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Tom Burgess from SCAN interviewed Amy Merchant, the new VP for Welfare.
How have you been over lockdown? Have you learnt any new skills?
For me, in this horrible situation, it’s been nice to slow things down and have some time at home before I started my new job. It definitely slowed the pace because it’s picked right back up again now. Just lots of reading and running and things like that.
Why did you choose to run for this role?
Mainly because it was the role that resonated most with me. I’ve been involved with the LGBTQ+ forum sine the first term that I started university so three years being on and off involved with them. I just enjoyed my work with them and it felt like the work that made an impact for students. I felt like welfare was the most giving in making an impactful difference for student experience.
What are your main aims going into this year?
I had a huge manifesto that covers everything. I wanted to deal with the housing culture panic on campus and that is definitely still something I am going ahead with, the conversations are still being had. My priority now is making sure that student experience is as good as it can be and student welfare provisions are as good as they can be while we’re not on campus. I want to make sure that all students have access to the resources that we would have had in a world before Covid-19- whether that’s mental health services, sexual health services or the advice team.
In your manifesto, you mention changing the time when you have to sign your contract for houses. Do you think that you can still get that changed or with everything going on it might have to wait a little longer?
The situation that we have found ourselves in means that everything is fairly short term. My team have been talking about how we tackle signing contracts and delay the actual signing of them. We are figuring out the logistics of what we can and can’t do and who we can speak to. I’ve just come out of a meeting and someone said how everything we do now seems to be short term because we don’t know where we’ll be in two weeks or four weeks. So, for me right now, it is making sure that my students are okay and they’re getting the resources that they need just to get through these weeks. The housing contracts are still number one top priority and if I can even set the groundwork that would be brilliant.
In your manifesto, you mention ‘Marks out of Tenancy’ as a tool for students. Could you explain what that is?
‘Marks out of Tenancy’ is an online app that you use if you’re looking for a new house. You go to view a property and you can look it up to see what previous students rated the property and any comments. You can see the history of the house. After you leave the property you can leave a review too- it’s basically student consultation at its finest. When I was running in the elections I didn’t even know this existed. I stayed in the same property and never rated my property or anything like that. So, we have all these tools floating about but I want to combine them into one campaign that actually has some impact.
You mentioned your ‘How to Adult at Lancaster’ campaign in your manifesto. How are you going to publicise this? Social media platforms or other officers you’re going to talk to?
At the moment, I’m just waiting to get my hands on my social media accounts which I’m very excited about. It is so important that I have my account and that students engage with it. When I arrived at uni I didn’t know where I was going, let alone how to do certain things or where to go. I didn’t even step into the Student’s Union. To have an online resource that you can look through on your own is much less daunting than having to approach people. I wasn’t confident enough to go and ask people ‘Do you know how to do this or how to do that’. The university staff have taken an interest and are looking to help compile a digital resource of the student experience.
How are you going to try to boost the statistic that you use in your manifesto- that only 27% of students feel like the Students’ Union has benefitted their welfare?
We have got a fabulous team of PTO’s and the whole point of a student’s union is they’re meant to represent you and here we have these PTO’s with a wealth of experience that run some fantastic forums. What I want to do is work closely with them so that we actually have a students’ union that is representing the diversity of the student body we have. I know that I’m supporting Molly’s (the students with disabilities VP) project of creating an accessibility framework that the SU must follow. I have spoken to the library staff recently on how I and the PTO’s can be more involved with the displays in the library in terms of displays for LGBTQ+ and Black History Month.
You mentioned an ‘Out in sport campaign’. Is this going to be something that spreads across all sports societies or is it going to be targeted at specific ones?
‘Out in sport’ was a campaign, years and years ago, teams pledge allyship and then it was quite a digital campaign. This is going to be a very different experience due to Covid-19 as sports have come to a grinding halt. I can’t even meet sports teams at the moment because they’re not practising or training and there was no ‘Roses’. If we have a long term vision I would almost love to do what Molly is doing with the accessibility framework right now. A set of pledges and I would love to see sports teams sign up to those pledges.
With Covid-19 impacting everyone at the moment have you thought of ways in which to help combat the mental strain and uncertainty everyone is feeling?
I know that it is a very uncertain time and one thing that will be very beneficial is communication, constant communication. We are currently in our induction period right now and learning how to communicate with the student body and how to communicate digitally. I know that Shannon, our brilliant VP for societies and media, is working on a little video that introduces our team and what we do to make it more personal because I’d like us to be the team that students feel they can talk to. If they can’t talk to us then who? It’s just really important that we have that consistent communication.
The RON campaigns disqualification has been a very controversial issue. What do you think or feel about this?
The one thing I don’t want our SU to be is controversial or not representative of how our students feel. This issue has stirred up a lot of emotions and upset a lot of people. The one thing I can’t comment on is why it happened. I wish I could but I don’t want to speak about something I don’t know about. It definitely wasn’t a decision by my officer team or the people that I work with.
What are you looking forward to doing when you get back to university?
I’m looking forward to meeting my team in person. Student life in general in whatever form that may be- just to be back in the place that we all want to be. I’m looking forward to actually starting my manifesto, conversations are being had. Once my training is done and I’m much more knowledgeable and wiser I’m looking forward to getting a bit hands-on with my manifesto.
What have you missed about the city of Lancaster?
It’s the student feel. I think Lancaster is a city that feels most alive when the students are there and I miss being amongst that.
Last question, which is better: Sultans or Ketcap?
Sultans, there is no hesitation there. I do love Sultans and I love the staff there, they’re so friendly.
Thank you very much for your time and answering these questions!