As my time as your President comes to an end, I want to reflect on the incredible time in office and the achievements of myself and the Union over the past year.
My first term as your President was incredibly challenging but so rewarding. I was able to spend Freshers’ Fortnight meeting new students, helping with move-in day, working (and a bit of partying) at events, driving the SSHH Bus to get students home safely, and so much more.
After talks with the University, the Big Bucks Meal Deal was launched, which saw a drop in the prices of our campus catering as well as us being able to provide three free meals per week for our members. I spent a lot of time helping to hand out the mean and it gave me the chance to connect with students and see the impact of such a great scheme.
After further talks and negotiations with the University, I was able to secure a pay rise for all student staff to a minimum of £10.90 per hour – the real living wage! It’s been a huge win for the Union and our students.
Along with other members of the Union, I attended meetings with Thames Valley Police around spiking and our safety measures during night time events. These concluded in Thames Valley Police informing us that we had the safest venue in town with the least reported incidents, which is something we’re very proud of.
Before Christmas I was very busy with meetings and wrapping up the end of the calendar year. I attended University Council where I presented a paper to the board discussing the successes we had achieved, such as the role out of the free meals, the increased budget of the hardship fund and discussed the positive impact of The Big Deal.
I was also involved in the fantastic fundraising efforts for Movember and came into the office with a full fae of special effects makeup for the entire day when we hit the challenge target. I got a lot of funny looks!
In my second term, I jumped straight into planning the opening of the Windsor Halls Safe Space with the help of Bucks Men’s Rugby President, Tim Cunningham. Equipped with water, snacks, a blanket, a place to charge your phone and a safe place to sit and be safe, the reception of Windsor Halls is accessible 24/7 to all BNU students who need a safe place to be.
After collecting feedback from students, I reached out to Thames Valley Police about tackling nighttime safety concerns in High Wycombe, and what can be done to make reporting better. I then launched the Personal Safety Survey to collect feedback and create a report to be sent to Thames Valley Police about safety in Wycombe.
I was also involved in the interview process to appoint the new Deputy Vice Chancellor alongside my fellow Sabbatical Officers and a panel of students. I was pleased that Professor Damien Page was appointed as BNU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor after an excellent interview where he spoke very passionately about how valuable the student experience is and how vital it is to put students first. I’m excited to see what Damien brings to BNU.
In March I attended the NUS National Conference alongside your elected NUS delegates. The conference is an opportunity to shape what the next year of NUS campaigning looks like and have our say on what the NUS should be fighting for. This covers everything from housing reform, fighting for Trans rights, International Students and more. We found the conference to be disorganised and not particularly effective. With several instances where many delegates felt their voices and opinions were being limited or ignored and in general treated unfairly. NUS disaffiliation is something we have been discussing as a Union for some time, and the conference solidified a lot of concerns I had around NUS’s effectiveness, ethics, and accountability as an organisation.
I checked off a personal goal of mine and played in my first ever Varsity for the netball team and had the privilege to watch so many other brilliant students compete and share some very emotional moments for those who played their last game with us. Although we were unable to secure the win, I was so proud of everyone!
I had the honour of speaking at the investiture of Jay Blades, where I gave a speech centred around kindness, compassion and community, all things I felt have been at the forefront of my time as President. I was lucky enough to meet not only Jay, but a range of famous attendees including Dame Judy Dench and Mary Berry, who complimented me on both my speech, and my hair!
Looking into the final term, I worked to organise a campaign called Attire to Inspire. It centred around inclusivity and celebrating our beautifully diverse students through fashion and encouraging them to dress how best reflects who they are in a safe and caring environment. This involved members modelling, makeup artists from our BNU courses, and a really fun photoshoot. Several students fed back that taking part in the photoshoot made them feel accepted and included. The campaign was also a part of our awards nights for all attendees, where we had the privilege of welcoming a beautifully diverse room of guests into a safe and inclusive celebration.
I also attended the WhatUni Student Choice Awards in London, where BNU was shortlisted in four categories, including ‘Best Students’ Union’ for the sixth consecutive year. We were honoured to receive the award for ‘Best Cost of Living Support’ for our work in partnership with the University around the Cost-of-Living Crisis, which was an incredibly proud moment for myself and the Union.
As my time as President comes to a close, it is a genuine pleasure to recall all the amazing moments across the year, and I could go on and on, because it’s not just about the big wins, but the little ones too. The ones that I couldn’t fit into an update but may have changed a student’s life, like all the times I had a conversation over a cuppa in my office with a student or the time spent building relationships to better serve BNU. They’ve all helped in raising concerns or finding solutions to what might seem like a small problem at the time but have had a real impact to someone’s life.
I am so incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity and feel truly privileged, so, from the bottom of my heart to all that have been on this journey with me, thank you.
- Charlotte Leighton-Woods, Students’ Union President 2022-23