You can watch it by clicking here.
Or read the full version here…
Good Evening Guild Council,
First of all, thank you for coming and thank you for staying. Getting Guild Councillors to come to Guild Council has always been surprisingly difficult, and something I’m yet to come up with a solution to. It’s difficult to know where to begin with these speeches; I’ve got so much to say, and comparatively little time to say it. So according to my good friend logic, which has served me well this year, I will start at the beginning.
The first time I came to the University of Birmingham was on an open day in 2007, back when Zuki was still in primary school, and I remember driving in through East gate with my Dad, glancing over to the left and seeing a building with ‘Guild of Students’ written on the side. I remember registering that it must have been the student’s union and quickly dismissing it with the thought that I’ll never need to go there, that’s not what Uni is about.
Well, 5 years later I can safely say that I was very, very wrong. My first involvement with the Guild was in 2008, when I applied to be the Vice President (Services Environment) on the Shackleton Hall Resident’s Association. Now I wasn’t quite sure what an RA was, as the RA who were supposed to induct us into Shackleton and make sure that we had the time of our lives in halls didn’t really exist. The only recollection I have of the then President was a video of him on YouTube downing a bottle of red wine at an alarmingly quick rate.
But, nevertheless I was lucky enough to pick up one of the flyers posted through our letter box and for once, actually read it. I don’t know why, but it was a decision that changed my life. So I went along to the Guild, managed to find where the Representation Democracy department was (now Student Voice, it used to be up by marketing on the top floor) and handed in my form to the Representation Co-ordinator, only to be told that it was a day late and my nomination couldn’t be accepted. Despite my protestations that nobody else was running I took it on the chin and was told to wait for the by-elections in January.
Luckily I took this advice and after asking someone in this room who became an RA whether it was worth it, thank you to him, I proceeded to boss the by-election and started on my journey in the Guild, even if it was a few weeks late.
That year of 2009 was truly incredible and I had one of the best experiences of my life. As an RA we had to start from scratch as we inherited nothing from the previous committee and began the task of transforming Shackleton into a hall which people were proud to live in and create a community spirit that didn’t previously exist. This all came to a head during the first few weeks of Freshers in September where we poured our heart and soul into making the first few weeks for 350 Freshers the best it possibly could be, and making sure they knew they were in the best hall in the world. I made some great friends during that term and had I can quite honestly say, had the time of my life.
It’s due to my time as an RA that I know how powerful the RA scheme is, and its ability to make or break people’s time in halls and ultimately University. RA’s really are the life and soul of first year and while the scheme has unavoidably undergone some changes since my time, I firmly believe that with the resources available to them, a combination of the right people, with the right motive and enough freedom given to them have the ability to turn (or maintain) the RA scheme as the best thing the Guild does.
I was also involved in my departmental society, this was also made from scratch and through this not only did we organise the customary socials and bar crawls, we replaced what were non-existent student reps on Student Staff Committee’s with elected society representatives and organised a number of talks from key academics in our field.
Moreover I was on Burn FM for a number of years, my housemate and I had our show ‘Sports Banter’ which I seem to remember winning best Sports Show a couple of years ago, although regardless, it was still a good laugh. Blue hooding and helping out with Officer Campaigns followed and then I eventually decided to run for office myself. But, I’ll get to that later.
Throughout this time I also sat on Guild Council in a number of guises, although I honestly had no idea what was going on. I was never involved in any of the politics of the Guild and didn’t really have much of an opinion on what was going on, but I still weirdly enjoyed it. I could count the number of times I actually got up to speak on one hand, I was far too intimidated and didn’t know nearly enough about what was being debated and thought that any point I made would easily be shot down by one of the more experienced Councillors in the room. I suppose the lesson from that is you don’t have to be uber-involved or indeed vocal on issues going on in the Guild in order to do achieve things. So, for those of you sitting there without the inclination or confidence to partake in debate, I know how you feel, I’m one of you and trust me, it doesn’t need to hold you back.
So I suppose this leads me nicely on to why I decided to run for a Sabbatical position in the first place. When I was an RA, I barely knew what a Sabb was, let alone how you become one. Obviously we had our VPHC, Oggy, but it never really clicked that he was part of a wider team and I guess I just wasn’t really that interested.
The seed was planted when a former Redbrick editor, and a guy in the year above me on my course, Nick Petrie decided to run for President and asked me to help out. All the campaign meetings were very confusing, I wasn’t quite sure what the parameters were for elections, or what the position did. I have to say though that I had a great 2 weeks campaigning and it’s through that that I realised what Officer’s do and how we’re able to change the student experience here at Birmingham. So I began to think…maybe I could do that? Obviously I didn’t decide there and then but as I went into my third year I actually began to take the idea more seriously before finally deciding to take the plunge and risk it.
I’m blessed in that organisation is one of my strong points so I set about putting together a team and a campaign that I thought might stand a chance in an election. Now there was a lot of talk about the makeup of elections after the most recent Officer elections in March, and while I know that nothing is perfect, running in the elections takes very similar skills to being a Sabbatical Officer.
You need organisational skills, and the ability to inspire others. You need to be creative and come up with innovative solutions to any problem that may arise. You need the ability to speak to people of all different backgrounds on many different levels. You need the ability to answer your critics and counter arguments that may come your way. And finally you need to be tough and be able to put in long hours for weeks on end with very little food and very little sleep.
If you can’t meet those requirements for two weeks, you most certainly won’t be able to meet those requirements for 12 months. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the way it is, and I’m of the belief that the intensity of elections is actually a good thing and prepares you for what is a very demanding year in office. It isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy.
So, I was lucky enough to win my election against some very credible opponents. Both Chris Richardson-Wright and Chris Nash would have been great VPDR’s and both made the Guild a better place during their time here.
So, for those of you who have read my Guild Council reports or my blogs you’ll hopefully know about the work I’ve been doing in order to achieve the pledges upon which I was elected. But, for those of you who haven’t I will briefly enlighten you.
With the introduction of the Joe’s Plus loyalty card, over the first two terms alone we have saved students £40,000 by making Joe’s Plus prices some of the cheapest in Selly Oak. Interestingly a pint of coke is our best seller on the card, which is something I certainly wasn’t expecting. Obviously myself and Mark have done some work on modernising the first version of the card, to turn it into a smart card with data capture technology which will show us who is using Joe’s, when they’re using it and what they’re buying. This information will allow us to tailor our offers more specifically towards different demographics of students and hopefully allow us to cater to more of the non-traditional cohort of students.
Plans are being formulated to roll the card out to other outlets, with Zest being the first one this term, and Selly Oak is now set firmly in our sights. Apart from this the next major challenge for the card will be making it better value on club nights, where we get thousands of students through the door, while not putting at risk one of the Guild’s major revenue streams which allows us to fund great services such as the SHAC and Jobzone.
One of my main gripes and a real motivator behind running to be an Officer in the first place is the Guild’s website. It’s no secret that out of date is an understatement and a new one is sorely needed. I have really enjoyed getting to grips with a replacement, but I have quickly found out that creating a fit for purpose website is not an easy task. We have been working in partnership with NUS Digital, as one of five pilot union’s with the vision of moving over to a completely new, all singing all dancing web platform in the very near future. Now I know working with the NUS doesn’t inspire confidence in some people, and my favourite nickname for the new website so far is definitely ‘SkyNet’ after the Terminator series, but let me assure you it won’t take over the world and turn our nuclear weapons against it. Not yet anyway.
The amount of work and money gone into this project by the NUS is quite phenomenal and they have a lot riding on it, which is why I’m quietly confident it will turn out to be a success. We have had a unique chance to shape the project how we see fit and I can’t wait for it to go live, hopefully before September. I’ve accepted the fact that despite all the time I have put into it, I won’t be around to see it launched and while this is obviously disappointing I’m sure the new guys can take all the credit for what will be a huge improvement on what we’ve got. It won’t be the finished article in September, it will be the first phase of a 3 step plan, but I’d rather do it right, than do it quick, as I’m sure this is a project that will benefit many students long after I’m gone.
Continuing on the positive note I am also proud of a number of other achievements during my term of office, some have been popular, some maybe not so. But one of my favourite quotes that I have tried to apply this year is ‘good command decisions get compromised by bad emotional responses.’ Not the fluffiest of phrases, yet something in the VPDR role that is essential to get by.
The first two elections of the year, for Guild Council and RA positions saw record turnout in both, with the Guild Council elections showing more than a 100% increase on last year’s figure. Additionally for RA elections we made the tough call of putting them online for the first year ever, not easy from a sentimental perspective, however essential for the future prosperity of democracy in halls. While the increase we saw was not as much as I hoped, it was in line with when we first moved Officer Elections over to an e-ballot and I’m confident it will open up elections to more and more residents and allow us to achieve record turnout year on year going forward.
Staying on the elections front, the most enjoyable two weeks of my year was definitely the Officer elections. Seeing them from a different side admittedly wasn’t as fun as being out on campus every day, however the buzz and excitement that elections bring is matched only by the first few weeks of the year. As I mentioned, elections aren’t easy, but I hope all who took part in them, whether as a candidate, campaigner or voter enjoyed them as win or lose, it’s a worthwhile experience for everyone involved.
One change I bought in this year, was giving students an extra 72 hours to cast their vote, by opening ballots on the Friday, as opposed to the second Monday. This worked very well at the University of Nottingham last year. Unfortunately their model didn’t quite fit ours and I feel that opening earlier lost us the momentum that opening at the beginning of the second week gives us. While I don’t regret trying it, if I were here next year, I would revert back to the second Monday in order to get that momentum back.
A new feature that I introduced was Unlock Democracy’s VoteMatch module, after a successful maiden year at Leeds University. For some reason this was branded as a major change, despite the fact that the e-voting system remained exactly the same and VoteMatch didn’t force voters to do anything. Trying to give voters an extra tool to scrutinise candidate’s policies is an idea that many students were receptive to, although some question what right I had to introduce such a feature and to them I’ll say I wasn’t given a mandate to submit motions, anyone can do that, I was given a mandate by thousands of students to lead policy on democracy and oversee it’s execution. And I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, I mean it in a way that Officers are elected to make decisions, which they do year on year, except this year every time an Officer makes a decision we’re berated for not bringing it to Guild Council, and unless you want Guild Council to meet on a daily basis, Officers will have to continue to make decisions without Guild Council input. The role of Guild Council is to scrutinise us for those decisions and to set policy that guide those decisions.
Anyway, that little rant over. I firmly believe that Vote Match is a good idea, and will be standardised in student union elections up and down the country in just a few years. The first time you do anything, you’re always going to make mistakes, and mistakes were made with Vote Match, but having learnt from those I believe a much more effective module can be put to use in the future, now we know what to expect and what to change.
Looking at the elections picture as a whole nobody was more disappointed than me to receive less votes than last year, but put in a national and historical context over 6,000 votes is still an achievement to be proud of, and with a drop in candidate numbers it was always on the cards.
Moving back over to Resources, this year we have welcomed a new bank into the building in the shape of Santander, replacing HSBC that were with us for more than 30 years. This meant we had to move the SHAC a year ahead of schedule, however it is now in much larger premises that is going to be essential for it to grow and become a self-sustaining lettings agency. Moreover, over the summer the common room is going to be completely redeveloped and turned into a social learning space with an infamous Costa Coffee and University IT cluster.
While inviting Costa into the Guild caused much debate amongst some students, the project is going to turn an underused space into a much more valuable space for a much more diverse range of students than currently use the Common Room. External income streams such as these are invaluable to student’s unions, when the national trend is moving away from the traditional reliance on over the bar sales. As a Guild we cannot afford to be complacent and open ourselves up to risks we may regret into 5 to 10 years, and if that means taking the tough decisions now, I’m more than happy to take the fall in the short run. For the dance groups who will be relocating, I think you should know that Fliss Cross has tirelessly fought your corner and deserves a lot of credit for ensuring that your brand new dance studio is fit for purpose and will be ready in time for the new academic year. While it was a project where we often disagreed on a best way forward, I’m delighted that myself and Fliss have come up with a solution where everybody’s needs are met.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on for a while, but instead of taking a turn to negative town, I wanted to talk about about things I’ve achieved as an Officer, rather than what I’ve not.
Everything that I’ve spoken about would not have been possible without the help and support from everyone here at the Guild. And before I talk about the Officers my first thank you goes to the unsung heroes who make the Guild what it is. That’s right, the big, bad shady staff. The rumours, speculation and outright lies that have been circulated this year about staff members makes me so angry and the audacity of people to go off hearsay and often third or fourth hand information to spread untruths about people who work at the Guild is naive at best and despicable at worst.
The passion and expertise of our staff members never fails to impress me and it’s been an absolute pleasure coming to work every day, knowing I get to work with people who are as passionate about improving the student experience at Birmingham as I am. I know they don’t get a right of reply, but thank you for everything you have done for me this year, and next year’s team are lucky to have you.
To the Sabbs, my colleagues and friends, sharing this year with you has been an absolute pleasure, and while I would like to run through your individual qualities and describe how I’ve enjoyed working with you, as you know I’m not an overtly emotional person and in a stereotypical bloke sort of way have trouble with feelings and other such confusing things. While we couldn’t have predicted the things that have happened this year, many of the events have bought us closer together and I’m delighted to have made 5 lifelong friends who I’m going to miss terribly once our year is up.
Despite things you may have read and other antics that have occurred this year, you’ve got some fantastic Officers there who have done some brilliant things for students, and don’t let anything that’s happened this year overshadow that.
Very quickly as well I’d like to commend some Non-Sabbs who often don’t get the recognition they deserve. This year we’ve been lucky enough to have some fantastic ones and I’d like to thank
Jen Kirk, Noorie Karimbocus, Vicki Royle, Kelly Rogers, Emily Halford and Mikayla Jones who have all done a sterling job in their respective roles. Additionally I’d like to thank Johnny Dolan and Rob Sassoon for their work with Guild Council and other things this year. They’ve been very able Chair’s and a pleasure to work with this year.
Anyway, I think it’s time to wind this up, I’m pretty sure I’ve gone over my time limit. All in all I’ve had a fantastic year and made some great friends along the way. If you’re out there and considering running for an Officer Position in the future please do it, it is without doubt one of the best thing you can do during your time at University, it’s a decision you won’t regret.
Additionally, it’s very easy to stand out the side house and throw stones at it, but’s it’s much harder and much more rewarding to build the house from the inside brick by brick.
So, in the words of Jed Bartlet, do what is hard, achieve what is great.
So thank you to the Guild for everything it has given me, it is with great sadness that I will finally be saying goodbye and it’s been a pleasure to be your Vice President (Democracy Resources) this year. I hope I have done a little bit of good along the way and wish you all the very best of luck for the future.
Thank you for listening.
Vice President (Democracy Resources) 2011/12