Luke Watkins is a second year History student from South East London who is running in this year’s SU elections for the role of Community Officer. Luke takes time out from his campaign to talk to Her Campus…
Why did you decide to run for Community Officer this year?
Last year, I was Vice President of the Raleigh Park JCR. It was a real privilege and a really enjoyable role but we had quite a few issues; they sound like really small things but if you’re living in Halls and this is your life then it is quite annoying. So, issues like laundry prices going up, the Internet, which was cutting out during exams and essay season, and access to our JCR. We went through meetings and we won some things but I found that with the first two issues, I couldn’t really get anywhere. This really annoyed me because I wanted to do something about this issue that affected the students I was representing. I tried to get the Students’ Union involved, but we got nothing. We weren’t able to get the Community Officer into any of our meetings. And though, ultimately, we won some things I feel that the Students’ Union should be there for issues with JCRs, societies and things like that and it currently isn’t. So I guess that’s why I’m running, cause I really want to make sure that the Union is doing that. I don’t want to be a candidate who says, “Here are all the ideas that I have and I’m going to make everybody else implement them”. I have some ideas but what I want to be doing is listening to societies, JCRs, etc. and helping them where and when they need it.
Tell us what’s involved in the role of Community Officer
It’s probably the hardest one to define. The definition is not very helpful but it’s the way the Students’ Union engage with the community. What that essentially means is students affecting change outside of the university. For example, if students are feeling sexually harassed on streets and feeling unsafe when there are burglaries going on in student areas, then that’s the sort of thing that the Community Officer is responsible for. It’s to try to lobby and use connections to create positive changes for students.
The secondary responsibility is for the satellite campuses. I think we’re very University Park centric; so it’s the responsibility of the Community Officer to make sure that the interest of the satellite campuses are really being listened to and that Students’ Union services are being extended over there so that people in those campuses are getting the same kind of experiences. This is actually something that is very close to my heart as someone who is at Raleigh, though it isn’t that far away, we do feel quite alienated from the Students’ Union. So I think if you’re on Sutton Bonington or Derby, the level of separation from the Students’ Union is really bad and the role of the Community Officer is to make sure that that is dealt with and that they are being represented.
Finally, the Community Officer also oversees JCR and its network and structure, making sure that they are better trained and putting on events that are more accessible and supporting them in their roles. As someone who has been on JCR, this is something that I’m quite dedicated to improving.
Talk us through the key parts of your manifesto
My manifesto is quite long so I’ll just go through my three main policies. First policy is to get, 1) a compulsory landlord registry in Nottingham and 2) council resources to enforce basic standards on housing. So what this basically means is that everyone who wants to be a landlord in Nottingham needs to be put on a register that is maintained by the council. This has been trialled in a couple of cities. It is something that is in the student manifesto and I think we should continue to push for. This would be a real priority for me if I were to be elected.
The second part, and probably my main policy, is to set up a Students’ Union Letting Agency. The idea is that the Students’ Union, on the behalf of the landlords – and this will start of very small-scale, drawing from experiences in the trials in Leicester – letting a couple of properties to students so there’s a democratic oversight and they won’t be doing it for profit, but to ensure that students are getting the good quality housing at a good price. It sounds very ambitious and it’s not something that is going to be achieved in a year, I’m not going to lie. But we are a hugely professional Students’ Union and I think that if we’re hiring professional staff and creating competition for other letting agencies then we can start to push landlords to put the interests of students and good quality housing as a priority.
My third policy is cycle lanes on Derby Road. It’s very dangerous at the moment! It’s not as simple as putting cycle lanes in, there are obviously constraints on size and bus lanes etc., but in conjunction with the council, we can come up with some sort of solution to make Derby Road far safer for cyclists considering it is a main route for students.
You have some great policies there. Which of those do you think would be the most difficult to implement and why?
Definitely the Students’ Union Letting Agency. It is effectively starting up a business from scratch. It’s very ambitious – it will require a lot of restructuring of staff appointments, a lot of investment and research, input from me if I was elected. It has a capacity to make a great difference but it could also go wrong if the quality of the housing isn’t up to scratch. So yes, it is the hardest but it also has the potential to make the largest improvement for students if it’s successful.
Housing is clearly a key area of concern in your manifesto, what would you say are “the basic standards” for student housing?
So I was recently looking at housing for next year and in one of the houses there was a massive gaping hole on the wall that was not being prioritised, simply because it was a student house. For me, the basic standards are making sure that students aren’t living in a house where there are loads of problems like things being broken and basically ensuring that students are living in a safe house. Some research obviously need to go into this basic standards but I think we do know when are being ripped off so it’s basically just to make sure that we aren’t living in houses with holes on the walls and mould growing. I can’t really go into specifics because I do think that we need to review and research this further.
Who do you consider to be your biggest rival this year?
I have absolutely no idea. I think that there are great candidates this year, each one bringing some thing different to the table. But I’m not really focusing on what they’re doing; I’m focusing on my own campaign and policies.
In that sense then, what makes you different or the right person for the job over the others?
Two things. First of all, there is my experience. So, over the past six months, I’ve been putting on an event in Nottingham called “We Are Nottingham,” where we put on a community meal in Nottingham, inviting local politicians, local community groups, residents etc. to come share a free meal, sponsored by the Students’ Union and the council, and just enjoy entertainment to celebrate the great things about Nottingham and Lenton, in particular. But what this means is that I have worked a lot with local communities and politicians, so I have relationships and connections in place, which would be very useful. Secondly, I do think that I have a manifesto that has been well researched; I’ve listened to students. With my experience on the JCR and for the reasons why I’m running, I’m very keen to be listening throughout my time in office in what students, JCRs and societies etc. want and be supporting them with that.
How do you feel about taking a year out of your studies to be Community Officer?
I really don’t know. It’s very exciting cause it is a year when I could do a lot and improve things but it is also very nerve-wracking. I’m sure I will learn a lot in the role. So, I guess excited and nervous all at once!
Night in or night out? Night in.
Ocean: yay or nay? Both.
What did you want be when you were five years old? Astronaut.
Fun fact about yourself, personal claim to fame or special talent. My dad installed a bathroom for the Queen. I don’t think she’s personally ever used it though.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done at university? I got lost in the cemetery during Fresher’s Week on Ilkeston Road. It’s half-terrifying and half-embarrassing!
Main course or dessert? Main course.
Ultimate karaoke song? Dancing Queen!
Any final words?
Vote for me!
Check out Luke’s full manifesto here!
Edited by Sam Carey