For over 100 days now, your sabbatical officers at Stirling have been attempting to ensure the voices of students are being heard and their needs met. In a shorter space of time than it took for Harry Potter to destroy all the Horcruxes, it’s clear they’ve been doing quite a lot so far.
I met with Jamie Grant in Underground to discuss what he has been up to in his role as VP Communities. He’s one of the few people I’ve met who says they like their job and genuinely seems to mean that.
He said: “The best part of the job has been being able to do things differently. When you come to university, you see how things are done and you get ideas about how things can change, and it’s been great being in the position to enact those changes.”
Even if you have the best job in the world, that doesn’t mean it comes without obstacles to overcome.
He said: “The biggest challenge is probably typical sabb deflection, but I’d say emails because I get so many emails it’s unbelievable. I took the day off and, not even 24 hours, you’re talking 12 hours, I got 54 emails. Over freshers I had over 200 sitting in the inbox, and that was just me trying to get through some before going to bed.
“There’s a flip side to that though, for every email you get it’s a chance to interact with students or work on a project. I’m beginning to filter out all the Cascada and Gareth Gates is apparently coming back for a tour, so I’ve managed to filter that to my junk email.
“The most challenging part for a serious answer is trying to find a work life balance. For me this isn’t work. It’s fun and my flatmate Sebastian put it quite succinctly, “dude you’re going to run yourself into the ground”. It’s not like uni work for me, it’s like what can I do next it’s so much fun.
“One day I’m in the garden planting blueberry bushes, the next I’m in a court room meeting talking about bus routes, and the next I’m in Fourth Valley or I’m in England at a conference speaking to sabbs. There’s something different everyday, and that’s what the best part of the job is.”
During summer, while some of us were trying to tick off as many shows on Netflix as possible, Jamie was determined to meet the points he mentioned on his manifesto.
“Over summer it’s really just trying to find your feet. You go through some training internally and they teach you about committee structure and governance – how to be a good sabb in that respect. There were a lot of inductions, chatting with people at university, re-establishing connections old sabbs had made with staff members.
“There were two conferences I went to with the National Union of Students. Myself and Astrid went down to NUS Lead and Change, which is a conference designed to train sabbs on a national scale. We spoke to other sabs from Scotland, we were the #scotbloc, because there were quite a few universities from Scotland there.
“The first thing I did in my first week was clean out my office. I was on my knees with a hoover, cleaning all the cracks. I found some really weird stuff behind the radiator, I found some old bus tickets – no offence to Lauren and Jess.
“So far we have cleaned the storage cupboard, we have a housing officer, we’ve also purchased four more lockers, we have more storage in the Ian King room and we’re sourcing more storage facilities over the campus.
If you hadn’t noticed on Facebook, Jamie had posted a set of images which outlined what he has been successful in achieving so far. Next to the City Deal manifesto point, it was described as being in motion and I was curious to find out what this means exactly.
He explained: “The City Deal is an absolute behemoth of a policy. It’s a massive cash injection into the city; Stirling put a bid in and came up with a massive plan and luckily that plan has been accepted. At the moment it’s wrangling between the local government in Stirling and the Scottish Parliament over what plans are accepted.
“If we play our cards right and manage it well, get the Union and the university at the negotiation tables, we can really integrate the university into the local community and rejuvenate it a bit, to remind people why it was a good thing that Stirling Unviersity, 50 years ago, came here.”
Funding transparency is another point on Jamie’s manifesto which is currently in motion, what progress is being made with regards to this and what we can expect is what I wanted to find out next.
“The funding transparency was down to my own frustrations as a student, not being able to know what was going on with the Union funding, like, why were pints priced the way they are. Why is there only so much money for clubs and societies?
“The funding transparency in practical terms is more likely to be a media campaign. Some posters, some interviews and talks, maybe a cheeky Facebook live video. It’s really about getting students to ask the question: Where is this money coming from and where is it going?
“I always talk about this pint thing as if it would be great to have a poster or infographic of, ‘Here is your pint at your Students’ Union, this is how much it costs and here is the breakdown of that.’
“Financing can be really confusing, it would be nice to have a clean and easy campaign so that when students are paying £5 membership to the union, they’re not begrudging it.
“It’s trying to understand the money structure a bit better. It’s going to be a developing campaign but I want students to see the benefits of having lunch at Venue rather than in town, or having a social here rather than in town.”
The final question Brig had for Jamie is what he hopes to achieve by the end of his time as VP Communities.
“Hopefully the 17 points, it’s a political answer but to me my manifesto is what I was voted on, so for me it’s easier to deal with what you said you were going to do, or be honest and say why you couldn’t do something, rather than waffle your way through it.
“At the end of the day it’s a to-do list people approved. I’m working my way through the 17 points, some of them are continuous projects that don’t have an end point to them come May 31 next year.”