The Accommodation and Community Question Time was unlike any other. Situated in the Training Room in the depths of Portland, and exclusively for the JCR Presidents, this Question Time, compered by current Accommodation and Community Officer Teddy Smith, quickly became the most difficult grilling the Accommodation candidates have faced over the course of the elections.
The opening question focused on facilities in Halls, with Rory Thomas pledging to ensure that he would put money into making Hall food better and healthier, rather than spending money on digital boards. Vishal Sharma, however, contended this sentiment, claiming that “it is difficult to adjust things that have already been contracted. All money spent on improving halls is a good thing”.
The debate quickly moved onto how the candidates felt they would work with JCRs. Seb D’Agar talked about how the Sutton Bonington Guild worked closely with the JCR there, and added “I would like to make sure that the Exec is there for the JCRs – should they need something, we should be aiming to provide it”. Julia Seal also spoke about the importance of the JCR to first years, saying, “Anyone in Halls knows their JCR. I want to promote a better relationship with the JCRs and the Wardens, to improve student experience”.
The aim of better JCR-Warden relations was expended upon by other candidates, with Thomas talking about his positive experience on a JCR, maintaining “the relationship between the Warden’s Secretary and the JCR is very important, as is retaining the Warden system”. D’Agar spoke of the necessity of getting a newly elected JCR “meeting with the Warden and the tutors in order to open up a dialogue. This is vital in improving relations”. Seal agreed with this, saying that with less Warden-student contact likely due to the new plans to shake up the Warden system, this “makes regular meetings integral”.
The new plans to shake up the Hall Warden system, which has seen all Hall Wardens made redundant and forced to reapply for their jobs, was raised as the principal issue facing the Accommodation and Community Officer. All the candidates praised the work done by Teddy Smith in the role on this issue, particularly his part in the ‘Your Hall, Your Call’ campaign, choosing to focus on the consequences of what has been decided. All of the candidates spoke out about a potential loss of identity in halls, with both Thomas and Sharma talking about an “increased consistency” in the way Halls were managed.
This seeming acceptance of the plan seemed to infuriate some of the JCR Presidents present, with one demanding to know why all of the candidates appeared to endorse the new Hall Warden plan, despite plenty of student opposition to the proposals. Thomas asserted that “The welfare system is incredibly important. The fact that students have not been consulted is an insult”. Seal responded to the question by pointing out that some Halls, such as Raleigh Park, have no support system at all, and that “some student responses [to the plan] have been negative, others have been positive”. Sharma spoke about how his time on the JCR in Cavendish Hall meant that he could “see the positives of the new proposals”, adding that “as long as students are in contact with tutors, then the system can be adapted. The problem comes when students are not consulted”.
D’Agar said that he hoped that “with higher tuition fees, the University will be held more accountable for the service they provide. This plan goes against this” If elected, D’Agar said he would only be able to “see what situation the Union was in, then work out what changes could be made for the better”. Thomas echoed the sentiment that the battle had largely been lost, saying “All I would be able to do is to try and make sure there is at least one Warden to every two Halls”