On Monday 9th November, we reached a big milestone: 100 days since the beginning of the academic year! And 100 days in our full-time sabbatical roles at the Union. With so much to do, we're constantly in running mode so we thought we'd put the brakes on just for a second to reflect on the first 100 days. Each of the five of us (your four Deputy Presidents, and your Union President) have written about each of our experiences of the first 100 days in office.
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COVID-19 has made our jobs more challenging, but it also highlighted their importance.
It seems unbelievable that we have been in our roles for 100 days already – that’s almost a third of the whole year! How time flies when you’re having fun…
When running for our roles I don’t think any of us expected the circumstances would be so different this year; COVID-19 has made our jobs more challenging, but it also highlighted their importance. With so many changes happening and the College having to adapt to evolving regulations constantly, student representation is more important than ever before. It’s been exciting to be included in various College meetings, contributing to decisions that are made, and seeing how quickly the College can respond to certain challenges when it’s really needed.
I have started my term by working on the NSS response, coordinating the work we did here in the Union and helping reps with their individual departmental reports. The reports are done, but the work is far from finished – we now have the rest of the year to work on implementing what has been promised. I have been supporting Faculty Reps and Dep Reps in their roles, having one to one meetings with them and delivering their training session in September. I have been working on various pieces of work with the College, like updated SSC guidelines or a new Digital Education Recording Policy.
The first 100 days in my role have also been marked by realisation that I can’t do everything I intended to achieve. I think this is a phase every sabbatical officer goes through, once they realise how much day-to-day work they have to do and how little time is left for their major goals. But all of the work we do matters, and there are still 260 days to go – hopefully I’ll be able to make progress on a lot of other exciting things!
I have such a wonderful team of dedicated volunteer student officers working with me
I'm really not sure what's happening with the time anymore! It's my second year doing this so it would be misleading to say these have been the first 100 days - but with a new officer team, new managing director and massive shifts in the staff team since August, it's certainly felt like a new start.
Perhaps the weirdest thing about the last 3 months is how similar it's felt to this time last year. i've been working on a lot of the same start-of-year things: Welcome, elections, rep training, Liberation & Community network support, and the first wave of College committee meetings mainly. Of course, all of these have looked very different but we're adapting and I've been so happy to see a lot of these carry on despite the circumstances.
The difficult thing has been doing all of the 'normal' stuff, and then also responding to COVID alongside that. The meetings are quite relentless with the College and I've found myself the 'go-to student' for so many COVID response things by College staff - most not really welfare related at all. It's flattering, and tiring... But I'm really glad that I'm able to have the genuine input and influence over decisions made. I've also found myself dealing with way more individual student matters this year which, despite perceptions about the DP Welfare role, is not what it's usually about!
I got a massive motivation boost in September when we started partially in-office working again. The difference it makes both for my own wellbeing but also to work output is immense - and I'm looking forward to getting back in! That notwithstanding, I feel behind. Chronically behind. And I feel especially bad about this given I have such a wonderful team of dedicated volunteer student officers working with me who I know I'm neglecting and this gives me a massive, ever expanding knot in my stomach.
That being said, despite the whole pandemic, things just feel better this year. The Union is on an upwards trajectory - we're slowly sorting our s**t out, and I'm loving that.
I feel proud of how much activity we've enabled to happen safely, and how brilliantly CSPs have adapted
This isn't the year any Deputy President (Clubs & Societies) would have hoped for. COVID restrictions have meant a lot of my manifesto goals have fallen to the wayside for now. It's been difficult to have to be the one telling students that they have to cancel their CSP activities - especially in a time like this where people are feeling isolated and CSPs are fantastic places to find like-minded students and build communities.
That being said, I feel proud of how much activity we've enabled to happen safely, and how brilliantly CSPs have adapted. Up until lockdown 2 shut everything down again, we had launched Imperial Leagues and were enabling hundreds of students to do in-person activity when this just hasn't happened in so many other universities. Those CSPs that could not do their in-person activity have adapted and it’s been amazing to help CSPs collaborate and share their new online activites.
Looking back to the start of term, it was great to be part of the team bringing you the Virtual Welcome Fair! Although there are parts we want to improve for a Welcome Back Fair, thousands of you signed in and started connecting with each other. We had more sign-ups and visits than any in-person Fair in recent memory and we'll undoubtedly incorporate some elements of an online Fair alongside an in-person one in the future.
With lockdown grinding activity to a halt, I've been able to start thinking of the future instead of just the present. Projects around CSP storage, space usage, inclusivity, accessibility, and improving processes are ongoing, and I'm looking forward to working with students to improve all of these!
All-in-all, I'm sure there are more challenges to come and we'll have to respond to continually changing guidance that shapes what we're able to do for the rest of the year. But I'm confident I'll be able to leave by the end of the year not just as the 'COVID DCPS', but as one who also made long-lasting changes that students will be able to enjoy when things get back to normal!
You put all this work into trying to allow as many CSPs to be able to do as much activity in-person as possible... then the government goes and changes the guidance again
The last 100 days of my role have been particularly challenging, from both a work perspective but also from an emotional perspective. I spent my first month working with the Senior Leadership team on reacting to the financial challenges that COVID-19 had posed to the organisation, as well as working alongside Ross in developing a fair COVID adjustment to CSP grant allocation.
The rest of my pre-October work was focused on working alongside Ross and our Student Opportunities & Development team in trying to allow as much CSP activity to happen as possible, you can understand how difficult this was given the ever-changing guidance the government were issuing and it was quite draining emotionally. You put all this work into trying to allow as many CSPs to be able to do as much activity in-person as possible and you finally think you’ve got the best answer, and then the government goes and changes the guidance again meaning we have to go back to the drawing board and start again.
I focused some of my time on developing an app for CSPs to submit Risk Assessments for their activities and for Union staff to approve – given how under the spotlight we were going to be to ensure minimal COVID transmission we had to make sure that activities were as safe as possible for everyone involved. I have worked closely with our staff to ensure 568 was open and operating safely, so you have a place to socialise and have fun; sadly, we have now had to close due to the current lockdown but we are already working to make sure we can open safely whenever the guidance allows us to. The rest of my time has been more strategic focused: planning process improvements for CSPs; writing finance policies; leading on the Union Concert Hall Redevelopment Project; implementing a student-staff discount policy.
There is still so much left to do this year and a lot of my time so far has been taken up with putting out fires (mainly due to COVID), but there are many changes I want to make this year and I have already planned these objectives so keep an eye out for more updates on long-term changes I will be making this year!
All things considered... I'm optimistic about the future
This is my second term as President, but this really is a year like no other. We’ve been working almost non-stop since March, due to the crisis. From never-ending Teams calls with College staff, to supporting individual students, to adapting our services to respond to ever-changing government guidance, we’ve had our work cut out for us. The last 100 days have been marked by a lot of ‘hurry and wait’: periods of relative quiet punctuated by episodes of immense stress and pressure.
Recently, on top of regular College meetings, I’ve been supporting Michaela in work to improve student satisfaction, representing student views on graduation, and continuing the work we started last year on cleaning up the College’s investments. I’ve also been working to support the other officers, mainly by helping ensure we each have a sensible set of written objectives for the year.
Speaking personally, there have definitely been ups and downs. This isn’t the year anyone would have wished for, and there have certainly been times where I’ve felt quite hopeless and demotivated. When I get a chance to stop and take a breath, I tend to feel more positive; all things considered, the challenges we’re facing aren’t insurmountable, and I’m optimistic about the future.
Although it’s not been perfect, I’m quite pleased with how the Union has responded to the crisis. We’ve been able to work constructively with the College, but also challenge their decisions where necessary. We’ve also been able to make real progress at getting our house in order, in spite of adverse external circumstances.
Now that we’re on slightly more even ground, I’m looking forward to making further changes within the Union, primarily considering our democratic and support staff structures, while also working to expand the control students have over university decisions. My hope is that by the end of the year, the Union and the university are better able to serve students than they could when I started. With this team, in spite of the pandemic, I sincerely believe that this is possible.