- Uni bars offer cheap drinks to Social Junkies members
- Uni refuses to intervene in RA-promoter relationships
- RAs who sign Social Junkies contracts given jobs when they leave
A controversial clubnight company has a stranglehold on our Halls, enjoying a worryingly close relationship with bar managers and student committees who are given hundreds of thousands of pounds of student rent money by the University to put on events.
The BOP organizers Social Junkies appear to recruit their staff from Residents’ Associations and Junior Common Rooms (RA/JCR), who are responsible for signing lucrative deals with promoters.
At least six Social Junkies employees took their jobs after being in charge of contracting promoters for events between 2009-2012. Last semester, Brendon Jones, the University General Manager for Pastoral Care, admitted to The Mancunion that they were “aware that students are regularly targeted by promoters.”
In October, The Mancunion published details of leaked contracts to committee members, in which they were offered exclusive VIP perks if they signed up to their packs.
Social Junkies also have the support of university bar staff. Last year, Owens Park Bars advertised cheap drinks only for students with tickets for a Social Junkies night or “Social Junkies membership cards”, calling into question the University’s insistence that they have “no formal association” with the promoters. The university admitted the bar received no subsidy for the exclusive discounts.
Deputy Warden Alex Drury describes the bar managers roles as mentors. But last year’s Owens Park Residents’ Association (OPSA) told The Mancunion that bar managers Emma Barlow and Paul Kelly would bring Social Junkies boss Louis Alexander to attend meetings to plug events without full committee approval.
They further allege Ms Barlow would only support OPLIVE, an event planned by then-Social Junkies Director Simon Denby and OPSA Social Secretary Ben Hourahine, who now works for both the university bars under Emma Barlow and Social Junkies.
Mr Hourahine refused to comment on Ms Barlow’s advice either on whether he worked for Social Junkies while acting as an RA or whether he was ever even elected, as he lost his campaign to become General Secretary at OPSA. Other committee members on OPSA said they had no idea how he eventually became Social Secretary. It is thought Ms Barlow led the election organisation, but she would not confirm this.
Last year was not the first time bar managers were accused of getting too involved in RA events, The Mancunion can also reveal. In 2010 the outgoing Whitworth Park Chairperson Matt Eustace argued that the ‘official’ packs being peddled by Social Junkies was never agreed upon by the committee, and that they were kept in the dark throughout the entire process.
When he clarified this to Whitworth Park residents on their Facebook group, Simon Denby, then Director of Social Junkies, messaged the chairperson: “The website I posted on your group – www.freshersweek2010.com – is the official Uni of Manchester freshers/welcome week. Check for yourself with Emma Barlow.”
Mr Eustace claims that Emma Barlow was impossible to contact throughout the summer and his successor confirmed that she was equally ignored until it was too late to organise an alternative Freshers’ pack.
Each year, the University gives over £400,000 to students in Halls who are then charged with the responsibility of creating events and promoting packs. But as autonomous bodies, the University will not intervene on where that money goes.
A University of Manchester spokesperson would not comment on why discount drinks were being offered to Social Junkies’ members, but said they were “unconvinced at this time” that their staff had behaved inappropriately despite the multiple complaints from former RAs. They emphasised: “RAs are democratic bodies, elected by students and run by students.”
RAs/JCRs exist in every Hall and receive a budget of £47 per head to spend on events and Welcome Week packs, but students cannot easily find out how their money is being spent as the university refuse FOI requests on the grounds that RAs are autonomous, and bar staff say they don’t have access to funds.
One former RA from Whitworth Park told The Mancunion that the finanes were “a total clusterfuck” and “all over the place”, while a former RA treasurer said they received almost no training to handle such large amounts of money.
In 2011, former Ashburne and Sheavyn House JCR Jamie Proctor pitched an alternative way to run Welcome Week after turning down exclusive perks from Social Junkies. His comprehensive development plan was welcomed by the Students’ Union but rejected by the University.
He said in a Comment article last semester, “Students should be able to change things that clearly don’t make sense. It seems at Manchester the University staff don’t want to improve the welcome week experience for students.
“I can only assume their lives are easier when responsibility for Welcome Week is given over to external promoters.”
Social Junkies have regularly found themselves embroiled in controversy. This year The Mancunion revealed that the company had been secretly rating potential reps for their ‘attractiveness’; an article branded ‘pathetic’ by an irate Mr Hourahine. They were also forced to pull a Taliban and Army themed clubnight after pressure from the University and Students’ Union.
Nick Pringle, General Secretary at the Students’ Union told The Mancunion the moment had arrived for change.
“It’s about time the Students’ Union and the University worked together to finally put an end to these sort of problems. Students deserve proper support and value for money in their halls, not to be ripped off by dodgy promoters.”
He added that Manchester should “look to the examples” of high-NSS scoring universities like Loughborough and Nottingham, “where the SU and university properly fund and support their halls to provide an amazing experience for all students.”
At the time of going to print, Social Junkies told The Mancunion there was no one available to comment. Emma Barlow refused to comment on her relationship with Social Junkies or why her bar was offering cheap drinks to Social Junkies members.