The Hot Seat: Martin Laws & Darren Tomkins (UMSU)

Thursday 13-11-2014 - 16:03

This year the University of Manchester Students’ Union radically changed their Welcome Week strategy establishing a close partnership with their partner institution, the results were equally profound.

We caught up with Martin Laws, Commercial Operations Director and Darren Tomkins, Head of Venues, to find out what they did and what happened.

What was the problem or issue you set out to solve?

Historically, the University of Manchester Welcome Week was a fairly disjointed affair. With the university, students’ union and external promoters all vying for the attention of new students, the message was mixed and in some cases missing.

Most club nights and ‘wristband packages’ were run by promoters, leading to a situation where students weren’t getting value for money and in some cases, events that were inappropriate, whilst there was also confusion and doubts over the legitimacy of some events at the fate of potential bogus or scam promoters.

The university oversaw all of the communications that went out to incoming students, with a small nod to the existence of the union. The union ran the Welcome Fair and some social events, but engagement was low and we weren’t getting our messages out.


What goals or targets did you set yourselves?

Our goal was to make Welcome Week an entirely university/union organised event with focus on gaining feedback and input from students, ensuring we were delivering something that was relevant and engaging.


What did you do differently?

The changes have come about through a vastly improved relationship with the university. This year, we started planning in November with a ‘Welcome Project Group’ set up to ensure close working and coordination with the union and single team working across the university in the management and delivery of international orientation and welcome activities.

The working group included staff from a number of areas across university Communications, International Relations, Residences and the union to bring a coordinated and collaborative approach for everything from international and halls arrivals to event planning and asset management.

To ensure our students’ welcome experience is as safe and enjoyable as possible the SU took on the management and delivery of the key Welcome Week wristband package – a four night pack across various venues in Manchester, culminating in Pangaea, our triannual music & arts festival and the largest student run festival in Europe.

Our programmes were designed to offer a wide variety of affordable activities to meet our new students’ varying needs and interests.


What was the additional investment or cost?

Outside of the costs of delivery all the events, fairs and community engagement, we added resource from each department to ensure everyone in the union was involved at some level


What was the biggest challenge you faced?

One of the biggest challenges was coordinating the sheer scale and number of events we were running. With over 60 events across campus and around the city, and a footfall of over 40,000 at the two day fair we needed to make sure that staffing was planned with precision.

Additional support was brought in with the use of Student Supervisors to help oversee some key areas, especially around promoting events and ticket sales.

What were the results?

We had some great results from the ten day period. 5,000 wristband packages were sold for the events, rising to 6,500 for Pangaea. Our ‘Zombie Run’ sold out in days and our footfall for the fair was over 40,000.

Added to that, we had maximum attendance at some of the smaller non-alcohol events and the feedback from our exit surveys has been amazing.  


How did NUS help?

We used NUS extra to help build some ‘bolt-on’ sales by offering the extra card at a discounted price as part of the wristband package

What lessons did you learn?

I think the key lesson from this has been that you can’t plan far enough in advance! Juggling a number of venues across the city, whilst getting 5,000 students onto buses and into the right place takes some major organisation and having the buy in form the whole staff team from the start really makes it run smoothly


What advice would you give to other unions thinking of doing the same thing?

It’s a massive win-win. The project has strengthened our relationship with the university, increased our engagement with students and through some of the events being run by the Exec Team, has given a boost to their presence on campus.

Find out more about the University of Manchester Students' Union by visiting their website at or following them on Twitter at @ManchesterSU


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