When you think of the Union, what do you think of? Over-priced drinks? That guy who always laughs when he reads the words Stone Willy on the pizza box? Perhaps that embarrassing video of you singing ‘Take on Me’ at Tuesday night karaoke in third semester.
Rachel Bradshaw, Communities Officer and Women Equalities Officer this year, wants you to know it is much more than curly fries and the poor pub quiz score as she runs for VP Communities.
“I got involved [in the Union] at a time when I needed it the most, and it showed me just what the Union can do for students, and so I want to give that experience to everyone.
“It isn’t just a place to go for a pint; it’s a place where you can go for mental health support, academic support. It does these amazing things you wouldn’t know about without getting involved, and that’s what I want to do.
“Plus, the people are very nice, as well.”
I am glad she said that, I was starting to get – I knew they couldn’t be all bad. Rachel Bradshaw’s rapid Mancunian speaks of a bubbly and enthusiastic personality. If she wasn’t enough of a likeable person, just check out the memes on her campaign page. They’re wonderful. I will post a few throughout this article, for your entertainment as much as my own.
Harking from Wigan, Bradshaw confesses she was “dragged” to an open day by a friend and immediately fell in love with the campus.
Studying Environmental Geography, Bradshaw has a keen interest in the environment. She said: “The area itself is fantastic for any environment-based degree, so I applied originally for animal biology but was given an unconditional offer for geography, which I was always good at through school and college.”
I asked her about her interest in the environment, a topic that has appeared frequently at hustings and in other candidates’ manifestos. “It’s just common sense to care about the environment,” she tells me. “I am really pushing for reusable cups at the university cafes, and I was pleased that – after I was announced as a candidate – the Union started putting them out again.
“I have dedicated my academic study to community action. I remember being in first year, and my flatmate and I saying, ‘We have to recycle’, but there was nowhere to do it. We need to make recycling easier, so recycling becomes a habit.”
Moving into her key policy areas, I start to enquire about her first point on mental health. You might think the candidates – just like you during that physics exam in second year of high school (yes, I am looking at you) – peeked over the shoulder of the one sitting next to them to see what they wrote, because mental health appears in almost every manifesto.
However, each has their own slant to it. Bradshaw is keen to see one member of committee mental health first aid trained, a service provided by the university, and which has been rolled out to clubs and sports teams this year.
She said: “When I was club president myself, I got the opportunity to get mental health first aid training. It is a great tool for presidents to know how to signpost and know what services are available, and the skills I learned through it have been invaluable. If you are a club president and don’t know how to deal with those situations, I can imagine it being very difficult.
“Maybe some people don’t want to go through it, but if I can get all club presidents trained that would be ideal. If not, delegating it to a committee member would be equally as valuable.”
Simply being able to ask, “Are you ok?” can be critical in catching a mental illness before it escalates, and having the confidence to ask is part of the training. I asked Bradshaw if she was considering making it a standing committee position, like treasurer or secretary.
“Probably not,” she replied. “Smaller clubs would struggle to fill their positions, but having a go-to person on committee would be ideal.”
Speaking as a club president here, I empathise with those who find all the forms and the clunky Union website to be a little fiddly throughout the year. It is easy to forget all the things you have to do!
Bradshaw knows questions about room booking, deposits, club grants and so on are asked frequently, despite them being covered in the Clubs Academy, and the resources from which are put on the Union website.
She wants to create a Run Your Club guide, which is sent to all committee members and placed on the club administration page on the Union website for easy access. She was quick to state this would not be in hard copy – cutting down trees is not her thing.
She also wants multiple Clubs Academies: one in September, one in January and one again in April. I asked her, though, if these two policies were a doubling-up of resources; creating guide books and then multiple Clubs Academies, which are often criticised as being slightly unimaginative and poorly attended.
“I suppose it is [a doubling-up]. I think, though, having a physical meeting you go to is good to sort out collaborations and discuss ideas between clubs, meet other presidents, meet guys from the Union. Without Clubs Academy I don’t think that would be possible.
“Club committees change throughout the year. For most clubs, they only have two or three people [at Clubs Academy], so I think having one in the April, one in September – because people change over summer – and one in January to keep those contact hours up would be good.”
What about the poor attendance, though. Community Zone meetings have a compulsory element and a penalty for no-shows – would Clubs Academy be the same? “I wouldn’t know what penalty we could place on people, but putting a goal of having 50% committee there, perhaps,” she said.
“If you are committed enough to run for a position, then you should be willing to learn as much as possible.”
Moving on to the topic of ALSs (Accommodation Liaison Students), Bradshaw was animated with incredulity at the fact ALS do not have contacts outlining their job description, grievance process or support networks.
She said: “ALS are fantastic student volunteers who deal with crisis response, and lots of other difficult situations. We need them to feel prepared before they go into the role to know how to deal with these issues which come up.
“Halls can be crazy, so I want to make sure ALSs have a contract as an employee of the university so there is a specific job description and to better represent them.”
This is her main housing point in her manifesto. Searching ‘housing’ in her manifesto and the only result is a headline – ‘accommodation’ does not appear. I asked her why accommodation seemed absent from her manifesto.
“The two points people say are lacking on my manifesto are housing – or rent – and First Bus. Those are things I feel come without saying with the role. We’ve had two groups of good sabbaticals, who have done well with First Bus and the rent, and I think it comes without saying. Representing students is in the job description.
“It’s frustrating [no one is running for the Communities or Housing Officers], but it is something we are trying to communicate to people they are good roles to be in.”
Still, Brig reported before semester began of an accommodation crisis for first-years, who were left without housing two weeks before semester began. I put this situation to her.
“I can imagine it would have been terrifying learning two weeks before you have nowhere to live. Again, communicating with students and staff and finding out what went wrong is crucial.
“I know some were placed in Glasgow, and I want to know whether that worked out or not. Whether it is contacting landlords and private letting agencies is the solution, I am not sure.”
Finally, I wanted to ask Bradshaw about students on degrees which combined time at college and time at university. Some students are on what are described as two-plus-two degrees (two years at college, two at university).
Often these students struggle to integrate into the community, and as VP Communities that comes without saying in the job role.
“Regardless of your background and how you came to university, you are entitled to the same experience as anyone who came in the traditional route. That is why I am passionate about the care-experienced students project.
“I spoke with nursing students while writing my manifesto on how best to integrate them into the university and make them feel part of the community. It’s about making sure they feel 100% involved, and all volunteering opportunities are communicated.”
Voting opens at 9am on March 12, and closes at 6.15pm March 13. Read Rachel Bradshaw and her fellow candidates’ manifestos here.