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InFocus: Barry Will and Cam Brown

Updated: Feb 9

Now more than halfway into their terms as Sabbatical Officers (Sabbs), and with Students’ Association elections looming in the distance, The Saint was keen to catch up with the Sabbs on how the first half of the academic year has been. I sat down with Barry Will, the current Association President, and Cam Brown, Director of Education.

“The last semester has been an enormous learning journey,” Barry tells me, “We all came in really committed to changing different parts of the student experience and there’s been so much to learn and unpack. A lot of it is behind the scenes; learning how the university works, and how the Union works.”

“We’ve been committed to changing the Union and becoming the best Students’ Union in the UK, but it’s never been harder to be a student. Our members are going through a difficult time — we’re facing the worst cost of living crisis on record, the University is going through a difficult time, and there’s a war that has divided our community.” These challenges, however, have highlighted the importance of two things to the team — leading with compassion for students, and seeing the weaknesses exposed as an opportunity for change. “We really are so focused on making changes that mean the Union is resilient enough to face future challenges, and that our students feel supported going forward.”

Cam agrees: “It’s been a tight learning curve. You get thrown into this job for at least a year, and not only do you have to deliver everything you’ve promised in your manifesto, but you’re also learning on the job.” It’s been a rewarding semester, too: “We have a team that are all so passionate about their remit that we’ve actually really managed to create change and show the community that it’s possible. We’ve absolutely loved it.”

Both attribute this strong sense of teamwork to their success. “I don’t think it’s a secret that some Sabb teams in the past haven’t been the most cohesive, but we’ve really made an effort to come together and work as a team. A true Sabb family!” Cam says.

When I ask why they think it’s been particularly successful with this team, Barry replies, “We’re all here to represent the students, and so any disagreements we might have, you have to put them aside for the students. I think we’ve all been mature enough to come together and do that.”

Though I’m not speaking to the whole team, it is clear from the outset that the two of them have not only a great working relationship but are genuinely friends too — despite not having met until last year’s election campaign. I am told, however, that there’s one serious, irreconcilable flashpoint between them — Taylor Swift.

As for what they’ve achieved in their tenure so far, they’ve been undeniably productive, not to mention successful. 

One of Cam’s biggest achievements has been the changes to the academic calendar. With 6000 responses (3,766 of which were ‘full’ — meaning that respondents answered every single question), the survey was an extensive one (and the reason for all of those coloured ping pong balls). The process was “a huge win for students. [As Sabbs] we really came through as a team to push that one through”, and this means that model 2a is being ushered in from September 2024. 

Cam also managed to create an extensions portal to which 16/18 schools have signed up to, meaning that extensions, from obtaining them to the length granted, are unified across the 

University and all students have the same allowances. The second version, currently in development, will be mandatory. He tells me that “we’re making progress” on 24-hour study spaces. Over the summer, Cam worked to ensure that rooms were available for 24-hours a day — currently in Butts Wynd, but “it’s a temporary solution. My next goal is the library, and we’ll be doing a consultation.”

As for Barry’s biggest achievement? Campus Larder is, by far, he tells me “the thing I’m the most proud of.” Operating out of the Union, Campus Larder provides food and essential items to students or staff members for free, no questions asked. Attendees book a slot online, are given hot drinks on arrival, and can take whatever they need. From tampons and razors to pot noodles, Barry and Cam stock it themselves, often leaving Aldi at 10pm and then stocking through the night. Barry tells me “I’ve been working at food banks for years, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was difficult to get it off the ground, but I think the University has wanted to do it for a long time… only the Union could have done it, really. It’s a key example of the Union providing immediate help to students and it’s small things like this that create a real community.”

Looking forward to the next semester, the Students’ Association has just announced the launch of the Change Programme, aiming to “review and refresh” the inner workings of the Student’s Association, in an attempt to encourage long-term change and development. Antony Blackshaw has been appointed as Director. In the past, Blackshaw has overseen thirteen change programmes and worked with the Principal, Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, to overhaul the Union in her previous post at Oxford.

The programme came about when the current Sabbs took their posts, and “quickly realised over the summer that the Union just doesn't have the infrastructure, especially with the cost of living crisis, it was difficult to invest in what we want to. So we were all sort of sitting around a table thinking, ‘OK, we need to do something.’”

“The Union hasn’t seen any massive change for decades,” Barry tells me. And so, after Cam wrote an initial paper proposing the programme, the Sabbs spent a couple of weeks deliberating, revising, and finalising it, before it was passed unanimously. “We’ve dedicated a lot of resources to it, and when we get the plan through, we’ll throw everything at it. We don’t know what it’ll look like, but it’s such an exciting time. The uni is excited about it too.”

Barry is also determined to change everything about the way the Union communicates. “I’m passionate about communicating with you properly about what we’re transforming whether that’s putting jokes in the weekly emails, or talking about everything I’ve learnt. Students deserve to know how the university works, why their residences cost so much, why tuition costs so much. All the issues that we are facing can be fixed by going straight to the source and that’s what we’ll focus on. We’ll be focusing a lot on the climate crisis too. But most importantly, even when we have such big divisions in the community we can continue to lead responsibly and compassionately.”

Image by University of St Andrews Students' Association

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