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By Zain Sardar on 3.6.2023

The Caz Brooker Interview

InQuireLive managed to speak with the Vice-President Student Activities, Caz Brooker, about Societies, RaG, events held this year and having the confidence to speak her mind.

What were your feelings once you got elected?

At the time I was scared; daunted at the time ahead- I was ill as well. I was excited but frustrated at the time transition in between being elected and getting started as I was keen to prove myself, especially because of the stiff competition I had. I wanted to show that I deserved those votes I got and that I would achieve everything I wanted to.

What have you achieved?

My biggest achievement is the governance review of societies. This is the first of its kind in Kent Union and was long overdue. From my manifesto I have reviewed the budget system by looking at different student union budget systems especially considering that our one was a rubbish system.

Other things that I have done include Worldsfest- we got £10,000 to help do this when we were told we might not get anything. National Holocaust Memorial day- before this was held in Elliot Chapel, even though this is such a significant day remembering genocides. This year I got other student unions such as Christchurch involved to get a community feel, and got to hold the event in Canterbury Cathedral for free when we should have been expected to pay for it.

The Sleep Out was a huge achievement – we managed to get 100 people sleeping rough till the early morning. In the morning you felt so good at the achievement- it was really bizarre.

How have you fulfilled your manifesto points?

Complete restructure of the current budget system for student funding

Quite a few societies- bigger societies- where unhappy at this idea, but smaller societies weren’t getting the same deal as them. However, there was constant pressure from societies to have a better system for them. Other student unions have an application system of funding- sports do it. Sports clubs get thousands of pounds; and societies expect this too. The more I spoke to other student unions the more I questioned why we had such a backward society budget system.

The governance review sprung up from the review of the budget system. This first came up in a sabbatical meeting, where I complained about money and paperwork; some things societies weren’t happy about. They told me that what I was talking about seemed like a governance review.

I would be a terrible officer if I did not put the work in. Student Activities has been stagnant over the last few years- other sabbaticals have done small bits but not enough for a big change to student lives. The governance review has enabled me to meet my own objectives to make student activities less bureaucratic, and to remove frustrations to make it as easy as possible.

In terms of the budget system- I’m happy with societies being happy with it. They should get enough money for the first and second term. Societies that come up with good ideas can therefore plan for freshers, and the new emergency fund will likewise help societies.

International themed events and food

This is one of the things I’ve not succeeded in as much as I wanted to. I wanted students to plan events for themselves. This started well with the Diwali meal and celebration in the Venue. It then went downhill. Societies weren’t responding; the kite society being one example; societies were not taking it in and this is the biggest issue for me not achieving it as I wanted to.

Regarding food I have raised and highlighted the issue of what Halah, Kosher and vegan food is. Getting this food has been difficult and I haven’t achieved this but I have got the ball rolling. I have put up a soap box for students to start shouting out and providing for their needs.

Information more readily available for societies and make joining and participating as easy as possible

Last year it took over 20 minutes to join a society on the website. Now it is not perfect but it takes under 2 minutes. All activities and society pages are up on the website. We are not using the website as well as we could do- but I’m not sure about the ways we could improve that.
Our contract with OnCampus (Website Provider) runs out next year- and we are looking at others. However, in the meantime we need to ensure service is still adequate. There needs to be an improvement to the layout- Kent Union’s constitution on the website is difficult to find- and we need to have less clicks to get to things in order to make it easier to navigate.

So we are looking to change provider and are speaking to other ones- specially an external one that does elections and electronic voting, so we don’t need to pay for this separately.

More activities with partnership colleges

New societies have started off at partnership colleges- Tonbridge, Ashford and Brussels. We are also looking to do joint events at Medway, however Kent leads this, and so they feel like the ugly sister- they are given the money but not the support they need. There is a focus on societies there- we have sent societies down there to show them how to do it.

In Tonbridge I have taught students how to do events planning, and tried to get activities on this campus to that campus. It has been slow progress as they don’t know what to expect of a student union. Kent Union hasn’t done enough for partnership colleges. It is a learning process- we need to know how to meet their expectations.

Empowering the RAG president

The success of RaG is down to Ian Simmons [the current RaG president]. He has been fantastic and motivated and inspired his volunteers. I’ve supported Ian and the other Raggies so they are not tied down by admin.

We had problems with the 10 % admin fee [where we had to take out any expenses before we could give money to charity]- many people didn’t understand ultra-vires and there was a lot of miscommunication surrounding this leading to negative publicity. But this turned out to be a success as we realised we didn’t always need to charge an admin fee- people like Ben Jones [from the Unicef society on campus] helped achieve this realisation and so more money can now go to charity.

We’ve put in a few more committee positions in for RaG this year and made some minor constitutional amendments to ensure support when needed, so that Ian wasn’t doing all the work himself and he had a team of volunteers to help him.
More entertainment after 2am

I’ve managed to get the Summer Ball past 2am but this isn’t a massive achievement. Currently there is a review of the license of the Venue going on. We pay a lot for the Venue over the summer but there is nothing going on in it at that time. We are looking at hosting under 18 events in there over the summer to get money from it during this time.

We can’t hold events in the Venue past 2am but we can do once the license has been reviewed. You can’t review the license in two different ways at the same time- the licensing panel only look at one change at a time; so once the under 18 review is finished we can review the capability of holding events in there past 2am.

We are looking at holding events past 2am off-campus. There are not many places in Kent were we can do this- but we can maybe hold smaller and sporadic events past 2am.

Cap on fees

I supported the NUS’ Broke and Broken Campaign. There is tension between free education and keeping the cap on fees. I have tended to keep out of the debate as I don’t know where the majority students stand on the issue. At the moment I am campaigning with the other sabbaticals to keep the cap.

Student Activities is the least political position although I have to play my part as part of collective responsibility. I have represented students by campaigning against high fees as students paying these can’t enjoy their education as no time or resources are available to them to do that.

Has the job met your expectations?

James Bull [the former Student Activities sabbatical] warned me the job is mostly admin and not representational. I’ve realised this is the case and the nature of Student Activities- to be tied to your desk.

So the job has met my expectations although I’ve tried to remove the admin parts of the job through the governance review and my assistance Hester Hathaway.

It’s been a tough year- nothing can prepare you for it. How do you achieve your manifesto pledges? There is always an element of frustration- have I or haven’t I? It’s like a doubled edge sword.

What have you most enjoyed?

Talking to students and being as active as I can. I came from a societies background as was part of the Societies Federation Committee but this is only a small part, in comparison to representing all 18,000 students. I enjoyed the AGM (Annual General Meeting) and like that people can call me rubbish and hold me to account. No one is as blunt as students- it is fantastic that they are direct and tell me what they want.

Has the job changed you as a person?

It has changed me as a person. I was shy and lacked a lot of confidence although I would put on a confident image. But doing the job made me raise the bar, mature and develop myself. Being a trustee has made me show determination; I stand by my concerns now, where before I used to back down.

What have you learnt?

I’ve learnt to work as a team- I’m used to it as part of a society but this has been different. We’ve had to rely on each other- we started off unsure of each other but have learnt about each other over the year. For example I’ve given Helen [Palmer] support when she has needed it and she has given her support to me. I’ve learnt I’ve got more guts than I thought- I can hold my own opinion and say to someone that they are wrong. This has been scary but an achievement.

What piece of advice would you give to future Activities Sabbaticals?

They need to be clued up to what they want to achieve- a lot of people won’t care about your role and remit- but as long as you do what students want and what they deserve you are achieving what you want to achieve. Be prepared to admit when you are wrong- this is the key to being a successful officer.

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