Life in Lockdown: Awards as a positive end to the year

Nouse talks to YUSU president Samara Jones and presenters Alex and Naomi about the upcoming YUSU Awards Season

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'Life in Lockdown' is an interview series focusing on people, organisations or student societies who are adapting to isolation in interesting and innovative ways. If you’d like to talk about your experiences in lockdown or share how your student group has adjusted during the pandemic, email; we’d love to hear from you.

This week Nouse took a focus on the upcoming YUSU awards season speaking to YUSU President Samara Jones and presenting duo Alex West and Naomi Gildert.

Starting the conversation with Samara, reflecting on how being a sabb has changed through lockdown the YUSU president tells us that “there’s some nice things in a way, because there's no commute into work and although I do actually miss having to get up at this point, if I’ve got a 9am meeting I can pretty much roll out of bed, throw on some clothes and I’m already there. You don’t have to factor in getting to work so it’s kind of simpler in a way. Getting between meetings is also simpler especially if I’ve got one right after another it means you can get there by clicking three buttons instead of turning up out of breath.”

In terms of her day to day activity, Samara tells us that she’s “spending an awful amount of time on Zoom” adding that “yesterday I barely left my computer which is quite draining but I think actually people are a lot more efficient in meetings on Zoom. People mute themselves if they’re not talking, they tend to be running a bit more orderly with far fewer tangents.” The usual aspects of day-to-day life are what many are missing right now. The hurried crumpet on the way to the library, the RKC Costa around lunchtime, the list goes on. When asked what she’s missing, Samara says “it's just that normal social interaction in the office (Did everyone get that spam email for fancy headphones?) It’s that interaction with the rest of the team, you can’t just go and find someone - it’s the lack of that casual social interaction which I’m finding, not harder, but you miss doing it in that simple way.” Despite this, Samara adds that she’s “almost seeing sabbs more than before because we have three time weekly meetings where we’re all in the meeting at the same time which is rare because we used to play sabb bingo: how many sabbs we can get in the office and it’s very rarely all of us.”

The last couple of weeks have also seen Samara and the YUSU team complete a big manifesto aim in the establishment of the Covid-19 Forum. The forum has seen some success in its first week with Samara telling us she was “shocked that within the first 24 hours of it going live we’d had 15 submissions and only five of those were pre-prepared, just because no one wants to be the first to submit something. There’s been some really interesting questions and it’s reinforced some stuff which we thought was a big issue but now we’ve got a bit more backing from students to take to the University. With the dissertation printing that was a simple question but students can still get theirs printed and that’s now clearer as an effect of the forum.”

Conversation then moved onto the upcoming YUSU Awards Season, which will go ahead to the usual schedule, but entirely online. Samara focuses on the positives telling us that “for the first time ever we don’t have a capacity on how many people can attend,” adding that she thinks that “particularly for Maddi and the Colours Ball, this is a really nice thing because they’re always so limited for space. The awards commence tomorrow (Thursday 28th) at 7pm with the Excellence Awards and then continue every Thursday with the Love York Awards on Thursday 4th, Societies awards Thursday 11th and the Student Media Awards on Thursday 18th June. The Colours Ball, which is run by York Sport Union, will take place on Sunday 7th June and a full rundown of its shortlist can be found HERE.

“They’ll all be livestreamed on our Facebook page starting at 7pm. It’s been the normal process for nominations, shortlisting and judging, except we’re not all sat around a table. We’ve done it via Zoom meetings which although it means it’s easier to control the talking, it’s not as easy to share ideas as quickly on some of it.

“Keep an eye out on the YUSU Facebook where there’ll be some events that you can click going on. Hopefully they’ll be bigger and better than ever before.”

In terms of the logistics of the events and what we can expect to be tuning in to watch, Samara explains that it’s all going to be pre-recorded; “we threw around the idea of doing it live but the technicalities were going to be very difficult, so they’ll be live streams meaning you can’t skip ahead so we’re giving it as much of a live feel as it can.”

This pre-recorded element has brought with it various challenges, the main one being that those giving speeches in the evening and those shortlisted have had to pre-record everything, even before people know if they’ve actually won or not. Samara sympathises with this inevitably awkward process saying that when she was recording her speeches, “the number of takes I did because I didn’t say that word quite right or went slightly off what I wanted to say was huge. Normally when you’re doing it live you speak through it and no one really notices, but when you’re recording and listening to it back working out what to say on a short and strict time limit it’s really difficult, and I guess particularly for the shortlisted nominees they’re not sure if they’ve got it or not on top of that, but it’s nice to remember that actually just being shortlisted is a really really good achievement. Sitting in the Love York shortlisting we’d scheduled two hours and we had to find extra time to decide on three of the categories beyond that because we just didn’t have time to go through everything. I was on the judging panel for Love York Awards and it was really difficult. There were a few where I just couldn’t pick between them, and we’re reading them and we’re saying they’re too good to pick between.

“Everyone who’s been shortlisted should be so proud of that - there were so many other people nominated that we haven’t been able to celebrate but if you submitted a nomination for someone who wasn’t shortlisted and you know they deserve it then just tell them and let them know how great you think they were. We had over 200 nominations and you can’t recognise everyone, but everyone does deserve it.

“There were pages and pages of nominations which was great to see especially with everything we’re going through at the moment. It was great to see people were still taking the time out to write, often around 1000 words, for one of their friends that they were nominating, and the fact they can write that much shows the impact these groups and people have had.”

URY are helping to present the awards with Alex West and Naomi Gildert taking a key presenting role again after their success with the YUSU election night coverage and debate night. The pair have certainly risen to the challenge but describe the whole process of presenting from home as in a word - “weird”. Alex ran us through the process of presenting in this style. “It’s also pre-recorded. We get sent a script, and then we’re the sort of colour of the evening, doing the host intros etcetera, we record it all from home and send it off and then an amazing guy called Chris at URY, edits that into a package, puts beds under it so it sounds nice and then Ben Allen the station manager at URY has done the jingles so me and Numes are just glorified announcers really, we’re not doing too much dramatic stuff.”

Alex acknowledges that “it’s quite weird because you’ve got to get the enthusiasm and the energy levels despite being at home which is quite hard to do.” Naomi compares the process back to the pair’s experience presenting YUSU Election Results Night, saying “when you’re in the room for elections and you’ve got that energy and that crowd you can really mimic that and you get hyped up. With the elections we obviously knew who had won and you can’t wait for their faces whereas when we record these we don’t know who the winners are and me and Alex sat in different houses staring at the screens so it is hard to get that energy.

“I think also recording radio at home has been very interesting because you're not in that professional setting because you’re just sat in your bedroom and you don’t want to be too loud because of the neighbours - but it really helps that we know so many of the people shortlisted because we know many of the groups, we know it's the people who have done really well this year so getting to be a part of bigging those groups up had been really great.”

Recording from home has created additional worries of background noise with Alex admitting that “there’s a few football podcasts that are going out soon that have meow noises in the background which isn’t great.” Challenges have also arisen with the odd silly thing with Naomi confessing that she “cannot say the phrase ‘a special message’ in a sentence. It took a good minute.”

Another challenge which seems to have come up both for those delivering their acceptance speeches and for those presenting is the temptation, when it’s pre-recorded, to keep on trying new takes. Alex describes that “when you’re at home and you have the option to repeat things you will do it again and you'll say no I’m not happy with that and do it again so you end up being a perfectionist with a lot of it.” Naomi adds though that “you have to stop yourself from becoming too edit heavy. Sometimes it's better to just go with it and only do another take if you can’t say “special message” or with stuff like this you’re saying people’s names you want to give them the recognition they deserve its their moment you don’t want anything to ruin that enjoyment so if you can’t pronounce their name that's not good.” She then explains that the pair have “had to do multiple takes with different pronunciations if we’re ever unsure of someone’s name so that we can definitely get the right one” with Alex adding “we’ve sent across something like four different pronunciations of someone's name so that YUSU staff can make it the right one.”

The presenting duo are not only presenting the awards but are also both shortlisted for several themselves. At the Love York Awards, both Naomi and Alex are up for Outstanding Contribution to Student Media, and then Alex is shortlisted further for Contribution to Student Life. This naturally poses another challenge with Alex describing that “there’s awards we’re up for and then we’re doing a take afterwards of being normal hosts so if we do win something it’s going to be really weird for people watching it because we’ll come up do an “acceptance” speech and then carry on the ceremony like nothing happened.”

Naomi jokes that “we’ve made no acknowledgment that we exist as potential winners” explaining that all they’ve actually done because “we don’t know who the winners are, so for Love York I’d do takes where when we come out of that winner video we say congratulations to the winner so we’ve had to do five or six takes for every person so they can slot the right one in so we've just had to alternate so if it's me Alex is saying congratulations to me and if its Alex I’m saying congratulations to him.”

Despite this, Naomi thinks that they’ll “probably have more fun in that respect with the Student Media Awards because we can be a bit in-jokey, but with stuff like Love York because it’s across the University we wanted it to be professional and on par with how important the awards are for a lot of people. It is weird and to get that balance right you can either really heavily play into it but because we don’t know the winner it would be so hard to get that balance or tone right if you knew you could tailor it and it could be quite funny but if you got that tone wrong you’d just look like a proper dick.”

Alex adds that “it’s a bit sad that we don’t get those moments on stage, even if it's not one of us that wins, especially with student media because everyone sort of knows each other it would be quite funny to have that moment on stage and say well done and there be a bit of banter so that's the sad thing. It’s a great way to do it in terms of getting it all done and it being professional but that's the one thing I’m really missing this time because there isn’t that interaction with the winners, contestant and the sabbs because its all just prerecorded and slotted in place but it's the situation we’re in unfortunately.”

In spite of this unfortunate situation Naomi reiterates that she thinks that the format the awards will be presented in is very good and that she thinks “YUSU are doing a great job to make it still a show that you can watch because we’re adding some production value so that its not just a zoom call with someone reading out a list, but at the same time I wish there was almost a watch party software maybe we should suggest it because that’s the thing we’re missing.”

There are still huge positives to focus on however with Naomi stressing that “there's so many people who have done such incredible things, people we know who we’re very proud of, or just hearing stories”. Alex adds that this is what is “such a good thing about awards in that you hear all the amazing achievements that have happened over the year that you might’ve missed as well that are completely outside of your bubble. And so you hear about it at the awards night and you’re like that's so cool and I’m so proud to be in the community that also has this in - I still haven't heard of it and that's how much stuff is going on and I think that's what's so important about the awards.”

The awards, especially at Love York, would usually be intersected with various entertainment performances from a host of York’s most talented student societies. This is obviously less possible this year but Naomi tells us that “there’s a couple of packages that YSTV are putting together, but I don’t think there’s any performances, because the awards are in such quick succession YUSU have got so much work to do and all the performances we would have are very hard to do now, even virtually. I think there's a look back at this academic year, highlights from YSTV which will be really nice because we’ll be able to go do you remember Freshers Festival where you could stand in a sweaty group of people?”

We then ask the pair why, from their perspective it is so important that the awards carry on. Alex tells us that he thinks “it’s great to champion people’s success and a great opportunity to see your friends do well to celebrate other people and also to find out what else has been going on. Also it's a real positive end of the year and adds a bit of closure too. Especially for me because by doing it feels like I'm almost getting my goodbye which otherwise might not have happened.”

Naomi adds that “everything in the nominations is stuff people did before lockdown, people’s achievements over the last year or even a few years before lockdown and that hard work doesn’t just disappear because of what’s happening now so it's so vital to still acknowledge that. It’s so easy to get caught up in this feeling that everything is paused right now but that hard work hasn’t been undone and should still be recognised - even more so right now because we all need a good time.”

These awards and big events usually give you a solid date to end on and work towards so it is really important to have these events in the calendar to give that as much as we can. I know that it’s not the final year a lot of people wanted, it’s not what people deserved and a lot of people are upset about it and that’s so valid because in so many ways the current third years have been short-changed. But I think it’s really important to not let yourself drown in that negativity. We can’t change the situation, we absolutely have to feel what we feel we can’t bury that down, but we also have to make the best of it and that's why awards are really important”.

Alex builds on this statement saying that “the fact that we’ve still been able to do awards and still have some sort of sense of wrapping up has been a really good way to finish the year. I think YUSU should definitely be commended for putting them on and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of them.”

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