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Ollie Martin on Freshers’ week, parties, and the climate

“£3 t-shirts is not sustainable... It’s bullshit to declare a climate emergency and then not lead by example”

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Image Credit: YUSU

What have you been up to so far over summer?

The first month was a lot of training and development sort of stuff, working the rough edges of our manifestos, and starting to work together as a team. Which is quite strange at first because you run as an individual and you only interact with the others a bit, and then on the night you’re told you’re now in this together. It took us four to six weeks to start to gel a little bit which was an interesting period, and it’s totally different to any job I’ve had before. YUSU have been really supportive - the staff really did care about our ideas and stuff which was nice. After this we could start to get stuff done; the first thing I got done was talking to York Parties about getting things back together again, because things got a bit loose and people got complacent about things, so I’m really pleased that it’s all sorted.

Freshers’ is obviously an opportunity to show off all things society related. What has been your plan over the past week?

Trying to make the colleges feel a bit more thanked, so we did a social with them just before Freshers’ Week began and that was a real nice start, because I think they do often feel like they’re on their own and not particularly appreciated for what they are doing. They’re doing such hard work and it can feel like it goes unnoticed so I’m trying to tackle that, because what the colleges contribute to Freshers’ Week is just enormous in value - so much effort goes into it and I want to make sure it’s recognised and make the Uni appreciate it too: everything from STYCs to the college presidents themselves.

Your predecessor spent much of the past year with changes and revisions to the media charter being a priority. Do you feel further changes are warranted?

Full disclosure, before I came into the role I’d only ever been a consumer of student media. I think this may have been a good thing because I came in with a completely objective, fresh look - I’m still learning. We have some of the best student media in the country, and it’s important we protect that: one of the things I want us to look at is how we mythbust around the media charter because from what I’ve seen and it’s my opinion, that YUSU does try to give student media as much freedom as possible. Generally where all the censorship comes in is when it becomes a legal thing, it’s something I’m going to look at, but I think it’s a thing of transparency. I think sometimes people forget how much support YUSU give to student media; we have media law advice on hand for our student groups, and a hell of a lot of staff time goes into supporting it.

Storage space was a huge priority in your manifesto. Have you made any progress on that over summer?

It’s a wicked problem; it’s a big one. One of the first things we did was look at the storage space we had and how we can more effectively use it. The storage situation for sport is much simpler, as it’s mostly in one place, either being in the sports centre, or the pavillion - we’re trying to be more dynamic with it and trying to keep on top of it. We need to keep reviewing it year on year, and not let it slip, which I think is what has happened now. With other student groups, it has been tricky to get my head around becasue there’s no central information source, and trying to get up to speed on that has been a bigger job than I had hoped it to be. We are making some progress at the moment but the problem is that there is just not enough space on campus - space is premium and everyone’s fighting for it. We may have a solution soon though: some containers that YUSU have now can be relocated and reallocated for repurposing. It’s a start, definitely, but we know that they’re less than ideal, because they’re leaky and cold. In the longterm I think we have to make sure the buildings on campus are fit for purpose. We’ll get there.

The previous sabb team did a skydive to raise money for RAG. Has the current sabb team got anything like that planned?

As sabbs we haven’t spoken about doing anything as a group for RAG week, but at this point I don’t think it’s likely because I worry about the idea of us pretending to be celebrities. If students want us to do a skydive we’ll do one, but right now it’s not my priority; all I want to do is deliver a really good quality week, and rather than doing 30 small events that are okay, I’d like to do five or six events that will be really popular, and that people will really enjoy. Seeing what other universities do for RAG I think we’re falling a bit behind, we’re doing well but I think there’s a lot more potential on campus to push RAG, and make more progress with it.

We want to ask you about Viking Raid. With YUSU’s newfound commitment to environmental sustainability, is the distribution of thousands of free low quality tshirts a wise move?

It’s a really strong point, and something we do seriously need to look at. In my manifesto, you’ll see there’s not a lot of environmental stuff on there, which is something I feel quite bad about. We have gone down a list of things York do really badly that we want to improve. £3 T-shirts are not sustainable; I want YUSU to lead by example and I think that means we’re going to have to have some difficult conversations about how we operate. It’s not only t-shirts - we handed out 4 500 tote bags full of paper and freebies. It’s terrible because you can see that if a student union struggles to slow down on that sort of stuff, you can see how the big corporations have a problem with it. Because we have such great Environmental Officers to do proper campaigning, it means we have time to look at the smaller, more operational stuff, so something that I want to look at is how we can make every event that we run, I want an obligatory part of that organisation to have environmental considerations within it.

How are you going to be reducing paper waste on campus?

Apply context to leafleting; if you’re expecting 50 members this year you don’t need 1,000 leaflets, they don’t need to be on gloss - gloss paper looks fantastic, but it takes five times longer to biodegrade.

What is the plan going forward to make sure this year’s summer ball isn’t as disastrous as last year’s?

So coats thing was remarkable: a perfect storm of clusterfuck. I think obviously think the cloakroom will be run differently this year, but I think summer ball in general will too. It’s such a shame that so much hard work went into it from staff and students and just that one thing completely ruined the night. I don’t think it’s something we turn our backs on - we need to realise where we messed up and work out how to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

*Interviewed by Jonathan Wellington *

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