Crisis in a community
Ansh Sachdeva, University of Bolton SU president
On Friday 15 November, a catastrophic fire broke out at The Cube, a privately managed building in Bolton town centre, which affected over 200 of our students. All of the students could not go back to their homes after the fire as the building was deemed unsafe.
A huge critical support and recovery operation began at the university which required multiple resources. We set to work.
We initially focused entirely on the wellbeing and support of the many students affected by this terrible incident. (The university got them into hotels nearby and moved them to the other student accommodation). We also got mental health advisors in place to support them 24/7.
We got active over social media, also the support and lengths people went to in donating goods and items were humbling. The support flooded in from as far afield as sports retailer Decathalon, to individuals from mosques and churches, Manchester Giants Basketball team, and the Red Cross.
As a result of the event, we had to drop everything from our usual day and quickly make a number of changes so that we could best support our students. We continued to function at times sporadically, but we looked at the priorities, shared the tasks out and just did our best to stay focused on what needed to be done.
We are all be very proud of what the team here accomplished. We all worked tirelessly through the day and night to make a horrendous situation the best it could possibly be.
The university staff and students came together to ensure everyone had accommodation and the essentials, as well as making sure all students were also seen and looked after by trained doctors and counsellors, after the traumatic experience. Our emphasis was primarily on mental health and we received support from Nightline and Student Services/Life Lounge.
Losing everything you have in a blaze was extremely daunting, not just your essentials like bank cards/ clothes etc, but it had an impact on people’s lives as some of our students’ work was lost as they couldn’t take anything with them. The important thing was they were all safe.
Our Vice Chancellor Prof. George Holmes, and Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr. Kondal Reddi Kandadi also worked throughout the day and night and I have never been prouder to be associated with them and this institution – it really is a privilege to be a part of this community.
The staff and students have been amazing, and we are still very grateful that this Student Services/Life Lounge turned into, in the main, a positive outcome, as it could have been very different if it wasn’t for the fast-acting fire service.
What is the longer-term goal?
There’s a plan in place to carry out awareness about the importance of fire safety which will be implemented and strategized.
Our outcomes for every student affected were:
1. Each has had their accommodation paid for by the university, until they are able to find a permanent place to live.
2. Every student directly involved in the incident was eligible to collect £500 pounds, in cash from the finance office.
3. Support with students’ mental health and wellbeing counselling was put in place for the duration of their study at Bolton.
4. Course work assessments and deadlines were negotiated and extended.
Key advice in a crisis:
I think it’s not ‘me’, it’s ‘we’: The university, students and all the staff who supported during this tough time. I learnt that this crisis can be managed by team week, communication and being calm at the lowest points. Other things to think about in a crisis are:
1. Safety of your students – assess the situation.
2. Prioritise the essentials – understand the challenge.
3. What exactly is needed and who can provide it?
4. Draw up a list of tasks and share out amongst colleagues.
5. Regular meetings to discuss next steps.
6. Consider external activity and news interest use key spokespeople/ share a statement.
7. How does this affect our community? Think about damage reputation.
Ansh Sachdeva, University of Bolton SU president
Reading Student’s Union Case Study - Convincing “The University” by Daisy O'Connor, Activities Officer
For several years, RUSU has been working to get a 3G pitch built on campus. The idea came from Change It!, our democratic platform through which students can submit ideas. In asking RUSU to lobby for the construction of a 3G facility, these few students demonstrated impressive foresight as to what continues to be a huge issue at Reading to this day. At the time of the idea’s submission, Reading’s sports facilities were functioning at just overcapacity - and now, four years later, we have reached a point where swathes of students are being turned away at the door.
As the current Activities Officer, I am fortunate to be working in a position where the University is entirely behind our project- they have agreed to fund it, and design and planning is well underway. We are now working together to convince the council and the local community. I cannot take credit for the significant job of getting (sometimes dragging!) the University on board with this idea, but I can share some of what I’ve learned in my own experience, and from Officers before me.
1. It’s unhelpful to think of “The University” as one singular being. You will come across dozens of stakeholders, all of whom have different motivations, priorities, preconceptions and experiences. Amalgamating all of these individuals into one multi-faced monster makes the task much more intimidating, decreases your ability to work person-to-person, and is likely to worsen your working relationship with “The University”.
2. Following on from this- know exactly who you’re talking to and what they care about (professionally and personally). If you know the project well, then your 3G pitch can be framed as a money-maker, a recruitment tool, a boost for the student experience, a health initiative, an environmental conservation project, sector-leading asset, a hub for the community, a people pleaser, or a necessity for equal opportunity.
3. It’s this latter one that sold me- currently, due to lack of training space, existing sports teams are at capacity whilst new ones (usually women’s teams) can’t get a foot in the door. When limited space has to be prioritised for the highest-level sportspeople, it is the students from schools and backgrounds in which they’re less likely to have played sport already who are being turned away. Lots of University staff are highly motivated, and rightly so, by equal opportunity and shunning perceptions of elitism, so make sure they know your project is about that.
4. To varying degrees, and for differing reasons, University staff care about league tables, the NSS, and other survey results. If your project taps into a lower-scored area for your Uni, frame it in this way, as staff may be particularly ready to listen to these ideas.
5. Stand together as a union. As officers, have your discussions (and arguments if necessary) before University meetings so that you can go in with a united front. Although it has been difficult for officers before me, I am very fortunate that all the current officers understand the physical and mental health benefits of sport for the student experience.
Chester Students' Union launch new society era!
Here at Chester Students’ Union, a whole new society era is about to be launched! From September 2019, we have decided to make all our of society memberships free of charge. As a Union, we feel now more than ever a sense of belonging is what really improves the student experience and we want to follow the research that suggest student groups are an influential factor which improve overall student wellbeing.
Prior to the 2019/20 year, society membership ranged between £2 and £30 depending on which society students joined. In terms of funding this change, the Union are launching a grant application scheme whereby societies can apply for funding through an application pack. We hope by doing an application process for funds will enable our committee members to really think about the necessities they need to run a society well and will prepare them with adequate budgeting and financial skills they can transfer into the working world.
Making our societies available and affordable to all is eliminate participation barriers and will hopefully build on a relationship between the Union and societies even further. Newly elected VP Activities, Rio Hall stated “I can’t wait for the year ahead to be VP Activities at Chester Students’ Union. Societies are fantastic student networks and are a great way to make friends during University. We hope now society membership is free, we can build on our membership numbers and see more engagement from societies as a community. We want any University of Chester student to feel like they belong in a society and I think this is going to be the year we witness our societies flourish!”
From initially launching the news to students we’ve received amazing feedback and they are looking forward to hearing all about the changes how the changes can positively impact them at our Committee Training Programme prior to Freshers’ Week. We’re looking to see how the 2019/20 year goes!
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