What I learned at Lead and Change

Wednesday 19-08-2015 - 13:59

It’s seven weeks since I started as Vice-President Union Development. It’s been a wild ride.

Like many other officers and staff, I’ve whipped around the country on our Lead & Change summer residential courses. In my head they’re now a blur of rounders and selfies and queues for karaoke. Of tutor groups, late debates and early starts, new friends and long goodbyes & promises to stay in touch. I’m knackered but exhilarated. If you went on the courses I hope you had a great time too.


The Officer Development Programme (ODP) is an incredibly important part of our national movement. Not only are we trying to make sure officers have the skills and knowledge to have a successful year in office, but for many it’s also the first interaction with NUS. There is a unique pressure on our Officers, and being VP Union Development – accountable for the success of the programme – to get it.


It’s probably fair to say that there were some issues with the programme last year. We took that seriously and commissioned a complete review from an external consultancy. As a result we didn’t just change the way we support the programme organisationally, but also what content we cover to make the most of the events.


We’re never going to get everything right, but I’m proud that this year’s programme has been incredibly successful. Feedback shows that it has been a real improvement from last year, have a look at some of the tweets:



I was utterly inspired by you as a group of officers, and overwhelmed by your stories. My tutor groups - #007, Team Tetra and District 7, challenged each other and me in a way I genuinely didn’t expect.


So what did I learn? Officers up and down the country were excited for the year ahead. They saw battles to be won, and wrongs to right for their members. They were also fired up. Ready to challenge this government, their institution, landlords – whoever continues to take advantage of their members.


I also heard clearly that members were not always happy with our national union. I heard that NUS can be out of touch, distant and fractious. Officers actually told me they didn’t think NUS was prepared to stand up for their organisations. I don’t blame them - I thought the same thing in March when I stood for election. I thought the same thing seven weeks ago when I left Hull. My thinking now isn’t much different.


With time and consultation I can propose measures to put SUs firmly at the heart of NUS. I can make sure we’re talking about the impact of student opportunities – a vital piece of work for all our members – I can beat the drum for creating a stronger movement based on collaboration, not competition, and I can take steps to put the weight of NUS behind the development of unions in colleges.


But I need your help to make any lasting changes. The responsibility to make NUS better lies with officers from students’ unions. When we invite you to shape our work, it’s not a suggestion, it’s a necessary part of how we build a powerful and relevant national organisation. We all need to use our seats at the table to make sure NUS is reflecting what’s going on locally.


Shaping our work shouldn’t be the high preserve of those of us lucky enough to be elected as a NUS Vice President. Shaping our work is a continuous job for all officers.


It starts with having a well-informed national discourse. At summer training we often talked about building and maintaining our networks. Let’s use our new relationships to understand what each other are working on and work out the best ways for NUS to support your work.


Of course our more formal levers lie at National Conference, with NEC, through Zone Committees and via Direction and Oversight Boards, but those structures are mostly there as checks and balances to filter the muddy national conversation into workable aims for NUS.


I’ll make sure that our Officer Development Programme continues to support you throughout the year because our movement is a network of student leaders.


I looked awful throughout ODP, mainly because that’s my face but also because I was exhausted. I kept getting asked by people how I survived and I kept telling the story of the Monday night of the first Lead and Change course, where I spoke to a delegate. They said they couldn’t do this, they weren’t a leader and didn’t want to be called one. I asked them to wait and see, to see if the course will help.


They then come up to me on the Thursday morning to thank me and everyone at NUS. They know what they want to do now, and how to do it. They can lead. And they will help so many students back on their campus.


Stuff like that just knocks you down. That’s what success looks like and that’s what kept me going.



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