FTO interviews: The halfway point

By Declan Murphy

With elections on the horizon I had the chance to sit down with four of the FTOs and ask them a few questions about the year, how they’ve found it, their plans going going forward and the challenges they’ve faced.

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Jack Fossey – Welfare Officer

D: How have you found the role so far?

J: It’s been interesting. It’s been really good. You have your ups and downs like with any job, especially a job like this where anything can change at any minute. With the uncertainty with where we are and moving and stuff it can be a bit of a rollercoaster but definitely more ups than downs.

D: Any big surprises you’ve found?

J: I don’t know actually. I don’t know what I was expecting when I came in so the whole thing, the whole job, has been a bit of a surprise. It has helped having Lloyd as President because obviously he was Welfare Officer last year so he’s managed to help me quite a lot with what I’ve had to do this year.

D: Are you making good progress with your manifesto?

J: Yes. There’s a couple I want to work on more but just haven’t been able to at the moment because of uncertainty with this (the building) and there’s a couple I worked on over the summer that’ve fallen through but generally I have managed to work on quite a few of them so far. When I got the job I found this whole other side to the job and kind of almost made my own little manifesto points afterwards and they’re things that I’ve worked towards as well. So I feel as though the manifesto I’ve written out extends a lot longer.

D: Would you say you’ve run into any roadblocks?

J: I wouldn’t say any complete roadblocks. I’d say we all have our difficulties when we have to deal with certain people or departments. We’re all in the Union and it’s all fine but sometimes we have to involve other people who aren’t quite working the same way it can be a bit difficult sometimes. Well like moving to here – We got here in the end.

D: What would you say is your biggest win to date?

J: It might not sound that big of a win but for me it was setting up the Welfare Committee. When I went to a lot of conferences and stuff over the summer I realised that a lot of universities have their own welfare committee or platform and there wasn’t one here. You’ve got Robyn’s Sport Swansea stuff and Sport’s Exec, Lloyd has got various people he works with like Minkesh and Martin, Robiu has got his reps and Steph, Chris has got Charlotte and his Societies’ Exec, I didn’t really have that close knit group of people so I set up a group with people from the Union, University, ResNet, where we can have this platform to discuss our campaigns that we want to run so we can make them more effective and it also just makes things easier to communicate. So for me that was quite a big win.

D: Is there anything you wish you could do more about?

J: One of the things on the manifesto points was about parking (on Bay) and at the moment – I had a meeting with one of the members of staff from estates the other day which I can’t talk too much about, it was all up in the air, but hopefully there could be something put into place that is going to improve the situation. I heard many people had tried to deal with the parking situation but couldn’t because of the council and the flow of traffic onto Fabian Way. I wanted to help sort that. That’s pretty much the main one. It may be slow but that’s one thing I’ve learnt in this job, is that you can make a lot of change.

D: What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

J: I’m interested in our elections because it’s interesting seeing if we’re going to run, who else is going to run, and seeing what kind of shape the Union is going to take. We’re only here for a year or two at most so it’s quite interesting and exciting seeing what campaigns people are going to run, what issues people are going to raise. So that’s probably the next thing I’m looking forward to in the year.

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Robyn Lock – Sports Officer

D: How have you found the role so far?

R: Really rewarding. You get in the role ready to hit the ground running but it’s a really steep learning curve at the start because there’s lots of hoops to jump through to get a manifesto point done. It’s been a learning curve but I’ve really enjoyed it.

D: Have you found any big surprises in the role so far?

R: The only big surprise to me was seeing how the structure of the University works. As a student you don’t see that at all. Initially you may think that the person you need to speak to is this person when in fact it’s this person below four other people. So that’s the only thing that really surprised me, how big the institution is and how many people here are trying to get things done for students. It’s a blessing at the same time because students don’t see it, you sort of assume things are an easy fix but they’re not. So that’s a thing that surprised me, how many people are invested in, as an example, sport.

D: Do you think you’re making good progress on your manifesto points?

R: Yeah. So far we’ve set up the intramural league for netball. We’ve looked at more in house sponsorship for the intramural football. So the intramural one is coming along slowly and we’re just trying to help out. Looking at corporate sponsors to sponsor sports in total. We’ve looked at the actual cost of each sports team in each year and we’ve looked at facility fees and we’ve looked at competition fees and so we’re slowly bringing together a marketing package for external companies to come in and sponsor us. So that’s something that’s now in progress with the University.

I like to think that Wednesday nights are going really well. We’ve not really done too much on the theme of GWA at the moment. In terms of turnout and people enjoying their sports after party, they’re enjoying that. If I’m honest I’ve not done enough in terms of publicity in sports. So working with the media and working with you guys (SSM) that’s been a bit slack so I’m hoping to work on that after Christmas.

The strength and conditioning centre has been opened. That was something that was in the pipeline already but it’s just nice that it’s coming into play in my year so I can let teams know it’s there for them to use.

I feel like I’ve been supporting any queries anyone has had; I feel like I have been a friendly face people can go to. I’m sure people want to say otherwise about that but I feel like I have been there to support people whether that’s finance or development of their club. I’ve been trying my best to sort of spread myself with everyone.

D: Are there any roadblocks that you’ve ran into?

R: I feel like the move to DigiTech slowed things down quite a bit as the move was at the front of everyone’s mind. So you settle in the role and then you move. People are working on getting their space back rather than cracking on with things you want to try and get on with. Not that I’m passing the blame onto anyone at all, just at times things haven’t been great.

In terms of roadblocks it’s just the time things take to be concreted in and set in stone, that’s the only roadblock – I like to work quite quick whereas processes take longer than I thought they would. That’s really the only roadblock but we’re slowly trying to sort that one out.

D: How have you been with Sport’s transition to Bay?

R: Not happy at all really. I think there’s not really a massive presence of sport at Bay. We’ve got the outdoor volleyball courts that our volleyball teams do use but it’s difficult at bay because we have the MUGA pitches with five-a-side going on there. Intramural netball has moved over to Bay; I know the archers use the bay hall quite a lot.

If you think about a Wednesday, the atmosphere you have here with people walking around in their sports kit, this campus is really busy as this is where the buses go from on a Wednesday, this is where the sports village is based. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to replicate that at Bay. In terms of improvement it’s definitely happened because we’ve got more sports happening at Bay and more teams using the facilities there. I think the big one for me is the transport between Bay and Campus. That’s the thing that is a massive barrier to teams going “We’ve got training on Bay tonight” and them going “Where are we going to park? How are we going to get there? How much is it going to cost? Should we get a bus?” There’s that, whereas a lot of people are based in the center of town and can walk to town and if they’re training at the Sports Village there’s parking permits they can apply for.

There’s a little bit of a barrier, and that’s honestly the only barrier I see with sports at Bay. That and maybe the gym is small so in terms of participation in physical activity, not just in taking part in a sport. Just living a healthy lifestyle, that’s not easy when you have a gym that can have seven people in at once. That’s something both the University and the Union know isn’t good enough but it wasn’t a priority when Bay was being built and now it has become a priority so there’s plans to talk about how we can make sports at Bay better. There’s lots of head honchos talking about that one along with myself but we are slowly getting there I think.

D: What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

R: Varsity. I’m looking forward to Varsity in Cardiff. It was so good here last year I think Cardiff have got a lot to live up to. When it comes to us, there’s less students but there’s quite a festival feel. Cardiff know that and Cardiff are under quite a bit of pressure to replicate that sort of feel that we get when it comes to Swansea. I think the weather helped last year as well.

I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running again. BUCS is going to start up again. People have had time off for Christmas, exams are out of the way, people can focus back on their sports. I’m looking forward to helping teams develop more so that strategically they’re ready for the following year. That’s one thing I really want to do, it’s not on my manifesto but I think I really do need to make sure every single team and every handover to new committees is spot on. Otherwise there’s a lack of communication throughout the year, the handoff isn’t smooth and teams go back to square one at the start of each academic year. What I want to do is have teams go “Rob has given us a really good hand over to our new committee” and they know exactly what they need to go and continue with the upward trend of their club. And then in terms of working through my manifesto and when I leave this role people go “There was change that happened in that year and it’s made sports better”. We will see that through BUCS fixtures and the way teams are performing. But I want people to go in five years’ time “Oh that’s so good that that’s happened in particular” and someone can go “Yeah that happened in 2017 and that’s really helped everyone out”. So yeah, I’m just looking forward to getting my teeth stuck in again.

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Chris Wilson – Societies and Services Officer

D: How have you found the role so far?

C: Intense I think. We started at the end of June and it’s really intense early on. You go through your training so quickly and you have to jump on the job because if you don’t get things done over the summer then as soon as students arrive in September you’ll never be able to get all of your manifesto points done. So from June till September we were working really hard and implementing all the changes you’re wanting to see for the students for September.

So, for instance, things like reducing the cost of travel was something I was really working hard to do over the Summer and getting the new bookable space in the Digital Technium was another thing that was intensive over summer. It was a really busy period.

Then when September came it became even crazier because all of a sudden you have hundreds of students coming in the door with so many questions to ask, Freshers’ Fayre, societies training and things like that; it just suddenly becomes very intense. There’s also council meetings with the University. Stressful I guess is one of the main things but enjoyable most of the time. It’s very fun but very consuming, it takes a lot of attention, it takes a lot of your time but still enjoyable.

D: Are there any big surprises you’ve found since you’ve come into the role?

C: I don’t think I expected it to be this exhausting but also having this much fun. I never thought that the job would be something you could be this passionate about and enjoy to this extent. From the last three years before this being a student and the things I’m tackling now that when I was a student I wished had happened or changed. It’s really fulfilling in that respect. I was surprised I guess by how much change you can make and how fulfilling it can be and enjoy it.

D: Are you making good progress with your manifesto points?

C: Yeah. Like I said, Summer is the most productive time for doing your manifesto because there aren’t students coming through the door asking you as many questions compared to September and term-time. I did probably two thirds of my manifesto all over summer and I’m still chipping away at bits of it. There are things that are slightly eluding my grasp, like the healthy food we’ve had many different ways to tackle it and most of them haven’t come through yet. Our most recent endeavour is in the pipeline and hopefully we’ll have some clarification on that very soon but it’s looking like by the end of the year that I’d be able to tick that off.

D: Would you say you’ve ran into many roadblocks?

C: There are things that are more difficult than others. I was really surprised about getting the bookable space as space is one of the things that the entire University is fighting over. That was a bit of a roadblock I was expecting but managed to get through. The healthy food is being a bit of a roadblock again as we don’t have access to our own kitchens and things like that so we can’t just produce our own healthy food, there are so many things you have to work around but that one is moving slowly. Another thing that myself, Robyn and Lloyd were looking to do was make the gym twenty-four hours but that hasn’t been possible. We did manage to extend the opening times, at least I think they’re going to be extended. So we’ve managed to make some leeway on that but not managed to provide the whole thing, but you know, progress at least.

D: How happy have you been with Societies’ transition to Bay?

C: It is really difficult. One of the most difficult things about it is changing perspective. Obviously last year, and I can own up to this being a student interacting with Bay, I was incredibly negative about everything. You have to tend to put five times the amount of effort into Bay campus and get about half the reward. But we have made progress this year and things are better. It’s promoting the fact that things are better and also continuing to improve it. The amount of bookings we have now on Bay campus has increased massively. We had a Fayre on Bay campus which I know wasn’t as clean running as it could have been but still better than not having one. We had so much interaction with it, we had more than two-thousand students come through the door within an hour and a half, things like that are fantastic, things like room bookings going up is fantastic, there is still improvements to be made and I think a lot of that is to do with the fact that we’ve struggled to get a permanent Union presence over there. We aren’t staffed heavily enough to just duplicate everything that we have here and put it on Bay and that’s something that we’re still trying to overcome but we are growing. Hopefully little things like being able to have enough society representation that we can put on Bay campus and being able to answer questions about societies is the next step to increasing how we function over there.

D: What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

Hopefully a kinder year than 2016. That’s not from a personal perspective, I’ve just seen 2016 from the amount of horrible celebrity deaths it has been very brutal this year. In terms of myself 2016 has been a very successful year, I graduated and got a proper job, at least more proper than any job I’ve had before.

Things I’m looking for from 2017 would be an idea of what I’m going to do next. Whether I’m going to be rerunning or whether I’m going to be moving on or going back to get a Masters or something like that. From 2017 I’d like to complete all my manifesto points and have it all ticked off in green would be wonderful. I guess the main thing is having a solid idea what I’m doing next and being able to start working towards that. If it is that I’m going to do Masters, then I really need to be applying as soon as possible.

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Robiu Salisu – Education officer

D: How have you found the role so far?

R: I think this year is about getting the final tweaks to the improvements made from last year basically. That’s how I’ve seen my day-to-day part of the job. Last year we introduced a new zone for the student representation system called Education Zone that got us the Students’ Opportunities Award in the NUS Wales. This year was to make sure that any missing element was covered, for example Post-Graduate research student representation and how we can further enhance that. We put a paper together for the Learning and Teaching Committee that has now been accepted. So that was really important, that we looked at an aspect that was missing within the Student Rep system.

In terms of how the role is going, I’m really enjoying it. We’ve moved into a new space that means it’s easier for students to come in and see us. In terms of my manifesto that I promised as well, I think it’s really important to remember that actually I was – not to big myself up but – I was the only officer to complete all my manifesto points and I’m halfway through completing my manifesto points for this year, I’ve done five already. It’s really important because that’s one thing that we promised students when we’re being elected and we should be held to account to them.

D: Are there any big surprises that you’ve found this year?

R: There is a big surprise that’ll be coming next academic year and students are not going to believe that it has actually happened. I might have dropped it when I was in the Waterfront (Office) the other day but I can’t really say too much because we’re literally on the final step of it happening, if that makes sense. It is to do with printing and I think you can guess what that might mean. That’s something I never thought would happen, at least not in my year because I had all the resources ready but I never thought we’d get it finalised but it’s looking that by January it’s going to all be finalised and it’s going to be great news for students really. A win for my manifesto point that I never thought – that was the hardest one.

D: Are you making good progress on your manifesto?

R: So the free bus pass scheme for Joint Honours students was continued this year although it was something I had to push for at the beginning of the year because last year I got the University to commit to providing free bus passes or bikes to students travelling between both campuses for their studies. They in fact said at the start of the year that they only committed for one year so I had to kind of push that so they’d manage to do the same thing again this year.

Working closely with ICWS students, that’s something we’ve done with our review of the Student Rep system and so we have ICWS students coming to our Student Rep training day as a means of integrating them into the system.

Arranging weekly drop in sessions on Bay and Singleton Campus. Every Monday (on Singleton) I have a drop in session for students or student reps to come in between 1PM and 3PM and a dedicated time on Friday as well for Bay campus students.

Introduce locker space in the Students’ Union building on Bay Campus. That’s been done. We’ve got new lockers that’ve been installed on the Bay Campus Students’ Union building as promised. Only thing we’re waiting for is if we’re going to have keys or coded locks on them.

In terms of diversifying the curriculum, this is ongoing work with part of the University a project group called Go Beyond by looking at the curriculum and how it can best reflect the student body and modern day times as well. They’re calling it Curriculum 2020.

And other things like I mentioned. One thing I never thought would happen is the free printing for all Post-Graduate students and subsidy for Undergraduate students’ dissertation printing. Safe to say that by January we’re going to have a big update on that. And then raising awareness and campaigning on educational issues for students. I’ve been doing that – recently did a workshop looking at Islamophobia on campus and what that means for our Muslim students. I’m looking to do some more workshops around the changes in higher education and fees going up, I’ve already put a blog out to students to sort of explain what that means in Wales. I have ten manifesto points and I’d really urge everyone to look at them and make sure you scrutinise them as well, with elections coming up it’s going to be interesting to see my successor.

D: Have you run into any roadblocks?

R: Not really. It’s a weird thing to say that I haven’t because the roadblocks that I’ve come across – being in the role for one year – I know how to go around them. For example, I had the roadblock of putting a microwave in the library in Bay Campus but I was able to go around that by putting it in our Students’ Union building. There’s always a way of delivering something on this big vast place we call the University, if there’s one department that’s not willing to work with you there’s another willing to do something and help you achieve what you want to achieve. I think a roadblock is what happened but it’s also about knowing how to overcome them and how to go around them basically. After being in this role for a year I think I’ve gotten used to going around them.

D: What are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?

R: Study Aid, where we give away free tea and hot chocolate in the library. We’re bringing the dogs back so that’s going to be another shout out to the students. We couldn’t not bring them back.

The big manifesto win in January will hopefully go really well. February looking forward to the election hype because this year I’m not running. It’ll be interesting to see which students will be putting themselves forward. I urge any student that is thinking of doing so to come speak to me or any of the other officers or members of staff in the Students’ Union. I really want as many students pushing themselves for these roles really because it’s really important.

In the Summer term I’m looking forward to our first annual course rep conference and get all our subject reps and college reps together in one room and celebrate the wins and successes we’ve had.

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