‘On the Campaign Trail’ – The Sutton Bonington Question

The Sutton Bonington Question Time could quite rightly be taken as the ‘behemoth’ of the SU Elections campaign. Generally the best attended of all the Candidate Question Times, the students at SB are notorious for their ability to shred any underprepared candidates who haven’t had the foresight to research the satellite campus before coming along. With this in mind, Impact sent a team of reporters down to assess the candidates’ performances at what may prove to be the toughest grilling they face on the campaign trail.

The candidates for LGBT Officer kicked off the evening’s proceedings. While there are some key policy differences among the candidates, the Question Time more often than not elicited similar responses on many issues. All three candidates have worked with the Sutton Bonington LGBT representative through their network and are aware of the issues particularly prescient to that campus.

Within their different areas of emphasis, however, Elliott Reed is keen to “stamp out homophobia in halls,” and promised he would work closely with JCRs to that end. Abigail Alcock spoke about having worked closely with poster campaigns this year and would look to improve upon feedback for next year. Christobel Burns’ flagship policy is to “reinstate Gayline” to provide a service to anonymous LGBT students, and students struggling with similar issues.

The three Womens Officer candidates, Jenny Ingram, Aimee Bailey and Rose Bonner, each expressed a wish to make the role more accessible for all students, and said that raising awareness was the first step. Ingram said, “We need to show that the network is for everyone”. In specific reference to Sutton Bonington campus, Bonner said she would talk to committee members at the campus as well as increasing visits and events to create a visible presence on site were she to be elected.

Georgia Thresh, the only candidate running for the Postgraduate Officer position, spoke of her main aim of getting the PGSA more visible on campus and highlighted that at Sutton Bonington no one has come forward to be Postgraduate rep. She argued that this demonstrates that getting postgrads engaged, and fully integrated into the student community, is a major challenge as they are only here for one year.

Thresh went on to state that “social events are key” to combating this lack of involvement and wants to work with individual schools to increase the number of social activities. When quizzed on how she will succeed in getting the PGSA more visible in a year Thresh admitted that it is a long-term goal and that it would take a long time to increase awareness.

The only Arts Faculty Co-ordinator candidate present was Florence Pickup, who was asked about how Course Reps could be more accessible. She asserted that, “with a better publicised Course Rep Elections process, as well as a greater use of lecture shout outs, people will have a much clearer idea of who their Course Reps are”

The only other two Faculty Co-ordinators to attend were Dasha Karzunina, who is standing for Science Coordinator, and Katie Ptasinka, standing for Medicine & Health Sciences Co-ordinator who gave a blunt response when asked whether she had spent time working with the Sutton Bonington Guild, curtly replied that working with SB was “out of her current remit [as a Course Rep]”.

The Education Officer and Environment & Social Justice Officer roles are both uncontested – with Michael de Vletter standing for Education and Sarah Lewis standing for ESJ. De Vletter said that if the University did raise tuition fees to a higher rate he would work to make sure that it was not to make them appear more prestigious and that they were “actually offering students value for money courses”. Lewis said that there was much work needed to get students more interested in environmental issues and recycling. She added that she was aware that there had been difficulties getting recycling bins at Sutton Bonington, and that whilst she could not promise to deliver better than the current officer, she would make this a priority.

The race for Democracy and Communications Officer is a straight contest between Sam Bucknall, a self confessed “democracy nerd,” who has missed only one SU council meeting over the last two years and is intimately involved in media student run services through NUTS, and Danny Barry, an SU outsider who has attended only two councils, and wants to combat “cliqueness” in the SU Council, something he claims to have experienced in his previous role of Week One organiser. When the candidates were asked whether the Dem Comms Officer should emphasise an informed electorate over voter turn-out for elected positions, Bucknall said that the two goals went “hand in hand”, while Barry tentatively placed his support behind a more informed electorate, arguing that democracy at the University needed to move away from a situation where “people just vote for their mates and elections are popularity contests.”

A lot of the questions directed at the Activities candidates focused on Sutton Bonington, with many questions about integration met with promises for improved publicity. Gareth Whittaker said he would like to tackle the website, so that it had much more regular updates about events. Ebba Wiberg said she would like to create a weekly newsletter for Sutton Bonington with information of events at Sutton Bonington as well as University Park. With regards to accessibility, Hannah Turck suggested more regular buses, whereas Wiberg said she would try to schedule a bus timetable that would co-ordinate well with times for activities. Simon Murphy, however, said he would like to bring societies to Sutton Bonington for taster sessions and, where possible, more regular events. He added that societies and events should be open for all, with Whittaker agreeing that he would love to see more integration. Wiberg pointed out that there would be an interest for all students to get involved in Sutton Bonington-unique societies, such as shooting, and that this would be a great way to get students from other campuses more involved at Sutton Bonington.

In his opening statement, Rob Hudson deplored the £172,000 loss the Union made last year on the Den, and it was the future of the Den which was to dominate the opening questions as the candidates put forward their bid for Finance & Services Officer. Sam Le Pard argued that the Students’ Union Executive had been mismanaging the Den for too long, and that he would “like the students to tell me what they want”. Phil Geller advocated further use of the space by societies and clubs to alleviate space problems in Portland, and Hudson expounded the controversial policy of offering the Den to an external source, but later diluted his position. As the questions moved towards areas more immediately relevant to SB campus, all the candidates stated their wishes to see higher ticket sales on the campus and a better distribution of money across all the satellite campuses. Interestingly, all three had different and somewhat ambiguous understandings of how finance worked there. Geller said he would work closely with the SB Guild, and rather oddly, Hudson said that the financial representative “did not want to be named.” Le Pard named her as Una Tilly.

All three Athletic Union candidates, George Bull, Sarah Williams and Robin Allison, were in attendance for their allotted portion of the Question Time. In their opening addresses, the different approaches of the candidates was clear. Bull spoke of his main aim of “getting Nottingham up the [BUCS] rankings”, while at the opposite end of the table (and the spectrum) was Allison’s emphasis on “sport for all”, making sport available to everyone regardless of their ability. In the middle sat Williams, who stressed that for her sport had been the most important part of her University experience and she wanted to make this so for others.

All candidates were grilled on their views of sport on Sutton Bonington, with questions focused on funding and competition. Williams pledged to get SB’s badminton and squash teams into the University league and Allison and Bull spoke of their enthusiasm for helping more people from Sutton Bonington attend Sport activities that may only be available on University Park.

The Equal Opportunities and Welfare candidates had all made an effort on the dressing-up front, with Rosie Tressler and Matt Byrne both modelling home made t-shirts and Sophie Hindley and Elorm Haligah staying true to their pledges to wear their respective superhero and power ranger outfits for the duration of their campaigns. However, past the fun of their outfits the Sutton Bonington students present posed some serious questions to the candidates on such issues as tackling student drinking culture, sexual health and supporting freshers.

Evident differences were visible between the approaches of the candidates. When quizzed on the issue of the reform on the in hall tutor system Byrne admitted he believed removing tutors from halls would make little difference as, from his own experience of being a fresher struggling to settle into University life, tutors offered little effective support. The other candidates disagreed, asserting that students want these tutors and that more training should be run to make sure these tutors are offering effective help to freshers. When asked about student drinking, all candidates agreed it posed a big challenge and there were few concrete ideas on the issues. Interestingly, Byrne stated that the much loved student tradition of Karni and initiations concerned him as “they legitimise drinking vast quantities of alcohol”.

The Presidential candidate questions, last on the programme at the Question Time, had to be cut short to allow non-Sutton-Bonington students to catch the last buses off campus. With Sam O’Flaherty unable to attend, this portion did not enjoy the pre-eminence it might otherwise have expected. All three candidates have made gestures to that holy grail of campaigning; the Lenton hopper bus, but Ngoc Tran, and Alex Corck-Adelman were quick to explain they were simply hoping to introduce a more affordable and streamlined service.

When quizzed on their experience, Tran, who had earlier asked AU candidates the difference between the Activities’ and AU’s remits, explained she felt other Exec officers “wouldn’t mind” helping her out if there was something she didn’t understand when in office. When asked who he would vote for, Corck-Adelman said he would vote for Tran (if not himself) because “she had decided to grace us with her presence”, a clear jab at his absent opponent. He would later call O’Flaherty’s postgraduate policies “vague.”

Ben McCabe, Callum Paton, Fiona Crosby and Helen Trimm

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