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Impact speaks to Joe Caunce, SU Activities Officer: “There are days where you get a bit annoyed, but it’s hard not to love the job”

Impact spoke to Joe Caunce, 2014/15 SU Activities Officer, about his time in office and what he has enjoyed most throughout the year. He told us that he has regrets but is happy with what he has managed to achieve, specifically his big dreams for the Portland building and securing funding for the Karnival director.

Some aspects of the job have been harder than others. I wasn’t aware of a lot of the wider political responsibility, and I found myself becoming rather operational instead of representational

Have you enjoyed your time as Activities Officer?

I’ve enjoyed it. In any new job, it takes you some time to find your feet. There have been a lot of things you inherit that you don’t know about when you run for the position. Some aspects of the job have been harder than others. I wasn’t aware of a lot of the wider political responsibility, and I found myself becoming rather operational instead of representational. In the last three months I feel like I’ve fully reached fifth gear.

What would you say has been your biggest success?

In the seven months I’ve been working, I think pushing through the grant for the Karni director to make it a non-elitist position has been a success. There have been other successes, such as getting LBSS just under £1000 by lobbying on their behalf for a room they needed.

Fully understanding my role was difficult at the start

What has been the biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge has been readjusting from thinking it was a staff role, managing societies and student run services (SRSs) to actually being a political representative. Fully understanding my role was difficult at the start.

Do you think the job title needs to be better explained for people running for the position?

Not necessarily the job title but the whole team objectives need to be. There needs to be more work in making the role more transparent. We need to clarify the actual requirements of the job, but we’ve got some strong candidates for next year’s Activities Officer.

The Freshers Fair credit that was a point on my manifesto is in touching distance

One of your manifesto points was to get Freshers Fair credit for all students – has this happened?

It’s in touching distance. I’ve spoken to the student living department and we have made the proposal more watertight – we’ll have an online code, with £5 for each student that they will have a month to spend. There will be basic requirements for societies to sign up for this scheme – they will have to put on a certain number of hall events. I’ve found that 91% of students think it’s a good idea but we might need to tighten up the commitment so students will continue with their membership. Hopefully it will start in off-campus halls in September.

There will soon be a new app for finance, so treasurers can see society finances on your smartphone

Explain your goal to make the treasury system more efficient.

The old system for society presidents and treasurers was useless. Fortunately that was changed and fixed a month before I started but I have readjusted it, so I’m going to hold workshops for people to bring any recurring issues for support. There will also be a new app for finance, so you can see it on your smartphone.

What about your idea to link societies and networks to maximise participation?

This is an online forum – it’s being designed in April. It’s like Moodle for societies, we are going to revise the SU societies page and it should be useable for the new committees in May.

I was in Karnival but the person who benefitted from the director grant, I didn’t know. The issue was probably helped by the fact that I was in Karnival

Throughout the year, you’ve worked on other things, such as getting funding for the Karnival director. You held a position within Karnival before you became Activities Officer, do you think that influenced your decision to get involved?

Not particularly. The person who has been the benefactor of the grant, I didn’t know. It has been in the pipeline for three years, before I started at Karnival. The reason I followed this up was because the 2013/14 Director did not receive funding he was promised, it was a no-brainer – it makes Karni inclusive, one of the SU values. It was probably helped by the fact that I was in Karnival, but that’s why you run in an election, because you come from somewhere where you’ve seen the issues.

You don’t achieve a manifesto point in a day – your promises mean significant change

Would you say that it has been hard to stick to your manifesto as things arise during the year?

You don’t achieve a manifesto point in a day – your promises mean significant change. You need to keep an eye on your manifesto points, check them once a week to see if they are progressing. Isolated events like Week One chanting don’t really knock back manifesto points, but lack of knowledge does hold you up.

My manifesto was realistic – I think there was one point where I promised to feed the 5000 though

Do you think your manifesto was realistic?

Yes I do. I think there was one point where I promised to feed the 5000, which was closer society and department relations. Some societies are really close to their departments, and I thought I could solve this problem – realistically it’s not going to happen. We’ve done research, we need to install more contacts to improve liaison. It’s a long-term plan.

We have found that one-third of our students are teetotal, so we need to improve Week One events that don’t have a culture of drinking

Do you think improvements to Week One are going to happen – is this is a priority for next year’s Exec?

We have a brand new Welcome programme, and that gives you the freedom to use parts of the week that work. We have found that one-third of our students are teetotal, so we need to improve events that don’t have a culture of drinking. The finale party we know doesn’t work well. With the new programme we can have building blocks to take what we know and create a better Week One. I am very confident that it will be a much better model and cater for a lot more of our students.

The Portland building just doesn’t work, in any way, shape of form. We want the new building to be a breath of fresh air

What will be the benefits of the Portland Building overhaul?

The building just doesn’t work, in any way, shape of form, especially compared to Leeds, Sheffield, Loughborough students’ unions. Why have we got multi-award winning SRSs hidden behind closed doors? Lets get glass windows and showcase everything. We’re going to dream as big as possible – we want the space to be flexible, functional and sociable. We want to be a forward thinking union. Portland will be a breath of fresh air.

Are you sad to be leaving your position?

There are days where you get a bit annoyed, but it’s hard not to love the job. Every day is different, you do so many different things. It’s an amazing opportunity, at this age, to be able to have your ideas listened to and implemented.

I’ve got regrets. I think the way the job works is that it takes you four months to grow into it

Do you have any regrets – is there anything you could have done differently?

I’ve got regrets. I think the way the job works is that it takes you four months to grow into it. I think I would like to have provided greater support for the SRSs in Week One – it’s hectic, the SRSs are left to their own devices and I could have helped them better at the start.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got one year left of my History degree. I’m going to commute from where I live in St Albans, do one or two days here in Nottingham. I see myself as graduating this year, this is my fourth year in Nottingham, and I’m looking forward to leaving it. It’s time for me to move on.

Beth Rowland

Image: Andreas Billman for Impact Images

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