Interview: Lewis Harding, candidate for director of events and services

Photo: Maria Faciolince

The director of events and services is responsible for managing student input regarding bar and entertainment services at the Union, and is involved in the strategic planning of the Association’s events programme, which includes important events like Freshers’ Week and the Graduation Ball.

Read our analysis of Mr Harding’s manifesto here.

Why do you want to be DoES?

I think because with redevelopment coming in, it’s the first time really that, as students we, well, before the Union’s built obviously, but that we really get a chance to see what the Union is going to look like. We really get a chance to make it our own. I really want to be with that. I really want to help people make the Union what they want it to be, and as I say, I think we now have potential to do that.

I also think that the role would be really fun. I’ve been involved in a lot of Union stuff, mainly with theatre: acting, directing and I’ve done about 25 shows here, in my time at St Andrews. But I’ve also been about for St Andrews’ Union, I’ve been down in London for the Lord Mayor’s procession, I’ve been interviewed by the BBC on behalf of the University. On the Rocks Community Relations Manager: I’ve organised community events, had my own radio show. It’s really stuff that I love doing, and I really enjoy it: I hope that I can help a lot of students too.

And what do you think of your predecessor’s performance?

What do I think of Dan? I think he’s done a wonderful job. I think it should almost be put down in the job description: running the Union without Dan Palmer, because he does so much and he’s really, really on it. He’s a tough act to follow, I think. But he’s nailed down getting things done on time, organisation, and he’s really made things run very smoothly, even with the redevelopment. I think I’d like to take what he’s done, build upon it, and really, we’ve got the base line now that Dan’s established. I think we can do bigger and better things now, thanks to Dan Palmer and his predecessors.

How do you feel that your experience has prepared you for this role specifically?

I’ve done a huge amount of organising of theatrical events, directing: you really need to be on it, know where everyone is at the time, what time rehearsals are, what space you’ve got… but you really need to be on everything, and for a long time as well. I’ve directed a play with over 30 people in it, cast and crew, delegations of course, as well as understanding everything that’s going on.

Also with On the Rocks, I helped set up a community play, which I maintained an almost executive producer function. Organising space, we went through the Union, we went through the legalities of setting up a street theatre licence, so I understand the bureaucracy of the Union – and also the bureaucracy of government, as well. That was very important for On the Rocks, since I was working with children: this community play involved kids from the local community and the University. We were going to do it in the secret garden of St Mary’s Quad, but unfortunately due to weather, it had to be moved to Venue 1. So I’m aware of everything that happens and goes on.

What was your title in this role?

I was community relations manager, which was the first year that they had one: not this year, but last year. So I set up a wee database of people who are interested, set up this community play, spoke to lots of people in the community and got them involved.

What do you think the three most relevant issues are to students today?

[Long pause] I think that having really big, important acts is something that students really care about, and something that I’m going to be working on, hopefully. I would like to collaborate with other unis to present a kind of tour date schedule to big-name acts, so that if they can go round the entirety of Scottish unis in five to six days, depending on who’s interested, and I spoke to Edinburgh Uni about this this morning, so I had a wee dialogue about that.

How would you do things differently?

Well obviously Jules managed to get Tinchy Stryder, although that turned a bit weird! So I think that this proves that we really can do this if we put enough energy into it. As I say, I think Dan’s done a fantastic job of getting everything running efficiently with redevelopment, and now I think that we can really punch above our weight: get in big name acts, approach other unis, present them with schedules, like ‘You can be in Edinburgh Tuesday, you can be in St Andrews Wednesday’, so there’s a lot that can be done with collaboration, I think. That can drive down the costs of bringing them here, and also increase the likelihood that they will come along.

And have you seen events at other unis which has inspired this?

I’m aware that collaboration has happened in the past – I’ve been speaking to Jules Findlay about that, I’m waiting to hear back from him at the moment. But definitely Dan said that Jules had tried a similar scheme with reasonable success. Dan, of course, has been taking things over, but said that it could theoretically reasonably happen. So really I think that it’s just quite a positive idea, and that it makes a whole load of sense.

What would you change or emphasise from last year’s Freshers’ line-up?

I would really like to see a big-name act, as I say: I’d really like to see some large, hard-hitting name coming to St Andrews. I remember, I think it was in my first year: I saw that Glasgow had got Pendulum, who are obviously a big act and that’s where all my friends went, and I can’t remember who St Andrews got, but I remember being quite disappointed. So I’d love for us to be like, ‘Yes we are getting a big name act, we are getting Alt-J, we are getting someone at the peak of their game.’ And I think we can do this through a collaboration process: our Freshers’ lines up with Edinburgh’s, Glasgow’s is the next week afterwards, so there is a run that kind of works for that.

I think Starfields – great event – this kind of brings me onto my next point about us needing to go with more of what works and less of what doesn’t. What I think doesn’t work: Friday nights have seen a decline in students coming to the Union, which is a real shame, because, despite all the redevelopment, it’s still a wonderful place to go. But I think that we can do a lot to improve on that. Key to this is student participation and collaboration: we’d like to collaborate with big acts, just like we’d like to collaborate with students, with societies. Music is Love’s Mungo’s Hi-Fi, for example, was hugely successful, very popular, because it was a collaborative act between the Union and students who wanted to put it on. And I think there’s huge potential: Music is Love, On the Rocks, STAR… all these societies are growing, they’re doing very well, and it’d be in the Union’s interest to do more collaborative stuff with them. Sort of work with these groups and let them get what they want.

Similarly, with the AU, Sinners’ Rodeo Night was packed out and that’s because the AU was putting on things that students want to see. And who knows better than students? So I think collaboration with societies, collaboration with the AU, to produce events that students will enjoy.

How would you manage with the elimination of Venue 2, if redevelopment isn’t completed by semester one of the next academic year?

Having spoken to Dan, who thinks that it’s most likely that the Sky Bar will still be open, regardless of what happens… I want to draw up a list of all the venues that have been used in the past for St Andrews society events, I’d like to see where students are liaising, where we can redirect events, whether this will incur a cost for the Union. I think we can probably make quite a use of the Barron Theatre, it’s got good spaces that can be utilised: the dressing rooms, backstage, it’s got props, which isn’t ideal, but it is an interesting space. Obviously we need to speak to the Barron manager about that, but there is a lot of scope for other places in St Andrews – Younger Hall. And lots of the furniture in the Sky Bar is quite moveable. It can be used as such at night, and then during the day we can move the furniture and keep the space being used.

But it’s all about flexibility, seeing what will work for students: what’s worked in the past, and what will work in the future. But we do have a lot of potential with the new spaces that are coming in after redev, so we’ll have Sandy’s Bar, with a nice, quaint, pub-style atmosphere, and the main bar, with its potential to offer food, we’re going to have the café and the Union shop. So there’s going to be new spaces and it’s going to be really exciting to see what we can do with them as students. And I’d like to have a poll of what people want, and it’s going to be something that I do during campaign week, going around with a whiteboard: what do you want done with these venues?

I think it’s a matter of getting a routine of what do we want doing with these spaces at this time. Traditionally the Thursday music quiz is quite successful, we can maybe move that to Sandy’s Bar with its chilled-out atmosphere. Maybe we can think about drinks deals, or some kind of cash prize behind it.

With the café, we can have coffee house sessions, which have been coming in this year. There’s a company which services acts for smaller student Unions, which we could use in the coffee house. Find out what works, what doesn’t work: really make this space our own.

Are the ideas of encouraging students to come to the Union and outsourcing to other venues not conflicting? How would you make sure that the Union had more of the better events?

I obviously want the Union to have more of those better events, in terms of the database of other venues, that would be for semester one, particularly for society space. And for semester two, it’d be applicable to larger events, but hopefully these smaller spaces in the Union would have their own identities and be able to host more low-key events.

I’d like to bring in some alternative forms of entertainment: comedians, maybe some theatre companies which haven’t been seen before. There’s a wonderful thing called Paper Cinema, who do some really nice projection things with live music. I think they’re absolutely wonderful. I think there’s huge scope for little companies to come and do something creative with the spaces.

For the larger events, we’re going to need to be more innovative with the removal of Venue 1, but I think that it’s something that’s been done in the past, and we can keep it up.

How do you intend to smooth over the Union and University’s relationship?

As I see it, the DoES has two main roles: to raise money for the Union, and to make sure that the students have an amazing time. You need to guide a fine balance between those two: it is difficult, but I think the way of doing that is putting on things that the students really enjoy. It’s really nailing down what people want, making a place that people want to go to, making an interesting place, a lively place. We have real potential to do that with redevelopment coming in.

Anything else to add?

God, I’ve got thousands of ideas buzzing round. Obviously, keep the Ents ticking over, make sure that they’re very busy, have lots to do, we’re going to hopefully be getting some professional sound training at the end of this semester. That doesn’t disregard the wonderful informal training that they do, but maybe next year look into getting some professional training for the Ents, make sure that our events are the best that they can be.


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