Captain of the Ladies 1st XI football team, and a member of the Sports Union Executive Committee, Rebecca Blair appears the kind of person always on her feet, all whilst studying for a degree.
When I sat down to chat with Rebecca, she initially seemed rushed, but her demeanour was calm and collected, articulating her points well as we chatted over a coffee in the fitting location of the Gannochy café.
Ironically, the first topic of conversation we got started on was the redevelopment of the very place we were having our interview. The facility redevelopment is high on the agenda right now, and high on the manifestos of many sports president candidates.
The new facilities plan is the result of the hard work of Jess Morris, the current sports union president, says Rebecca, but the students need a voice to “make sure students get what we fought for”.
She appreciated the new plans coming into place but admitted they fall far short of what they were hoping for: “It is fantastic they are trying to develop our facilities at Stirling, but we need to make sure the developments we are getting out of this plan do meet what our sports teams require.
“Especially if you are investing £17m into a redevelopment plan, you need to make sure you are spending that money wisely, and that it really is student sport that is benefiting from that plan”.
£17m is no small sum, especially if the current reports on the university’s deficit are true, which say Stirling is currently running on a £3.1m deficit. Currently, the redevelopment would see the expansion of the studio space, but full details remain scarce.
According to a Freedom of Information request by Brig Newspaper, it appears there is also talk of relocating of the weights room to one of the squash courts, and the vacated weights room becoming a studio space for classes like yoga, pilates, and TRX.
Rebecca was determined to show her commitment to standing up for students and “being that student voice to make sure these plans really cater to what we need; instead of something just aesthetically pleasing, we need something that can cater for rising participation in sport”.
So, what do students want?
Rebecca said: “What we need to do is consider our most used facilities at Stirling: The 3G pitches, the sand pitch and the hall. Currently, we have one 3G surface, which isn’t enough, and we need to fight for that additional surface.
“Although it is great we are getting extra studio space, we need to think, ‘Is that practical?’ In a dream world we would get floodlighting up at Airthrey, but I don’t think it would happen, but I would want to get that point across because we really do need it.
“And to get more than double the hall space we have; most of the teams use the hall – it is so popular, and they have to train at ridiculous hours in the morning”.
Rebecca was keen to point out the unruly training times often allocated to some team, meaning training can take place at 7am. This, she said, not only made it tough for committed individuals but also new members who could be deterred by such arrangements.
She added: “Between 5pm and 9pm are the most desired hours to train, and we need to make sure we have enough facilities to cater for that.
“If we have people being turned away from sports teams because of unacceptable training times, what does that say about us? We are Scotland’s centre for sporting excellence”.
This brings Rebecca to a key piece of her manifesto: Her ‘Opportunities for All’ campaign. The university’s sports services had great success with the Festive Fun Run, and the Campus 5K looks set to build on that.
She said: “The campaign, which I would develop, is to do with activity generally: Getting the student body more active – just like the Festive 5K, which was fantastic. So, it is promoting these and the advanced Give-It-A-Gos throughout the year to get new players beyond Freshers and Refreshers.
“Some teams have poor drop off rates, so these GIAG days really give people a chance to get involved”.
We aren’t just a university of hockey, lacrosse, rugby and football, and we need to make that clear.
A rather unique point on Rebecca’s manifesto is her idea for a designated driver list, and changes to the current transport set-up for teams. She proposed splitting costs between teams by doubling-up on transport if teams are going to similar locations, such as women’s rugby and men’s basketball both going to Aberdeen.
The designated drivers would be players over 21 who have at least two years of driving experience.
Rebecca said: “If a club member is free on a Wednesday, or Saturday/Sunday, they can offer to drive the other team’s MPV (minivan). For instance, if a member of men’s football offered to drive women’s volleyball to a match.
“It is also a way of making money for the designated driver’s team, even if it is £10 or £15 to get them to drive the van, that all adds up”.
One group who suffer from monetary barriers are the university’s smaller clubs. Rebecca comes from a ladies football team which has seen enormous success over the past couple of years and has contacts with lacrosse, hockey and rugby.
I asked her what she would do to represent smaller clubs at the university: “I think one thing done in the past by a few sports presidents, if I am honest, is they haven’t fulfilled their promise of representing smaller clubs. I know what it is like to be part of a small club: In my first year, I was in a women’s football team which was nothing, we were so small, and didn’t have many members.
“We have a lot of small clubs and Stirling, and it is about being the voice if they are being successful, or just their existence – such as cycling, you don’t hear much about cycling, and enhancing that through social media is crucial.
“You have the Sports Communications Officer who is doing a great job, and the Sports Union Facebook page, and we need to continue that good work and highlight success and what our clubs get up to.
“We aren’t just a university of hockey, lacrosse, rugby and football, and we need to make that clear”.
Turning to her experience in the Sports Union, Rebecca was keen to impart her knowledge of the Union, and to make it clear she is experienced within the Union.
She said: “If you asked me last year what funds we had on offer, I would not have been able to tell you. So knowing we have a Women in Sport fund that pushes women forward in their sport – coaching badges, for example. Having these funds in place and broadcasting them is important so people know those funds are there”.
And it is the funds for these coaching badges Rebecca is clear she wants to make a key part of her tenure as a sports union president. Currently, the Union holds a £9000 coaching fund; half of this is given to scholar coaches, but the other half is for clubs to apply for, from £10 up to even £400.
Rebecca wants to broadcast these funds exist, but also build ties with national governing bodies, such as Scottish Volleyball and Scottish Cycling, so clubs can put forward members to get coaching badges.
She said: “If we have a close relationship with them it gives members access to that education, and it is then allowing these coaches to pass on knowledge to student coaches, and letting them develop.
“It helps those teams less well-off financially get a player in their team to go through their coaching badges. I know some clubs pay a lot of money for their coaches, so if you can let your member be educated in the sport, they can pass on the knowledge to the team”.
Rebecca did note a potential pitfall in this, whereby some members may be officiating their own matches. But she said it did allow for male/female split sports to officiate each other’s matches, and would cost clubs less, whilst also allowing referees to get money for their own clubs for refereeing another’s.
Failing that, NGBs could provide clubs with a list of referees teams can use to officiate matches, which would be possible thanks to closer ties with them.
Finally, we turned to a matter close to Rebecca’s campaign. As a deeply passionate advocate for LGBT+ participation in sport, Rebecca wants to continue the good work the Union is doing to help this cause.
She said: “One of the main things for me would be the Rainbow Laces campaign. It is just showing – even something as simple as rainbow laces – showing support of communities such as LGBT.
“There is a lack of support from BUCS for non-binary students. Obviously, it can prove difficult, but what we do have at Stirling – and we don’t broadcast it enough – we do have a mixed lacrosse team, both men and women can play and compete together.
“Everyone should be accepted, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation – everyone is welcome at Stirling”.
To wrap it all up, I asked Rebecca what her main mission was going forward; if she could have one manifesto piece come to fruition what would it be?
“It would be to see the facility plans catered to student needs”, she said.
“Making sure students got what we fought for. I mean, Jess has fought to get these plans, and although they are not ideal right now, 2017/2018 is going to be a fight – it is going to be a massive fight to get those plans the way we need them to be, and the outcome we want, not just a Sports Union, but as a Students’ Union.
“Ideally, I am looking for a new 3G pitch, a bigger hall space, and ideally, floodlighting at Airthrey, but,” she laughed, “I will fight for it. I will fight for it”.
The voting in the Union Elections will open on Monday at 9am, and will close the next day at 6.15pm. Tonight will see the Alternative Hustings start at 6pm.