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By Zain Sardar on 17.6.2023

The Cai Robbins Interview

InQuireLive managed to speak to the VP Sports, Cai Robbins, about sports clubs at Kent, problems in Medway and the profound change in her life

What were your feelings once you got elected?

I felt like ‘yes I got it’ –now I have to do it. I felt I put a lot of hard work into my campaign and that now I had a year of hard work to do so I don’t let anyone down. There is a feeling of excitement but you’re also scared you might let someone down.

What have you achieved?

I’ve improved the level of pride in sports around campus. Results of matches go up in the Venue so people can see them. There are more coaching and officiating courses than before. Auxiliary staff have all been first aid trained and having first aid courses on campus has been discussed.

Apart from what I said in my manifesto I’ve also had to deal with Medway. I’ve had a meeting with Medway Council and although they knew the Association existed- they were now glad of the student input from it. I’ve not made any tangible improvement but made sure some students are listened to and resources made more use of.

Medway has taken away a lot of my time but I’ve spent as much time at Kent University. Anything anyone has asked me to do at the University I’ve done. I’ve put in long hours here so as to not let any students down here as well as in Medway.

The hardest thing is the pure frustration that it seems it is just me focusing on Medway- issues I can’t deal with like welfare and education. I feel I can’t really do it. There has also been the frustration that I’ve had no backing from Greenwich or Christchurch. Kent is doing most of the representation work. It is difficult as it feels like I’m the only one doing it.

It is not really fair the way the Medway sabbatical is chosen as a random sabbatical rather than an elected one. I’d love to see the system changed. The problem is that the sabbatical team is not supportive enough. There is a culture of responsibility for me and not for anyone else- and things get missed, I can’t do it all.

Hopefully the system will be changed next year- Kent Union, Christchurch and Greenwich are going through a governance review next year and will make the changes that need to be made. Discussion needs to be had on this situation if things are to be made better next year.

How have you fulfilled your manifesto points?

Community Coaching

This has been really difficult to achieve but I’m nearly there trying to get university subsided coaching causes. I’m looking to get these people to go into the local community. It has been difficult, more so than I thought, as I’ve been looking to the local community for funding. It has been difficult to get links between the community, Sports Centre and Kent Union together- as it is not a priority for the sports centre. But the ball is definitely rolling and it is on the agenda.

Safety

The main problem with this has been that each Wednesday afternoon there were accidents happening in sports matches. The auxiliaries didn’t know what to do- all the staff needed to be trained in first aid. This was done at Christmas, and the number of ambulances called has decreased.

I’ve also worked with the First Aid society- to get their equipment sorted and get them trained so they can cover main events and decide if an ambulance is needed for an accident or not.

With regards trying to get a physiotherapist on campus- this is not going to happen this year. But as we are trying to get new elite athletes in the sports centre, we are working hard to get this to happen.

Facilities

There has been talk of a new athletics track- I’ve just had a meeting about this. Even though the number of students have increased much of the sports facilities on campus have decreased. There will be a business plan for a gym extension and for the tennis courts to be covered, and the sports centre are throwing the idea of an athletics track on campus around – which is really exciting. This outcome is in the sports strategy for the next five years.

Sports for all

This incorporates a lot of things- inter-cultural sports and community sports amongst others. More sports clubs exist than ever before especially since some societies have applied and become sports clubs.

Varsity was troublesome this year- although the weather didn’t help. If I had my way I would have moved it to a different week. However, Christchurch wanted it then or not at all. Many teams did better in BUCS than expected this year- and so still had fixtures on during Varsity. So some sports clubs then had to play when they didn’t want to.

We played it in the end and we won- and this was the main thing. It was a shame that we had to do it when we did but Christchurch had organised a results party and insisted. I’ve organised a meeting with Christchurch and the new VP Sports James Budge to organise a date for it next year, as well as a plan A and B, so we can cope if a similar situation arises.

I’ve sat on a group called Podium- that helps organise the Olympics so that it is seen as relevant to Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) institutions. We’ve come together to discuss whether students know what is relevant to the Olympics- for example Varsity is linked to every value of the Olympics- respect and excellence to name just two. Podium doesn’t feel that students realise that what they are doing now interacts with the values of the Olympics. They are also highlighting the need for volunteers for 2012. The strategy in 2010 is to get students with volunteering experience- this is why volunteering projects are so important and we need to educate everyone so they can get involved, not just about sports being played but what it means for London and the country- so we can show what we can offer. Great Britain has a vast and amazing culture- this is highlighted through the cultural Olympiad and which aims to get rid of discrimination, break down barriers between ethnic minority groups and hostility towards migrants. Everyone has talent that can be used.

In terms of Pride-every Wednesday there is a slide show in the Venue with pictures of every match taken, and the results put up in a power point presentation. It’s all this hard work and the little things that make a big impact. I’ve done a lot of work with Adam Silver, the former inQuire Sports editor, which has been really important as inQuire is good at getting to students that wouldn’t necessarily get into sports.

I’ve held a lot of one-off events this year, and multicultural events to get the local community involved through free drinks and burgers. I’ve tried to get people involved through different things- like letting them know that sports is not all about being the best but doing some stuff to be healthy. Through Sport England, I’ve tried getting people involved in sports through doing something active every week. Through the Sports Centre there have been healthy walks and the Kent Union bike hire has finally taken off.

Some of the problems I’ve encountered are that people have the mentality that to be part of a sports club you have to drink a lot, and so some people are scared of initiation ceremonies. I think I was right to make the decision to write an initiation policy because some people were bullied into doing things they didn’t want to do. An investigation has taken place for one sports club and one student was found guilty of breaking the policy and was thrown out of the sports club. The decision was appealed against but found to be the right one. There has been lots of pressure on me to reverse my decision but I know I did the right thing.

The idea that you have to be involved in a culture of drinking is wrong. You go to play. I’ve tried to break down the barriers of weird social initiation policies, and hope I’ve instilled the idea into people that they can say ‘no’ if you don’t want to do something. I hope everyone has learnt that from this year.

I’ve failed with college sports officers; I’ve tried to get them involved but some have stepped down, some didn’t want to get involved and others I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t have any knowledge of college sports and didn’t understand the politics involved. I’m sorry that I didn’t manage to achieve this I know I’ve let some people down.

With the disability sports programme it has been difficult for me to understand it. Tom Marsh organised things last year but only able bodied people went to them. I wanted to provide events that students with disabilities would want to go to this year. I’ve consulted with a number of different students and they’ve told me they want to go swimming and use the sports centre without feeling scared and intimidated.

The swimming can’t be done on campus but I’ve spoken to a number of places in the city to get slots for disabled students, which is great, however, they still need help to get down there, so we’re looking into a minibus next year with disabled access.

With regards access to the gym, I’ve raised issues with the sports centre to make them aware of it. I’m hoping they’ll open up the cardio theatre to everyone as this will help with overcrowding and ensure that students with disabilities will feel less intimidated and get the support they need while working out, especially since it is bad for their muscles if they don’t get a physical workout. There should also be a physiotherapist next year to help them.

Fresh Start- this didn’t go well because it was a difficult campaign to do, being Tom Marsh’s brain child. This wasn’t something I was passionate about doing. I tried to set up fun runs and inter-cultural football tournaments as well as leaflet about healthy eating and have a mark your property meeting. The people that got involved found it useful but it wasn’t as big as it could have been.

Swimming pool on Campus- I don’t see this happening. The University doesn’t have one but Canterbury has three. To get funding for one in such a small area of Canterbury will be very tricky- the council and Sport England don’t see the point. The director of sport at the University, Graham Holmes, sees it in the future but I just can’t see it happening. Being realistic Kent University is not an isolated community- it is in the context of the whole of Canterbury. But we’ll see- this is one thing that everyone wants – all sports sabbaticals will try but if they actually manage to do it I’ll be amazed.

Has the job met your expectations?

The job hasn’t met my expectations. I had no idea what to expect. Working with Tom Marsh [former sports sabbatical] I don’t know if anyone knows what to expect. It is incredibly upsetting, amazing, exciting- the extremes of all emotions. It has been unlike anything I have done before and I suspect anything I will do again.

What have you most enjoyed?

The challenge- I don’t like letting people down as it upsets me. I’ve had to push myself to please, compromise and get to the middle ground. I’ve enjoyed extending the number of friends I have, learning a lot about myself and what other people can do.

Has the job changed you as a person?

I’m not the same person but can’t find words to describe it. I’m a lot more patient, resourceful, approachable, able to do more, sensitive to other people. I have broader horizons than before- I’ve also become more cynical, I was too optimistic before. I’ve gone through a profound change that other people can’t see but I feel within myself.

I’m more cynical of bureaucracy- before as a student I never worked much in the Union- let alone with local government, the university and national organisations. This has made me cynical of the bureaucracy- you speak to people that put barriers in front of creativity, innovation…this annoys the crap out of me!

What have you learnt?

So much. People skills, how to communicate better, handle myself better, I know how to approach more intimate subjects. I’ve also learnt the basic things- how to create a strategy document and business plan- things you don’t think you’ll do. I learnt a phenomenal amount the simple things- how to ask the right questions in meetings which is massively important.

What piece of advice would you give to future sports sabbaticals?

You can only try your best- if that isn’t good enough for some people don’t beat yourself up about it. There may be high expectations but you can have a social life- I gave it my all and I made myself ill. But I realised that I could chill out and that sport and Kent Union won’t fall apart without me. Just do the best you possibly can.

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