; Nat responded with a focus on an ‘events network’, allowing students to get involved with planning events. Pete plans to hold ‘community days’ involving campus cookouts, free food, and live entertainment. Sam wants coffee shops to stay open later, along with her ‘clan wars’ initiative, based around competition between accommodation blocks.
The candidates were then given individual questions. Pete was asked why he is running for VP Community when he has little experience in this zone. He answered that his priorities have shifted as students miss the community feel at university and that he has found the current VP Community’s passion inspiring.
Sam was asked about her experience since this is missing from her manifesto. She explained that she loves being a student at Surrey and has held various roles including Course Rep, Support Zone Officer, and Vice-President of gospel choir, along with other positions.
Nat was asked to choose three of his roles and name an achievement from each. His main achievement as Community Zone Officer was the Sustainable Surrey campaign; he then discussed a FilmSoc collaboration he organised with BusinessSoc, and events he arranged as Course Rep.
Later, they were asked what opportunities will be prioritised as students’ social lives have collapsed during the pandemic. Nat wants to host events off Stag Hill, virtual events, and volunteering opportunities. Sam wants to recreate the social aspects of university with initiatives such as ‘postcode parties’. Pete wants to have as many covid-safe in person events, though this could include outside distanced events.
In another round of individual questions, Pete was asked to expand on who campus is being ‘reclaimed’ from. He explained that many students feel they don’t belong on campus as their time at Surrey has been spent online and he intends to claim back campus by expanding on existing events alongside increased advertising through clubs and societies.
Sam was asked why she wants to revamp Starbucks; she explained that it could be a more functional space if used for relaxing rather than studying. However, it was mentioned that Starbucks is not union property, so it’s perhaps not the best use of funds. Sam countered this explaining that it would be fairly cheap but her plans are adaptable.
Last to be questioned, Nat was asked about his ‘Winter Showcase’ social event where the community zone would showcase their successes. He also plans to host a ‘Surrey Film Festival’ inspired by the Univision event and hopes to create a streamlined events calendar, so events don’t seem too overwhelming.
In a final round of audience questions, Sam explained that she’d like the students’ union to seem more approachable and believes she is approachable so should be able to implement this. Pete was asked how he’d ensure low rent to which he explained his plan to ask students about their rent and take the findings to the university, planning to diversify finances away from rent reliance. Nat was asked what he meant by expanding Sustainable Surrey; he hopes to hold in person fundraisers, include postgraduate students, and collaborate with schools in the local area.
The penultimate question asked all candidates if it was the right decision not to give priority access to tickets for the end of year events at Rubix; Nat believed it was the right decision as there are other opportunities like Grad Fest, Pete thought it was a bad situation for everyone but ultimately it is the final years’ last chance, and Sam agreed it was the wrong decision as it is the last chance for final years.
Finally, the candidates were asked who they’d be backing for Union President. Sam and Pete both confidently chose Izzy but are open to having their minds changed after the debate, whereas Nat wanted to wait until the debate before deciding.
Overall, all the candidates for all three positions performed very well, and it seems the community zone will be in capable hands whoever is elected.
Support Zone - report by Charlotte West
The first night of Surrey Decides 2021 Question Time was concluded with the debate for VP Support, chaired by student Chloe Hinchliffe, who reminded the eager audience not to cheer due to COVID restrictions. There are six candidates running for VP Support: Catherine Andrew, Leri Francis, Lucy Robinson, Laura Gainor, Oreshia Thomas and Hache Ferraresi.
After some swift 45 second long introductions, Chloe asked a general question about how the Union and University can support students suffering with their mental health during lockdown. Catherine began by answering that she believed better signposting with the online resources was needed for students who may need support remotely. Laura focused on her second manifesto point about group therapy, emphasising that by having a separate resource to the Centre for Wellbeing students can have variety with their support. Leri stated that “connectivity is key”, sharing that she would encourage more support events on campus when it is safe to do so, such as dog therapy. Lucy agreed with Catherine’s point on developing the online community next year, as COVID will inevitably be a long-term issue the university will have to continue dealing with. Hache drew attention to increased student loneliness, referring to statistics from the Pulse Survey and Student Minds, to push her manifesto point on the ‘Make a Friend’ scheme that she would like to implement. Finally, Oreshia emphasised the importance of prevention, arguing that building a bigger online community will prevent a lot of the issues that students have felt this year.
The first manifesto question went to Catherine about her pledge on expanding nightline. Having been a part of the committee for four years, Catherine reassured viewers that she has a deep understanding of nightline’s processes. While this year they were unable to fulfill their aim of operating seven days a week, Catherine hopes to increase publicity next year in order to introduce a new training cycle and thus fulfill this aim. The chair also asked about how she will find the resources to offer extra training to support services. Catherine replied that she wants to use resources we already have, such as Centre for Wellbeing staff, Union staff and students, to attend training days for personal tutors and improve their support.
The chair then turned to Lucy, asking her about the personal tutor flyers she discusses on her manifesto, she wondered how she would keep these flyers up-to-date and also pay for the printing. Lucy explained that there would only be a small number printed in ‘hot spot’ areas such as the Hive or the library, with the rest being available to personal tutors and students digitally. This would help keep it up-to-date as, although most of the information would be about basic systems such as the Extenuating Circumstances process, they could also be easily updated online. The chair also asked about the accessibility committee Lucy wants to introduce. In response, the candidate explained that this differed to the liberation committee as it would not be student led, but instead built upon a framework already used in the university.
Next to answer a manifesto question was Oreshia, who was questioned on her pledge to expand security patrolling off campus. The candidate explained that as security already patrols Walnut Tree Close it would only involve further spreading duties amongst security staff. Oreshia pushed that students living off-campus deserved just as much security as those living in university halls. The chair then asked how Oreshia would work with the university to further the accessibility of scholarships. Oreshia raised the issue of Brexit, reminding students that those in the EU are now considered international students and the cost of their higher tuition fees could contribute to the cost of scholarships.
Hache was asked to clarify her manifesto point calling for more diversity within student-led support services. She explained that the majority of peer supporters are white and from the UK, which means that students of different ethnicities or backgrounds struggle to open up to their peers through a lack of relatability. Hache acknowledged that peer supporters receive cultural awareness training but argued it’s not the same as a lived experience. She suggested that the issue is not necessarily a lack of interest from ethnic minority groups, but through recruitment. She named the liberation network as a system she would like to work with on improving this issue. Chloe then asked her about the practicalities of increasing cameras and lighting around campus, to which Hache responded that if the university can afford the ‘We Can Do This’ signs then they should be able to afford a security issue such as this. She acknowledged it was a challenging manifesto point but has spoken to the Head of Security about making it a reality.
Following a plea for short answers, Leri was questioned on the return of Wellfair and its engagement, as previously it had been poor. Leri drew upon the Pulse survey which showed that the Hive was the most used space by students; she suggested that if Wellfair was advertised there it would encourage more engagement as the Hive didn’t exist when Wellfair last ran. In reference to the buddy scheme, Leri described that she really wanted it to be done on a bigger scale, as the Pulse survey showed how prominent loneliness has been for students this year, which would then increase engagement with the scheme. Similarly she suggested that advertising it through Surrey Volunteering would be a good avenue for better engagement.
The final manifesto question was for Laura, who was asked whether it was fair to put the responsibility of sexual harassment onto bar staff, as her manifesto suggests. Laura clarified that she would be working with the Good Night Out campaign, which emphasises the importance of people having fun in the club, as well as being safe. They would provide training for the bar staff and being involved with the campaign would make the space safer. Laura acknowledged other options such as the consent course and the ‘How to be an Ally’ training, but highlighted that the people they are targeting don’t usually attend, which is why the Good Night Out campaign is so important. Her manifesto also pledges to translate important university documents into other languages. When questioned on the cost of translation services, Laura argued that Google Translate may not be completely accurate but would be better than nothing in helping students with weaker English skills to communicate with the university and the Union.
A question from the audience asked the candidates how they would improve peer support and whether it was a priority for them. All candidates agreed that it was a priority, except Laura who honestly revealed that it was not on her manifesto, but something she was hopeful to learn more about if elected as VP. Oreshia, Lucy, Leri and Catherine all spoke about expanding peer support services such as Positive Minds, Nightline and Welfare Watch.
To finish, the candidates shared what makes them the best person for the role and then revealed who they wanted as president, with Izzy Watkins and Ajay Ajimobi being mentioned by many of the candidates.
Voting opens on Tuesday 11th May after the final Question Time debate and lasts until Saturday 15th May.
If you would like to read the candidates manifestos, you can find them on the Union website: ussu.co.uk