Scotland for Sky- and why you should be too

A couple of weeks ago I was elected as NUS Scotland as Vice President Communities and I’m voting for Sky Yarlett to be NUS Vice President Society & Citizenship because their manifesto fits with mine, because they share the  vision students in Scotland voted for and because they are simply a fantastic person.

When I was elected as a sabbatical officer I had never been to an NUS event- it was a foreign land that I knew almost nothing about. I got sent as an observer to the NUS UK National Conference 2013 and it was here that I first met Sky. While most of the people at National Conference have little interest in talking to you if they don’t already know you, especially the leadership, Sky spent lots of time talking to delegates- and not just about the elections! They wanted to know about people, what they were interested and they wanted to have some fun.

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This is something which has been consistent throughout the time I’ve know Sky. Unlike so many others they don’t talk to people simply to network and build up contacts but because they have a genuine passion and care. (They were also the only person at Lead & Change- summer training for sabbs- who was willing to roll down the hill with me!). Sky doesn’t care about silly factional feuds or other such drama- they want a student movement which involves everyone and ultimately makes as many wins as possible for students. They took the time to come up to Edinburgh to celebrate the passing of our Equal Marriage bill and to attend and give an inspirational speech at our Equal Marriage party.

In the year of a general election I want a candidate who isn’t a member of a political party, and one who won’t simply follow a party line, but will fight for what is best for students. While it was Liberal Democrats who broke their promise we cannot forget that the reason they originally received support was because Labour would have doubled fees.  Sky won’t be pushed into a corner but will stand up for what they believe in. When it comes to elections, they  won’t just be encouraging students to vote but will  mobalise the student vote to push out the far right.

Making wins for students isn’t just about the short term stuff, we cannot achieve them or make significant changes without a long term goal. Sky knows that we have to build a grassroots movement and inspire and train activists on our campuses so that they can fight for themselves and together we have a more powerful student movement. Not only that but throughout their time as NUS LGBT officer they have shown that they are great at coming up with creative campaigning ideas and this is something that they want to take forward. We need to make activism creative and inclusive and Sky has shown they know how to make this happen.

Sky understands that climate change is a real issue, and not something abstract but something that is happening now.  We need to be embedding green policies in everything we do, environmentalism can no longer be the care of a few but needs to become the mainstream, the only option. Sky will ensure that not only we continue the good work on Education for Sustainable Development but that we ensure institutions are investing and procuring ethically.

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This is lots of the delegates from NUS Scotland conference, including the President and Women’s Offcier, all happy to be voting Sky

I could spend ages telling you about all of Sky’s excellent achievements and the many other reasons why I support them but I don’t want to bore you all so you can find out for yourselves here: https://www.facebook.com/VoteSky?fref=ts  and feel free to ask them any questions by dropping them a line Sky.Yarlett@gmail.com

So simply, I’m backing Sky for NUS Vice President Society and Citizenship as they are, without a doubt, the best candidate.  

The next 10 years of Fairtrade…

Last night the University hosted a public lecture on the topic of ‘Does fair trade make a difference’. Paul Chandler, former Chief Executive of Traidcraft kicked off the event followed by Humza Yousaf, the Minister for External Affairs and International Development, before I was given the privilege of closing the event with a talk on what  I   want the next 10 years of fair trade to look like. Here’s what I had to say: 

There can be no denying  I’m proud that 10 years ago EUSA voted to become Fairtrade and that last year Scotland became a fair trade nation;  however I hope that 10 years down the line we will have started to properly address the structural problems with the market instead of simply creating a small sub-section.

In 10 years time I don’t want multinational companies with bad ethical records to be able to display the Fairtrade logo or to be considered fairly traded. I don’t want Fairtrade to be used as a promotional tool for companies but something that is integral to how they function and I don’t want the smallest most remote farmers to be pushed out.

In 10 years time I want the market to be solely comprised of goods that are fairly traded. I want the consumer nature to be redefined. I want the discourse of demand to shift so that it becomes inconceivable to purchase, or use a product, with any form of unethical production. More than that, I want society to realise that what we purchase and consume is not be the be all and end all. Society should be based around the needs of people and fulfilling them.

We live in a consumerist profit-driven society; a system that allows some to prosper but only at the loss of others. The Fairtrade movement has done an excellent job of starting to highlight the inequalities society faces but, at the same time provides an easy opt out from people making real change. As Zizek describes it: fair trade allows you  to “buy your redemption from being only a consumerist”. Individual consumer choice is not going to change things; people cannot simply buy a coffee and feel like they have done their part in tackling this structural inequality.

Not only that but in 10 years time I don’t want companies with bad records to simply pay lip service to fair trade by stocking certain products and promoting them. Take Topshop for example, a high street store well renowned for not paying their taxes and other such unethical practises yet, a tiny proportion of their stock is Fairtrade and so they claim they are ethical.

Despite the good work that has been happening the majority of producers in the developing world are still disempowered. Biased trade rules, flooding of markets and a whole biased world trading system stop us from achieving our aims.  We need people to engage with the concept; engage with why the brand of Fairtrade came about. Over the next 10 years the Fairtrade movement needs to not be about fair trade but about tackling these problems. It needs to be about lobbying our governments for real changes, lobbying big business to readdress their practices and making everyone put people before profit.  Fair trade in 10 years needs to not be about the rich stealing from the poor and then giving them a little back in return but about the rich and poor being equal. About there being no rich and no poor.

We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years. The lives of many have been greatly improved by the work that has been ongoing and for that we have to thank everyone who has contributed. An amazing amount of work has gone into spreading the message of Fairtrade and that has to continue.

In 10 years time I don’t want to be celebrating a Fairtrade fortnight as there shouldn’t be a need.  I want us to be ambitious, I want us to be more ambitious than we’ve ever been before, and not to make ourselves feel better but because it is a necessity. We need to stop talking and focusing on individual consumer choices but think of the bigger picture. While we sit around celebrating our fair trade successes millions are still being exploited and living in poverty.

We need to reconstruct the market so it is impossible for any products to not be fairly traded.

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Housing Co-op Project Proposal

The housing co-op project is going swimmingly. This is another brief paper we drew up which lays out some more about the structure of the project and what we’re looking for. (You can read a previous post to find out more about the idea of a co-op and what they are:http://kirstyhaigh1.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/housing-co-op-position-paper/?preview=true&preview_id=215&preview_nonce=8d8cd2ced7&post_format=standard

There’s a lot of work now going into sourcing the money we need for initial start up costs and to ensure we’ve properly costed everything. 

 

The Idea

Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative Project is a group of students working to establish a wholly student owned and run housing cooperative in Edinburgh, based on the highly successful models established across North America, parts of Europe and Oceania.

 Kirsty Haigh, EUSA Vice President, Services says that she is “delighted that this project is getting off the ground and that we are taking serious steps to address the housing problems in Edinburgh. We’ve tried re-mediation but now it’s time to take matters into our own hands and take proactive steps to provide a solution.”

We have also been receiving enthusiastic support from Edinburgh City Council and the wider co-operative movement.

Structure

The co-operative would be a par value fully mutual, student-run and managed property, which we’d aim to eventually own outright. As a corporate body the co-operative will lease the property with rooms available to be rented by individual members. The members would consist exclusively of tenants and prospective tenants.

For the first couple of years we will be employing two part-time members of staff (to each work 8 hours a week for every week of the year). These will be members of the housing cooperative who will help manage the bills, housekeeping rotas, manage the reception and ensure all the co-operative’s admin is kept up to date. We would like this workload to be spread more equitably amongst the membership, however we realise that until a routine is established that is successful then this will require a lot of work.

A busy time for the co-operative will be when people are applying to live there for the next year. For that reason we will be employing a member to work for 4 hours a week for the three months that applications are open. The member will do most of the cooperatives work on sending out requests for applications, collecting them in, answering queries and appointing new members and tenants.

All members of staff of the housing co-operative will be paid no less than the living wage.

The day to day functioning and cleaning of the co-operative will be carried out collectively by the tenants. Everyone will equally partake in cleaning communal areas and will follow rotas drawn up by our part time staff. We will provide training so that members are able to carry out all necessary jobs. We will have some training which is open to everyone and some more specialised for if people want to take on specific roles.

In addition to our part time staff, some members will be elected and trained for key roles. For example:

  • First Aid

  • Pastoral care

  • Accounting

  • Facilitating meetings

  • Board members

  • Basic maintenance

  • Health and safety / risk assessments

  • Fire Safety Officers

  • Rent Collection Officers

  • PAT testing

For structuring much of the day to day running of the co-operative we are being advised by North American Students for Cooperation (NASCO), a federation of student housing co-operatives across North America with almost 50 years of experience.

Governance

Membership of the co-operative entitles you to a say in how the co-op is run and to vote for the members of the Committee. They are different from other landlords as every member has an equal vote and say in matters affecting the management of their home. The membership would consist of all current and prospective tenants, with each member holding limited liability for the co-operative (£1). The constitution we are using is the Radical Routes model rules (RRMF96). As an Industrial & Provident Society we are regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Strategic governance will be provided by a board made up of both members and some externals. The externals will be appointed by the members of the cooperative and chosen for their expertise and experience. The externals will be elected for terms of at least 2 years to help facilitate against the transient nature of student tenants.

We have also been working with other student co-operatives across the UK to establish Students for Co-operation, which would become the UK equivalent of NASCO. SfC is currently investigating the viability of establishing a large central body, wholly owned by SfC, which would either purchase properties for individual student housing co-operatives to lease or would act as a guarantor of loans by individual co-operatives.

 

The lease

We would like the lease which started in September 2014 that lasted for 5 years with the aim to take on another 5 after that but with the ability to opt out to purchase the property at any time. The co-operative would uphold and maintain, or improve, the condition of the building. We will require a lease which allows tenants to be able to paint their rooms however at the end of the lease rooms would be returned to the original condition.

Landlord’s obligation

We would like the landlord to cover insurance for the structure as is laid out in the lease held by the current tenants. In addition, we would like them to maintain the structure of the building and any larger essential repairs.

 

Regulations

As the co-operative is fully mutual it complies with the 1987 Housing Cooperative act’s definition of a Housing Co-operative, which means we are exempt from HMO regulations and payments. This has been confirmed by the City Council.

All of our members and tenants will be students which therefore means they are exempt from council tax.

Funding

Some initial start-up capital will be required to cover any costs accrued before we are able to begin collecting rent.

This will include:

  • Staff costs (approx £1000)

  • Utility bills

  • Printing costs

  • Some postage costs for leases

  • Any development work started on communal areas

  • New washing machines and tumble dryers

  • Replacement of any broken items

  • Sundry items

We are exploring a number of funding sources, current options include Triodos Bank and Co-operative and Community Finance. Property costs and loan conditions, alongside budgeting for development, maintenance and overheads, would then dictate the level of rent charged to member tenants.

We have also been looking at potential funding from the Unity Trust Bank and Co-operative and Community Finance.

We hope that Alumni will also donate towards the cooperative. Alumni donate vast amounts of money back into the University every year and this is something we hope could be tapped into. We would apply for alumni funding for larger capital projects such as improving disabled access or structural improvements (in the longer term). This has successfully happened in other cooperatives such as Berkeley where Alumni have donated over $2 million.

There are also a number of potential external sources of revenue, for example the co-operative could let rooms to non-members at a higher rate during the Edinburgh Festival.

Any surplus that is created by the cooperative is reinvested back into for future projects. Initially money will be out aside with an aim to by the building outright so it can be fully owned by the cooperative. Following this then money will be needed for renovations and adaptations of the building.

 

The Benefits

 

The co-operative provide cheaper levels of rent for tenants than the private market. For example by:

  • Being not-for-profit and reinvesting any surplus back into the co-operative.

  • Being self-managed and run – greatly reducing costs for cleaning etc

     The cooper-

  • Involving members in any refurbishment/developments, cutting costs by about 30%.

  • Investigating external sources of revenue, for example, in the long term, some level of festival lettings.

 

Partners and support

We have already solicited the enthusiastic support of over 1,500 students via EUSA referendum – the most popular referendum to date, the City of Edinburgh Council, the Rector of the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA).

We are also receiving overwhelming support from across the co-operative movement, including:

  • Staff time, logistical support and expertise from the Co-operative Enterprise Hub (part of the Co-operative Group).

  • Advice and staff time from the Co-operative Education Trust Scotland.

  • Support and advice from Lister Housing Co-operative Ltd., a 190 flat cooperative on Lauriston Place, Edinburgh.

  • Advisory services from Sheffield Co-operative Development Group.

  • Significant interest shown by Scotmid Co-operative Society Ltd.

  • Logistical support from Radical Routes housing co-op network.

  • Advice on building contracts and environmental development from Co-operative Renewables Ltd.

  • Advice from the UK Society for Co-operative Studies.

  • Support and helpful advice from Students for Cooperation, a representative body for UK student coops – alongside the support from pre-existing Edinburgh University student cooperatives, namely the Swap & Reuse Hub (SHRUB) Co-operative on Guthrie Street and The Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative on George Square.

  • Logistical advice from a number of student housing co-operatives internationally, including North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) – a federation representing over 50 student co-operatives.

The City Council is particularly keen on the project as part of their Cooperative Capital scheme to “develop cooperative organisations in the city to deliver energy, housing, childcare and social care services.”

 

Ethical Investment- The Campaign

Very excitingly last night I attended a launch event, hosted by People and Planet, of the Socially Responsible Investment consultation which the University are carrying out. This has long been an important issue for students and has been one of my main campaigns this year. Last year the University signed up to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment and this year we managed to get the University to divest from UltraElectronics- a company which makes parts for drones. 

You can (and should!) fill in the consultation here: http://www.ed.ac.uk/news/2014/investment-views-invited-130114 You can also fill in group responses from societies etc. 

I opened last nights event with a talk on the campaign- where is has come from and what we are demanding. 

Ethical Investment has long been an issue in which students are engaged and interested; and rightly so, students should have a say where their money, and that of the institution, is spent. Our University is meant to be one of principals, morals and standards and it is important that this is reflected through ALL of our practices.

Since at least 2000, students have campaigned, written papers and passed policy about ethical investment and the importance of our University setting good standards and now this has become an issue for students nationally. On campuses across the country students are demanding that their institution becomes more transparent and more responsible.

In 2002, following pressure from a large and vocal student campaign the University began a process of gradually improving the transparency of the investment portfolio, which is now published annually online. However, there is so much more to be done. The University and its fund managers currently focus on a policy of engagement but details of these engagements are never published. We’d like to see a report of ongoing engagements the fund managers have with companies and any changes these companies make.

The publishing of the list of University investments did cause a bit of a stir as there was a large negative reaction to lots of the companies  with which the University was involved. There were early day motions lodged in both parliaments calling on the university to cease investing in companies which “flout human rights, exploit workers, pollute heavily or irresponsibly sell armaments”. More students then became aware of and involved in the campaign which lead to 500 students voting overwhelmingly to demand that the university cease investment in armaments and implement an Ethical Investment Policy. This commitment has since been reaffirmed by students through a motion at Student Council and a referendum question.

The most recent student calls have moved from wanting the University to not only divest from, and not invest in, arms companies but also fossil fuels. The University talks of being socially responsible but yet we invest in companies which are fundamentally detrimental to our planet -the university needs to put its money where its mouth is. The University also needs to be putting more money into its own campus. There’s lots we can do around investing to make our campus more sustainable and ensuring we are using responsible energy sources.

Overall, students want the University to have a much more proactive investment policy. Currently you can flag up concerns you have with a company however, there is no way to stop us investing in them in the first place. Last year Aberdeen updated their investment policy and theirs says that the fund ‘does not invest in companies which normally derive more than 5% of their turnover from armaments, tobacco products or pornography’. This consultation is our chance to once again, lay out what we would like our policy to look like and have it addressed by the University. I’ll be filling in the consultation on behalf of EUSA and calling for what is laid out in our policy- an immediate ban on new investments in the armaments industry and companies engaged in the extraction on fossil fuels and a commitment to divestment within 5 years. However, like Aberdeen chose pornography, there may other issues which you would like the University to not invest in and this is your chance to make that clear.

I’m delighted that the University is carrying out this consultation and urge you all to fill it in – not only because that’s one less campaign for me to worry about!

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Housing Co-op Position Paper

Very excitingly this year we’ve built up a small team and are taking forward trying to create a housing co-operative in Edinburgh. The team, which I am part of, produced this paper which lays out what we want and why. If you would like to get involved or find out more then get in contact with me on vps@eusa.ed.ac.uk
Soon we’re going to its own site where we can update about all the meetings and all progress but for now, here’s the paper…

The Idea

For a few years there has been much talk amongst students about creating a student housing co-operative to deal with many of the housing problems that students in Edinburgh face.

Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative Project is a group of students working to establish a wholly student owned and run housing cooperative in Edinburgh, based on the highly successful models established across North America, parts of Europe and Oceania.

The group was formed following the highly successful Edinburgh University Students’ Association  referendum question mandating EUSA to work with all interested students to establish a housing co-operative. The question received the highest turnout and highest proportion of ‘yes’ votes (92%) of any referendum question to date. Kirsty Haigh, EUSA Vice President, Services says that she is “delighted that this project is getting off the ground and that we are taking serious steps to address the housing problems in Edinburgh.We’ve tried remediation but now it’s time to take matters into our own hands and take proactive steps to provide a solution.”

 

We have also been receiving enthusiastic support from Edinburgh City Council and the wider co-operative movement.

The group has high aspirations, and has been receiving advice and support with the aim of establishing a co-operative capable of housing over 100 students.

What is a Student Housing Co-operative?

A co-operative is an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.

In the context of student housing, as a corporate body the co-operative would own or lease property with rooms available to be rented by individual members. The members would consist exclusively of tenants and prospective tenants.

Membership of the co-operative entitles you to a say in how the co-op is run and to vote for the members of the Committee. They are different from other landlords as every member has an equal vote and say in matters affecting the management of their home.

Why is this needed?

Housing can be a major issue for students, as shown by the 2643 enquiries about housing at EUSA’s Advice Place last year alone. Additionally, the influx of large numbers of students into concentrated areas, such as Marchmont, has led to discontent amongst long-term residents and repeated calls for a cap on HMO properties.

Private rent for students has been sharply increasing and students are having to put up with often sub-standard conditions for these higher prices, making Edinburgh a particularly expensive choice for prospective students. The high living costs in Edinburgh  (an average of about £360pcm according to EUSA Advice Place figures) discourage students from low and middle income backgrounds from applying, damaging the University’s efforts to widen access.

In addition, there is the constant problem of landlords scamming and not treating students fairly. They continue to charge illegal fees for references and administration, charge deposits about the legal limit and then refuse to return these, charge extra for cleaning costs and not carry out adequate maintenance work. These often particularly affect vulnerable International students.

A student housing cooperative allows us to contribute to relieving the housing crisis in Edinburgh and to allow students to take ownership of their housing and avoid exploitation by private landlords.

The Benefits

Cheaper rent

The co-operative hopes to provide cheaper levels of rent for tenants than the private market. For example by:

  • Being not-for-profit and reinvesting any surplus back into the co-operative.

  • Being self-managed and run – greatly reducing costs for cleaning etc.

  • Involving members in any refurbishment/developments, cutting costs by about 30%.

  • Investigating external sources of revenue, for example some level of festival lettings.

Widening Participation

By providing cheaper rent, we hope to contribute to the University’s efforts to widen access to higher education. This could be further achieved by setting minimum quotas for the number of co-op members from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Academic and social community

Alongside affordability students have also expressed a distinct lack of community spirit at Edinburgh – particularly after first year. Alongside this many feel there is a lack of pastoral guidance, both in a personal and academic capacity.

A diverse and active community could be fostered within the co-operative, providing a basic level of such support. For example members of the co-operative could be trained to pick up students struggling academic or personal difficulties at an early stage and refer them on to professional support services provided by the University or external bodies such as the NHS.This will particularly benefit students from non-traditional backgrounds who are more likely to face such difficulties throughout their university careers.

The co-operative would also work to build academic community, for example through peer learning and co-operation between students in different stages of their studies.

Gaining skills, knowledge and experience

In addition to their studies, Edinburgh students are extremely keen on finding ways to develop their graduate attributes whilst at university. The co-op will have an ongoing training scheme to pass on knowledge and skills to new tenants, which could become recognised as part of the Edinburgh Award. For example:

  • Business, accounting and management credentials.

  • Experience as a director of a sizeable business.

  • Basic building, carpentry, plumbing and electrician skills that can be developed from working alongside professionals in refurbishing and maintaining the co-operative’s properties.

  • Experience in project and team management.

  • Volunteering in local community projects that could be coordinated by the co-operative’s members.

  • Basic training in pastoral guidance and peer support schemes.

  • Internships within the wider co-operative movement, with the co-operative able to encourage other co-operatives to take on interns, whilst also promoting such schemes to the wider student body.

Internationalisation

The co-operative would also provide an instant community for visiting and exchange students to move into, helping to boost the University’s profile internationally and support the internationalisation agenda. The co-operative also hopes to strengthen ties it has already developed with student co-operatives across North America.

Structure

The cooperative would be a par value fully mutual, student-run and managed property, which we’d aim to eventually own outright. The membership would consist of all current and prospective tenants, with each member holding limited liability for the co-operative (£1). The constitution we are hoping to use is the Radical Routes model rules (RRMF96), as advised by The Co-operative Enterprise Hub. This would also see us recognised and regulated as an Industrial & Provident Society by the Financial Services Authority (FSA). These rules are relatively flexible, so for example members could elect a governing board consisting of external members chosen for their expertise and experience, to help facilitate against the transient nature of student tenants.

We have also been working with other student co-operatives across the UK to establish Students for Co-operation. SfC is currently investigating the viability of establishing a large central body, wholly owned by SfC, which would either purchase properties for individual student housing co-operatives to lease or would act as a guarantor of loans by individual co-operatives.

Berkeley Student Cooperative- Case Study of another successful co-operative

The Berkeley Student Cooperative  provides affordable housing to UC Berkeley and other Bay Area college students in California and has been doing so since it was founded in 1933. The project was started during the depression when many students were not affording accommodation It was started by 14 students who leased a hall housing 48 students and the following year one for 200 students.

The co-operative now  has over 1,300 student members living in seventeen student housing cooperatives and three apartment co-operatives around the UC Berkeley campus. Each house is democratically run, and members contribute their labour to help keep the housing costs affordable.

Alumni often stay involved in the co-operative and thus the Alumni Association was created. This organises events to build alumni involvement, raises money, and advises housing co-operative student leaders. Alumni have donated over $2 million to the co-operatives and these have been used for seismic safety and disabled access renovations, IT upgrades, and other programs.

Funding

We are exploring a number of funding sources, current options include Triodos Bank and Co-operative and Community Finance and the City Council’s £11m Onlending loan fund for affordable housing, which they have encouraged us to apply for as part of Edinburgh’s Co-operative Capital status. Property costs and loan conditions, alongside budgeting for development, maintenance and overheads, would then dictate the level of rent charged to member tenants.

We have also been looking at potential funding from the Unity Trust Bank and Co-operative and Community Finance

There are also a number of potential external sources of revenue, for example the co-operative could let rooms to non-members at a higher rate during the Edinburgh Festival.

Partners and support

We have already solicited the enthusiastic support of over 1500 students via EUSA referendum – the most popular referendum to date, the City of Edinburgh Council, the Rector of the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA).

We are also receiving overwhelming support from across the co-operative movement, including:

  • Staff time, logistical support and expertise from the Co-operative Enterprise Hub (part of the Co-operative Group).

  • Advice and staff time from the Co-operative Education Trust Scotland.

  • Support and advice from Lister Housing Co-operative Ltd., a 190 flat cooperative on Lauriston Place, Edinburgh.

  • Advisory services from Sheffield Co-operative Development Group.

  • Significant interest shown by Scotmid Co-operative Society Ltd.

  • Logistical support from Radical Routes housing co-op network.

  • Advice on building contracts and environmental development from Co-operative Renewables Ltd.

  • Advice from the UK Society for Co-operative Studies.

  • Support and helpful advice from Students for Cooperation, a representative body for UK student coops – alongside the support from pre-existing Edinburgh University student cooperatives, namely the Swap & Reuse Hub (SHRUB) Co-operative on Guthrie Street and The Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative on George Square.

  • Logistical advice from a number of student housing co-operatives internationally, including North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) – a federation representing over 50 student co-operatives.

The City Council is particularly keen on the project as part of their Cooperative Capital scheme to “develop cooperative organisations in the city to deliver energy, housing, childcare and social care services.”

How this will benefit the University

Such a project could act as a unique selling point for the University when marketing itself to prospective applicants. Through our campaign we have already seen an incredibly high level of support and interest from both current and prospective students, interested in helping with the campaign or becoming tenants. The co-operative would no doubt be a popular stop off on open days that could champion the unique nature of the Edinburgh student experience.

The co-operative would also allow provide the University with a method to retain a number of iconic buildings within the university community. Many of these form a key part of the University’s heritage.

How the University can help

Property

The University has a number of properties that we’d be interested in purchasing or entering a long term lease for. Most notably south Buccleuch Place.

Buccleuch Place also offers an excellent opportunity for a phased development as more units can progressively renovated and brought into the co-operative over time.

Financial support

The greatest barrier to the establishment of housing co-operatives is capital.

Staff support

We want this to be a student run project however, we would greatly appreciate help from the University to get the co-operative up and running. There are people in the University with knowledge and expertise above and beyond our own and we would thus like to draw upon these. We would like to be able to call upon support from someone in the Estates Team and Accommodation Services.

My Midway Manifesto Progress

When I ran in my election I created a manifesto of the things I wanted to and and would do in my role as VPS. Now that I’m halfway through my term I thought it would be good to do an account of how I’m getting on will all of these manifesto points. 

I obviously have also done lots of things which were not on my manifesto and you can find out more about these on my blog updates or other points.

This is my full manifesto with comments underneath about what has been done on the points. 

More exciting…

Work hard, play harder. I want our unions to be your favourites places in Edinburgh. Day and night they should be places you want to go to dance, drink, hang out and be entertained. We need to up the ante and have more club nights, better acts and better deals.

Making our nightclubs our first port of call -There is so much potential in EUSA’s venues, but with only two club nights a week we’re not making the most of them. Our union should be hosting nights which appeal to everyone’s tastes.

We’ve put on quite a few new nights this year. At the start of the year we trialled hosting XY  on Friday nights; however, it wasn’t very successful so was cancelled- we now have to find more options to explore. We had the first very successful (and widely hailed by reviewers) year of Pleasance Sessions; a 3 week festival of music, spoken word and comedy.

More big nights out - The big nights out, for example Teviot’s Halloween parties, always sell out so why not expand them (include Potterrow in the party!) and make them more often, so everyone can enjoy them? Toga parties, foam parties, dissertation hand-in parties… EUSA should do them all, and much more, and what better way to remember your great night out that with commemorative tshirts or wristbands, especially for big events like Freshers’ Week?

We were going to run a ‘win a club night’ scheme so students could create, vote on and host their own club night; however, Red Bull were doing something very similar so we took part in theirs. Student Alex Rata made it through to the finals, however was sadly unsuccessful. We’re now going to be taking forward our own scheme in second semester. Our Freshers’ Week this year had wristbands and they proved very popular.

Getting the big name acts we deserve - Every Freshers’ Week, much smaller universities outperform us in terms of getting big name acts that everyone loves. Why shouldn’t we get great bands and our favourite reality TV stars to join the party?

We had a couple of people from Made In Chelsea up for our Roller Disco and our Pleasance Sessions brought in a lot of good Scottish bands and comedians including Abandoman and Miaoux Miaoux . We had Vengaboys for Freshers but hopefully this will keep getting bigger and better. Our planning for Freshers’ Week starts next semester so we’ll be looking at this then.

Late night food - At other unions like Dundee, food is available all night in their venues and people love it, so why not have that here too? Why should you have to leave the party just so you don’t miss the chippy closing, when you could just grab something to eat where you’re dancing?

We’ve managed to get free Dominos Pizza at 8 of the Big Cheeses throughout the year. We also started the year with the Potter Shop being open much later but this was not financially viable. We investigated selling chips at The Big Cheese however, again, we didn’t think this would be financially viable and we aren’t in a good enough financial state to take the risk.(But free pizza beats the stuff you pay for anyway)

Great deals for societies - Why should our societies have to go elsewhere for sponsorship? We should be offering great drinks deals and using EUSA’s purchasing power to provide quality merchandise like hoodies and tshirts at reasonable prices.

We’re talking to NUSSL our suppliers about buying more clothing- this still has more to be done. We’ve done some more to promote Soc cards which are our best deal for societies. Every £10 you spend your society gets 50p so having your socials in our venues can earn you some money. We’ve also had some good collaborations with societies such as N.Amercian for the Superbowl. We still need to look at getting a more comprehensive package out.

Exciting opportunities for student involvement - The Teviot art competition was a massive success, and we should have more opportunities for students to get involved in how their union buildings look. Why not have a giant student designed mural painted on the side of Potterrow so we can show off our talent?

Following the news that Potterrow will be closing in a few years and we’ll be moving into a new union building I’m thinking we should hold off on the mural plans. However, we are asking the University for money to redo Pleasance and we will include student artwork there and be sure that there is lots of student input into the new building. We already held two workshops about the new building where students came and told us what they would like to see.

I definitely haven’t done enough with regard to creating a more comprehensive plan for displaying more student artwork. The last Trading Committee did accept my proposal to take forward the art committee so I’ll be doing that next semester.

Outlet ‘open day’- A grand total of zero people turned up to EUSAs last stakeholder group, it’s clear we need a change. Instead of a boring meeting lets have an outlet open day where students can come along and learn about our company, take part in focus groups, try new menu options for all our unions and help shape the direction we are going in. Let you enjoy a much more fun way of having your say.

The first step of this will be kicking off in the New Year with a token voting system (I’m told they have these in Waitrose & ASDA). Every time someone purchases something from our outlets not only can they get a soc card stamp but they will receive a token which then can be used to vote on a new product or clubnight. As this goes forward we may also use it to vote on our campaigns or other proposals. Later in the Semester we’ll also be having our first open day so I’m very excited for that!

We’re also changing the structure of our Stakeholder groups and will be sending e-mails to random students asking them to give their feedback.

More Accessible…

While we are a big University I want to make the networking seem small. Everyone should know someone who’s involved in EUSA and know who to contact if they need to ask a question or want to suggest an idea. We need to properly communicate, both online and offline, what your union and representatives are doing so everyone can get involved. We should also be working to ensure that the university experience is accessible to everyone.

Simplifying societies - Societies are a massive part of people’s university experience, but the bureaucracy surrounding them is complex and intimidating. I want to ensure that society committees are open to everyone, and that it’s easy to access all the support and services you need. Whether that’s online banking so you can check your balance on the go, or more space for societies so you can always find a room when you need one, I want to make running a society as easy as possible.

I’ve been told by the VPSA that online banking will not be happening this year. I’m not so sure why this is the case or why we cannot at least get the ball rolling on this so I’ll do some more digging next semester.

We’re continuing to do work pushing for a Pleasance redevelopment and ensuring that and the new Union building will have plenty of society space. The Pleasance development plans were taken to the next stage and granted another £400,000 by the University and the new Union building £150,000 for further planning.

I’ve also been pushing for the abolition of President, Secretary and Treasurer on Society Committees and instead simply having 3 committee members of the societies choice. We shouldn’t be enforcing hierarchical structures, or any structures at all! The vote at Societies council was sadly a draw but I will continue to push for it.

Nursery provision on campus - Providing nursery care on campus is key to ensuring everyone has equal access to education, and it is also key in the fight for women’s liberation. There are currently proposals to close the existing Uni Tots nursery in George Square and I would fully oppose any attempts to do so. I will also lobby the university to expand its provision of nursery care to other campuses.

Excitingly the new KB nursery is going to have an allotment! The University haven’t been saying anything new about UniTots so we’re playing a bit of a waiting game about that. This should really be lead by our VPSA; however, if next semester she does not have time then I will be writing a letter in support of nursery facilities on campus and making it clear that there will be consequences if they are removed.

Fighting against the marketisation and privatisation of education - I believe that education is a public good and a right, and should be open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. The only way to make this happen is for higher education to be free, and so I would work with our affiliate organisation NCAFC to ensure education remains free in Scotland whilst also fighting to reverse the fees implemented in England and Wales, and against course closures.

I am now a member of the NCAFC National Committee, have attended one conference and in a couple of weeks will be attending the first NC meeting. The conference had great workshops around how to talk about ideas on campus and Privilege Theory and intersectionality. We passed motions to support our staff and campaign against the sale of the student loan book. There’s now a national day of action planned in Birmingham for early next year. In addition, I’m helping organise a NCAFC Scotland conference with a day of workshops before, which are open to everyone. I’ve talked about the issue of education and Universities being a public good in a couple of blog posts (and to whoever will let me).

I am part the anti-cuts coalition and we’ve had a few meetings with more campus-wide campaigns planned for next semester. I’ve also been doing work to support our staff striking for Fair Pay in Higher Education. I’ve sent messages of support, written posts, joined the picket lines and been part of an Occupation of the Finance Directors Office. As I was unable to make the #copsoffcampus demo in London (due to a very important meeting that morning) I did flyering around our campus that afternoon. I had also suggested that we gave some of our sabbatical budget to send people down however this was rejected by the Association Executive.

Supporting international students - We’ve made some big wins for international students recently through hard work and campaigning, and I want to expand on this. One of my priorities will be organising a national campaign for the restrictions on post study work to be relaxed for international students.

I’m not going to lie, I have not done nearly enough on this. Following our initial chat at the start of the year the International Students Officer and I have failed to find time that suits to meet up. I shall have to get this sorted for next semester.

Fighting for the rights of working students - The University is a living wage employer and EUSA should be too. We should also be making sure that all students know their rights as workers, whether that’s freedom from sexual harassment or your right to unionise.

In our current financial situation EUSA sadly cannot afford to be a living wage employer however, the organisation will be creating a plan for doing so as soon as possible. There is now a sheet on rights for working students in the Advice Place.

Services for student tenants - EUSA needs to provide more information and support for student tenants dealing with private landlords. Making students aware of illegal letting fees and hidden costs and how to challenge this – I believe this is what a VPS should do for you.

We put out messages asking students to send us the names of landlords that had charged them illegal fees and then sent letters to all of these landlords saying we were aware they were doing this and that they should repay these fees. Our President and VPSA should be taking this forward next semester. There is always help in the Advice Place for students unaware of their rights but we would also like to have someone go to different campuses and I would like to see Shelter run a workshop (or two).

Increasing & improving student accommodation - In the recent EUSA referendum policy was passed saying that along with the council EUSA should create a co-op. This is a brilliant idea and I want to ensure it’s success. In addition, we should have more University owned accommodation, increasing numbers of  students are being accepted every year but with reductions in the number of halls. It’s ridiculous that in Pollock there is a hotel while students are being forced to live out in Musselburgh. We need to reclaim this space.

I’m part of the Student Housing Co-Op team. We have an (almost) weekly meeting on Thursday evenings to take forward the project. We have written a proposal paper and arranged a meeting with Estates to talk about this. In addition we have sent off the initial paperwork to incorporate into the relevant body.  I haven’t done any work on taking back the hotel in Pollock as I decided to focus on the positive of the housing co-op first.

We met with Accommodation Services at the start of the year and made it very clear that we could not have the same mess we did last year with students living out in Musselburgh- thankfully this then all went smoothly.

Supporting women’s liberation- I want a EUSA that is constantly fighting for women’s liberation and that promotes equality at every level. We need to be fighting sexism on campus and supporting women in difficult times. I’m currently trying to pass motions/support referendum questions put forward to ensure we have a pro-choice union which supports women student’s accessibility to medical treatment.We also need to be encouraging more women to run for positions within EUSA.

I was involved in Reclaim The Night, the Edinburgh wide march against street harassment that was hosted by our Womens’ group. In addition, we’ve brought women’s issues into the media a lot this semester! We made the decision to not play the song Blurred Lines in our Union buildings and this was reported worldwide and sparked a massive discussion around sexism in music and was copied by at least 19 other Universities in Britain and SubTV. Student Council also passed my motion to make EUSA a pro-feminist organisation and promote discussions around feminism on our campus. I continued to attend and engage in the Feminist Society where I can and ensure that liberation issues are always on the agenda.

Accountability & availability of your sabbaticals-Students need to be encouraged to use their sabbaticals to the best of their advantage. There should be bigger section about Sabbs on the EUSA website with a compulsory blog so that you can always be kept update on what you’re Sabbs are doing. In addition, there should be clear office open hours including on different campuses. Our representatives need to be out meeting freshers, helping them move in, getting them involved and feel part of EUSA.

For some reason the EUSA website refuses to let me log into the EUSA website to update my section no matter what IT do; however, we will hopefully get this fixed. Our Student Council reports are now going to be available in our sections to make them more accessible. I created this blog on which I’ve been posting lots about what I’m doing- big speeches, extended updates and other posts about what’s going on.

The other sabbatical officers were not in favour of open office hours as such so they are not set in stone. I did have a very successful day at New College last semester and next will be having a day in each of Easter Bush and Kings Buildings.

Accountability of your representatives- Too often this year elected representatives have failed to show up to council meetings. Elections for these positions are often contested and it is unfair on all involved if those who are elected do not fulfil their positions. We need stricter rules on attendance including the banning of running in future elections if it is a consistent problem.

Our new democracy regulations make it easier for students to hold any of their representatives to account however I have not yet made this specific point into policy.

Democratisation of our Union- EUSA is an organisation by students, for students, and this should apply at every level. We need to increase student involvement and make it easier for people to be involved in our decision making processes. We need councils for every school, allowing more people to have a say in shaping our University. Ultimately, student participation should be so high that we can remove the undemocratic trustee board who can (and do) currently overturn decisions made by the student body.

We received funding for and have created School Councils as well as ensuring the all student e-mail includes information about ongoing campaigns and what is coming up at the next Student Council. The Trustee Board is now going to be publishing its minutes which is a massive success.

More transparency- EUSA should send press releases to the student press of big changes and policies that are passed in council to keep our students up to date on what direction their union is moving in. All student e-mails outlining council agendas should be sent out a week in advance so people can plan their attendance.

We continue to meet with ‘The Student’ press weekly and try very hard to send all student media information or respond to all of their requests for quotes/info ASAP. As said above we now send out more information about our representation. I try very hard to use my social media and this blog to ensure students know what I’m doing and that I am transparent as possible.

Increased information on EUSA Live- Our ‘what’s on’ guide should be the first thing you look at when you’re stuck for ideas on what to do. We need to expand this, include more society events and make it easier for students to get involved with what’s going on in their unions.

We have updated EUSA Live a little but further work is needed to ensure it shows all the society events in our venues.

Keep the union buildings for students and not for profit- Our Union rooms shouldn’t be consistently out of action for students as they are being rented to external companies for profit, these are our union buildings for our students. We cannot reduce the already limited amount of society space. In addition, we need to ensure that the talk of charging societies to book rooms is never implemented. The majority of societies simply could not afford this and it would limit their potential.

To put it simply, I have rejected any proposals to charge for rooms.

Staff profiles- In addition to Sabb profiles we should have staff profiles on the EUSA website. We have a dedicated team of EUSA staff and we need to make it easier for students to seek direct support. We should provide contact details and a brief description of what they do and what they are responsible for.

This would need to be worked out with HR some more. We restarted the democracy@eusa.ed.ac.uk e-mail so it was easier to send in general enquiries. There is some general information about some of the staff on our site.

• Elections- We currently have a bizarre system where most of the people running for the big positions decided the election regulations. This obviously gives them a clear advantage and means that their friends have access to important details first. We should have a separate body to decide the election regulations, as the Trustee Board are clearly biased.

Any changes to the election regulations now have to be put through Student Council.

Clocks in every room - It seems simple but there are still so many University and Union buildings without clocks in them. Whether it’s for peace of mind, to stop you being late or to get you through class it’s an easy ask.

This is something I have spoken to Estates about and they have said that they can try and make sure all new teaching rooms have them and that if students are in rooms that they wished to have a clock they should raise it with myself or staff.

More ethical.

We’re currently only 42nd out of 145 in the People & Planet green league and while this isn’t tragic it’s clear there is room for improvement. We are beaten by the Edinburgh based Queen Margaret University and Napier. It’s our duty to future generations and ourselves to try and preserve our planet and here at Edinburgh we should be making lots of small changes to play our part.

•  Stop the sale of bottled water- Bottled water is one of the most unethical products on the planet. We take something that has already been treated and is free then put it in plastic bottles and transport it around the world for profit. It takes 17 million barrels of oil a year to produce bottled water globally. To put it in perspective, that’s enough oil to fuel 1 million cars for a whole year. We need to be encouraging refill, not landfill. EUSA should sell refillable bottles and there should be enough free water available that there is never any need to buy it.

The removal of our water was to come after I had ensured there is free water available across campus.  The University have agreed to pay for a pilot scheme for more water fountains. They are going to be putting in some more public ones in foyers and creating a cross campus branding to ensure they are noticeable. ECA has already had 3 new water fountains installed.  I’ve met with some interested students and we’re planning a launch. I’m creating a survey to ask students where they would like to see more water fountains on campus and how much they would pay for a refillable water bottle.

Embedding issues relating to sustainability across all subjects- Sustainability needs to come into the mainstream, and people need to be made aware of its benefits. We need to ensure that sustainability concerns are ingrained in all courses, e.g. maths courses could focus on calculating carbon footprint for large companies, history courses could focus on the environmental impact of certain world events. Care would of course be taken to  avoid a ‘green washing’ agenda and that issues of ‘sustainability’ are engaged with critically, as well as ensuring that departments practice what they preach.

At the start of the year this was something I banged on about to the University. I met with some of the vice-principals to make it clear that this was something I wanted to happen and to work out how we could bring this about. Since then there have been two papers submitted on the topic by University management which is great. It is definitely on the radar of the University. I have also attended a consultation event to feed into the HEA & QAA national framework on this subject.

Most excitingly, we have entered the NUS Green Impact excellence award for this topic.

Ethical investment- As such a large and prestigious University we make a lot of investments. However, too often these are shortsighted. Universities should be beacons of good practice, and not investing in arms companies and others with equally harmful practices. Time and again it’s been shown that ethical funds can produce the same levels of profit and, not only that, but are helping our world. In addition, the University should be investing more money into itself with projects such as increased housing, regenerating Pleasance and double glazing. These can make us more energy efficient and not fund harmful practices.

There’s been a lot of work around ethical investment this semester and I’m consistently impressed by the students who put in the work to make this a success. Firstly the University agreed to divest from UltraElectronics- a company which made parts for drones. This was a massive success. More importantly the University have agreed to do a whole student and staff wide review of socially responsible investment to find out where people would and would not like the money to be spent. I’ve done talks and attended various student, staff and public events about this topic and early next semester we shall be doing a lot to facilitate students filling in the consultation.

We also facilitated the big FossilFreeUK event that was held in New College. This was an excellent event that attracted around 600 people and had speakers such as Bill McKibben.

Ethical Procurement- Some great work has been done into investigating the companies who supply our products. We need to continue this and ensure that all along the supply chain workers are being treated fairly and there isn’t unnecessary damage to the environment. We should expand on our range of fairtrade products and promote companies with good practice.

EUSA is going to start monitoring the amount of Fairtrade stock we have and also ensuring that we have general fair trade and not just Fairtrade. We’ve moved all of our meat supply to Britain and are trying to ensure our food comes as locally as possible. In addition, I’m going to the meetings of, and feeding into, the Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges to create a robust way of checking companies supply chains.

Reducing the amount of printed materials- EUSA & the University go through huge amounts of paper every day. We need to ensure that all documents are printed double sided and that we use less glossy paper.

I’ve been on a bit of a printing double sided rampage in EUSA and we’ve sent messages to all of our staff encouraging them to only print in colour when absolutely necessary. We are trying to reduce the number of printed materials for Student Council etc. All the papers are displayed in advance online and are up on a screen at the front of the room.

Reducing food waste- According to the UN every year ⅓ of  global food production is wasted. Here at EUSA we need to be ensuring that we don’t contribute to this. Thankfully soon we’re going to start composting all of our waste but we should do more and investigate donating unwanted food to charity and finding ways of offering it to our students.

EUSA is composting all of it’s food waste; however, I’m hoping to further improve this by donating unwanted food. We are currently investigating the ‘FareShare’ scheme. We’re also taking care when we stock check and that the food that is on our menus won’t lead to excess wastage.

•  Promoting students taking action – there are so many great student initiatives and sustainable projects and we need to be supporting and promoting these. For example, the Students Reuse Hub (SHRUB) is an extension of the Swapshop that looks at reusing all kinds of items that would end up in landfill and the Hearty Squirrel provides great fresh, local vegetables every week.

I took our Commercial Director on a trip to visit Shrub at the end of last semester and I plan to do work with them in the semester going ahead. We’re hosting a students in the community event to help students win money for their projects from the council so hopefully this will be very successful. EUSA promotes what student initiatives it can however there is probably still lots more we could be doing so please send me your ideas!

Well, congratulations on making it to the end of that rather long update! I hope that made enough sense to you and you’re satisfied with my progress so far.

As always if you have any questions then get in touch with me at vps@eusa.ed.ac.uk

What I’ve Been Up To- 3

Here’s my third bug update about what I’m been doing in my job as VPS…

Commercial Services

KB Gym

There has been an increase in the number of people using the KB gym which is positive. (Although at only £30 a year I still don’t understand why not more!) We’ve installed a table tennis table after a request from some Postgrad students so I hope you all enjoy this.

New College Catering

There’s been a lot going on at New College with a slight change in stock that’s being purchased and an increase in the amount being purchased overall. We’ve been making changes to facilitate this however, the very small kitchen space makes this rather difficult. In addition, while we would love to increase the opening hours that is simply not financially viable. It would be great if people could get a coffee before their first lecture however, we did this before but it made a substantial loss and in our current financial state we simply cannot afford this. This outlet already loses us around £3,000 a year but we wish to continue it as it is a service to our students. We have increased our product range and stock however, there is a lot of food waste due to food going out of date before being purchased so we will have to keep reviewing this.

Some changes that have been made:

·         We’re buying a new fridge and doing some rearranging in the kitchen so we can have more and a broader range of stock.

·         We’re going to try and find some staff who want to work there permanently.

·         We’ve fixed the coffee machines!

·         We cannot fit a fryer into the kitchen but we will be selling oven chips

We’re looking into the possibility of selling the meal deal. This would involve a cross-over of catering and retail which becomes a bit complicated on our systems but I shall keep you updated.

Blurred Lines

The publicity we received around deciding not to play Blurred Lines was excellent. Last I heard another 20 unions had also made the decision along with SubTV. Due to this The Guardian covered the story: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/nov/13/blurred-lines-most-controversial-song-decade Since September, when the decision was made, I’ve only just had the first week when someone hasn’t asked me for a comment or interview on the song/decision. These have then appeared in a range of media including Swedish Feminist magazines, French papers, Jezabel, Belfast Telegraph and I’ve had questions from lots of students doing essays or dissertations.

I’m absolutely delighted that this has received so much coverage and that people started to question other songs. I hope that as we move forward we can start to challenge the discrimination we see in all of our popular culture.

Roller Disco

We had an absolutely fantastic Roller Disco a couple of weeks ago. I had such a blast although realised I cannot skate, AT ALL. We also had Alex & Sam from Made In Chelsea up to join the fun.

There are lots of exciting things that will be coming soon:

-The 2-4-1 pizza offer has been extended to Saturday night

-We’re going to start doing an all-day breakfast on Sunday (with a bloody Mary or virgin Bloody Mary)

-We’re looking into having another roller disco since the last one was so great

-Teviot has now started selling all it’s delicious Mulled Wine and other hot drinks

-Cocktails will be coming back! Cocktail society will also creating a special one each month

-We’ll be running some meet the brewer events with Beer Soc to get some local beers in

-There’s going to be a big pool competition (so get practising)

-Token Voting System

I’ll update you more on these in my next big update when they have all kicked off.

Ethical Food

We’re trying to source some reasonably priced vegan cheese and if we get hold of that then we should be able to start selling vegan nachos!

I’ve now got statistics of where in Britain our meat comes from, and how much is from the local farm so at some point I will get round to making all this presentable for you all.  

Pizzas

I had a comment that the pizza sizes had been shrinking recently.  The pizza bases are all exactly the same weight, it just depends on who is preparing them. Some people like them a bit thicker and smaller some people thinner and the size of the whole plate. We will try and ensure that they become more consistent.

Wheelchair Access

I received a number of complaints about the wheelchair ramp in the new KB shop taking up too much space in the shop. I would like to make it clear that I think it is vital that all of our shops and facilities are wheelchair accessible and make no apologies for our new shop meeting these standards. It is unfair that students with a disability should not be able to access and browse the shop.

Token Voting System

My token voting system is well underway to being created. We’ve ordered some chips and maintenance are making the boxes to store them. This will be kicking off in the New Year with you receiving a token when you purchase something to then use to vote on something to do with EUSA commercial services.

Teviot Cash Machine

Earlier in the year I reported how we would be getting the cash machine refilled more regularly so it would stop running out of money. However, despite this it is still running out of money. Due to insurance we are unable to put a bigger machine in this spot. We will therefore be relocating the cash machine to the left of the main entrance where we can have a much bigger one.

Ethical & Environmental

Drinking Water

I met with a couple of students from interested societies to update them on what’s been happening. We started to plan out some more student engagement and will be creating a survey and will hopefully be running a competition for students to design the outside of our refillable water bottles.

In addition, I met with some University staff to discuss the creation of an implementation plan for drinking water fountains across campus. It will now be inserted into the regulations for new buildings. They have agreed to pay for this implementation plan and we will have 3 new water fountains by February which will be monitored as part of a pilot scheme. A brand is also being created so all the water points are easily identifiable.

There are already 3 new drinking water fountains in ECA.

I had received a few complaints that University outlets such as the Library café & Appleton tower café have stopped providing free water. This is not acceptable and so I have written to the catering manager but I would urge you all to too: Ian.Macaulay@ed.ac.uk

Friends of The Meadows

EUSA hosted the most recent meeting of Friends of the Meadows. Myself and External rep Theo gave talks about why the community and sustainability are important to students. This was a great opportunity to talk to some more people about our work, ways we can work together and help inform them about what is important to students. We also had an opportunity to discuss some other topics and as always BBQ sites came up- make sure you use the allocated spots and don’t burn the grass folks.  

Education for Sustainable Development

I attended a 1 day conference on Education for Sustainable Development hosted by QAA & HEA. The morning was talks on best practice, potential problems and why it’s important we make this change. The afternoon was the most useful as it was a consultation on a document they are producing for all Universities.

One of the criteria for the Teaching Awards will now be ‘embedding sustainability and global issues’ as part of all the college awards.

We also  submitted our first  application to achieve the NUS Green IMpact Excellence award for the project we are running on ESD this year. Davy, our Environmental Coordinator & I, will be going through all this and drawing up more of a plan before we break up for the holidays so I’ll update you more after that.

Wrote a blog post about Students & Sustainability

I’ve now given a few talks about students and sustainability so I wrote one up for you all to see on my blog:

http://kirstyhaigh1.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/students-social-responsibility-and-sustainability/

Free Trade or Fair Trade Lecture

I attended the lecture the University put on as part of the ‘Our Changing World’ series on ‘Free Trade or Fair Trade? Competing moral economies in a changing world’. The lecture was far more biased than I had expected and only engaged in the positives of Fairtrade. I think we have to be promoting fair trade and not just Fairtrade the brand. There are a number of criticisms of Fairtrade pushing out the worst off and making farmers who cannot access them seem as if they are not fair trade. I asked a question on this of the speaker but he avoided answering.

Ethical Investment

The University are behind where they said they would be on their review of the socially responsible investment plan so I’m keeping a close eye on this. Having spoken to some University staff the working group, of which I am a part, will now have its first meeting in January. They have said that while the consultation period will be starting later they do not plan to shrink it which is obviously a good thing.

Estates & Buildings

Post Box

I had an inquiry about getting a postbox somewhere on Central Campus. There are regulations around where they can be placed and this would be too close to other post boxes that already exist.

General

EUSA becoming a Pro-Feminist Organisation

I’m absolutely delighted that a couple of weeks ago EUSA voted to become a pro-feminist organisation. You can read my speech that came along with the motion here: http://kirstyhaigh1.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/pro-feminist-eusa/ The story also appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News so you can read that here: http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/edinburgh-university-students-vote-for-feminism-1-3199788

I met with both FreshAir and The Journal before the Student Council to raise the profile of the debate.  

Lobbying Bill

I spoke about the lobbying Bill at University Court and was given a couple of connections. I have therefore been in contact with these lords, and written to many more (and MPs) expressing my concerns about the lobbying bill. I also wrote an article for The Student (which is now available on my blog here: http://kirstyhaigh1.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/the-limiting-lobbying-bill-and-the-impact-it-will-have-on-the-student-voice/) about how the bill will affect the student voice.

Anti Anti-immigration Speakers

I signed a statement condemning the NUS for inviting Lord Glasman to speak at an upcoming event. He supports a total ban on immigration and has said many unacceptable things. This is not what the NUS should be supporting. You can read the statement here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/rosie-hazard/nus-we-dont-want-anti-immigration-rhetoric-at-our-events/10151694834010036

Strikes

Sadly I was at NUS zone conference and so unable to support the first round of our staff strikes on the ground. I however mobilised as much as I could online and publicised the event. The main things I did were write a blog post (http://kirstyhaigh1.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/support-the-strikes/), some stuff for the website and e-mailed lots of societies with an e-mail to send to their members. I also attended the strike debrief meeting where we discussed what could have been done better and the future strikes that are planned (Dec 3rd).

ImageI thankfully was here for the second round of strikes which took place and spent the morning out on the picket line and talking to students outside the library about why staff are on strike.

We also decided to up the pressure on University around the issue and thus the morning before the strikes we went into occupation in the Finance Directors office.
Following the strikes we had a big open meeting about where for the campaign next. We’re planning three Scotland-wide demos one of which will be hosted here in Edinburgh. We’re also going to run a poster campaign and a few other things to educate people about why the strike is happening and to keep up the pressure.Image

Occupation

The morning before the second round of strikes myself and lots of other students took part in an occupation of the office of the Director Of Finance. You can find out more on this here:  http://kirstyhaigh1.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/why-im-currently-occupying-the-office-of-the-university-finance-director/

Housing Co-op

A core group of interested students and I are now having weekly meeting on Thursdays to take forward the housing co-op project. We’ve almost finalised a paper, to be sent round relevant University staff and the council, with only a few quotes to be added. We’re also going to be creating a blog to share documents such as these and generally keep people in the loop.

Societies Council

I’ve been to a couple of Societies Council meetings (although sadly also missed a couple due to conferences). After hearing it as a complaint from lots of people I proposed that we remove the necessity for societies to have a President, Secretary and Treasurer. When I posted this on social media there was lots of support however, Societies Council were, apparently, tied so for the moment aren’t planning on changing it. I plan to keep lobbying for the change as I think societies should be able to decide their own structures and roles.
Societies Council also agreed that they did not agree that speakers should be able to request that their audience is split into genders (as laid out and promoted in this paper:http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/highereducation/Documents/2013/ExternalSpeakersInHigherEducationInstitutions.pdf) and will be putting out a statement on this shortly.

Good Deed Feed

Having seen a Good Deed Feed somewhere else I’ve been inspired to create a EUSA one. It will display on the EUSA website, and sometimes social media. I’ve purchased a phone for EUSA so people can then text, or send in other ways, the good deeds they have seen or been part of around campus. Our IT and social media guys are looking into what exactly the best format will be and then hopefully it will be up and running early next semester.

Interfaith

Alongside the Chaplaincy we applied for funding for a programme of interfaith events. I’m very happy they granted us £300 and so now we’ll be trying to help make sure this is a success. There is a plan to run events in school and for some students to partake in a pilgrimage over the summer.

NUS Conferences

I spent 4 days at NUS zones conference. The first one was Society & Citizenship which looked at student unemployment and local communities. I was very disappointed that Soc & Cit did not talk about the environment at all.

The second was Union Development which looked at how to engage the student body and the problems unions can face.

The best NUS event by far was the Scotland Zone Conference. There were some excellent speeches and I went to a couple of interesting workshops on access to education for those in prison and racism & sexism in popular culture. I spoke in defence of the SEC proposal to amend the plan of work- which passed) so it didn’t include schemes such as rate your landlord but to take a broader sector wide approach. (Rate the landlord schemes reply on lots of participation and can accidently recommend bad landlords just because people haven’t rated them). I also gave a short presentation on ethical investment and the campaign we are running here at Edinburgh. You can watch the video round-up of the conference here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thj0Ug0kwz8&feature=youtu.be

BTP Training

I attended some BTP activist training although sadly I wasn’t able to stay for it all as had to attend a meeting to secure the funding for my drinking water proposal. .

NUS Change Today

I’d previously said I would be speaking at and running a workshop at this event however, NUS cancelled it a couple of days before it happened.

Events

I’ve been to loads of events however, sadly there’s never enough time to attend all the society and student run events I get invited to. I had an absolutely jam packed week last week where I went to the Theatre Paradok play,  North American society Thanksgiving ball, Socialist Society Christmas ceilidh, was on FreshAir & BLOGs Glowball where Folk Soc played.

ImageThat week I also attended the Principals Winter Graduation Dinner which was a grand evening of excellent food and campaign promoting. I spoke to a lot of people about our housing co-op project to get some buy in and learn from their expertise. I also had some good conversations with some of the vice-principals about the sheer lack of teaching or attention social science students receive. Some were fairly shocked by this and told me that students should be more vocal about this. I brought my friend Tasha along with me (who is our LGBT+ convenor) and that meant she was able to point out to staff that we have never celebrated LGBT history month at this Uni and tell them of her plans to do it this year (so hopefully they will also open their wallets to fund it).

I also attended the Equal Marriage Celebration which took place in Pleasance. Very excitingly, the bill passed the first stage in parliament and so now we look forward to the passing of stages 2 & 3. This was an excellent event hosted by our LGBT liberation group. It included speeches from Marco Biagi MSP and Tom French from the Equality Network, lots of dancing and even some party games.

National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts

I attended the national conference in Birmingham of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. This is an organisation to which EUSA is affiliated and you can find out more about them here: http://anticuts.com/
It was an excellent conference where we committed to supporting local groups, fighting the student debt sell off and supporting staff in the fight for fair pay. There were also some excellent workshops my favourite of which was around privilege theory, liberation and how we interact with it all. This was an excellent open discussion around these issues and good food for thought.  
I also stood for election and am now a member of the National Committee.

Winter GraduationsImage

The Winter Graduations have not long finished and as always we had sabbatical representation at each one. As Hugh was off sick I attended and extra one so even more prancing in my robe, smiling and clapping! Congratulations to all those who graduated.

Sports Union General Committee

I attended a Sports Union general committee and gave a quick talk at the start about what I and EUSA actually do before moving on to encourage people to get involved, come and chat to me and run in our elections.

Trustee Meetings

We’ve now had a few Trustee meetings and I’m delighted that the board is now going to start publishing the minutes. This will make it easier for students to find out what is being discussed at this level should they wish to do so. The Trustee Board deals with the strategic oversight of the organisation and deals with the high level decisions. Earlier in the year we signed off the budget, we approved the accounts and there’s been discussions around the new Students’ Association building. One of the boards’ big projects going forward is the strategic plan. EUSA hasn’t had a strategic plan for a number of years so it’s even more crucial we get this right and do proper amounts of research. We’ve already had a half day planning workshop on this but the most important part comes from consultation with you lot. We’re going to be trying to discover as much about the student body as we can and will be engaging your feedback in all sorts of ways.

As always if you want to get involved in anything then send me a message on vps@eusa.ed.ac.uk