The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper, serving Greater Manchester

REVEALED: The BOP promoters’ stranglehold on our halls

- 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

By

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 organisers 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, including former Director Simon Denby, whose Linkedin says he was hired the same month he stood down as an RA General Secretary.

Social Junkies also have the support of university bar managers Emma Barlow and Paul Kelly, calling into question the University’s insistence that they have “no formal association” with the promoters.

Last term, Paul Kelly advertised cheap drinks only for students with tickets to a Social Junkies night or “Social Junkies membership cards”. The university admitted the bar received no subsidy for the exclusive discounts.

Deputy Warden Alex Drury describes the bar managers roles as mentors. But members of last year’s Owens Park Residents’ Association (OPSA) told The Mancunion that bar managers Emma Barlow and Paul Kelly brought Social Junkies boss Louis Alexander to attend meetings and 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 Social Junkies as a DJ.

How Mr Hourahine became a member of OPSA remains a mystery. He originally lost his campaign for the General Secretary position, while other committee members on OPSA said they had no idea how he was eventually offered the role of Social Secretary. It is thought Ms Barlow led the election organisation, but she would not confirm this.

After taking advice from Ms Barlow, Mr Hourahine refused to comment either on whether he worked for Social Junkies while acting as an RA or whether he was ever actually elected.

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 Mr Eustace: “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 told The Mancunion 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.

Emma Barlow refused to comment on any allegation involving her relationship with Social Junkies, or why university bars was offering cheap drinks to Social Junkies members.

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 find out how their money is being spent. The University refuse FOI requests on the grounds that RAs are autonomous, and bar staff say they don’t have direct 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. Last semester The Mancunion revealed that the company had been secretly rating potential reps for their ‘attractiveness’ on campus; 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.

And when The Mancunion published details of a leaked contract from Social Junkies to RAs offering exclusive perks in October, Brendon Jones, the University General Manager for Pastoral Care, admitted that they were “aware that students are regularly targeted by promoters.”

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.

  • Thom Allen

    Perhaps if the Students Union could actually pull their fingers out of their arse and organise a half decent club night halls would have a choice as to who to go to. welcome week activities need to be planned way in advance and the Unions run by a completely different team every 12 months, so it’s no wonder halls go externally for events.

    • jamie

      The point is that the Union cant do anything to help the situation. Some halls JCRs and RAs have promoter employees controlling them and whenever the Union tries to do anything they just block it. Furthermore the university staff also seem to have an agenda stopping the Union making any difference. The Union (although not perfect) can (and does) run good nights. The plan I put forward to the union and university staff (see the link in the piece) solved the yearly discontinuity of Union staff members. The Union supported this plan. The reason things are bad has very little to do with the Union and everything to do with the university staff and promoters. The Union are just the easy scapegoat in the situation. They are the solution and not the problem.

    • Jonathan

      Agreed. The Union had a half decent night with that Fresh Fridays last term but now thats gone to crap. No one knows how to promote there, its just a joke. No wonder we go elsewhere. Sort it out for next year!

  • Brian

    Why was this on the front page and not the university’s impossible exam questions?

    Seems like the Mancunion has a vendetta against Social Junkies. They organise club nights, and make it easier for hall committees to create a quality fresher’s week. I don’t really see the problem.

  • Minge

    Fucking Social Junkie Cunts

  • rather go warehouse anyway

    Social junkies even had a presidential candidate for owens park in 10/11. Guess what he was a sj ticket seller. He didn’t win but they got around that by giving the winning president and committee free drinks and entry to sj nights. O well it saved jacob glass a few quid.

  • Barkles

    Absolute dross. This making the front page sums this rag up.

    • Steve

      Can you point out a single factual inaccuracy, ‘Barkles’?

      • Barkles

        A considerable amount of poetic licence seems to be used in the articles to turn them into news

        • Jamie

          But the question still exists: Can you point out a single factual inaccuracy, ‘Barkles’?

  • thisisuttershit

    When are the Mancunion, and the Student’s Union for that matter going to end their blatantly obvious witch hunt for Social Junkies?

    Also, not sure how Nick Pringle can brand them as “dodgy promoters” when to account to his manifesto of a weekly club night he chose to collaborate with a company like Roughhill…

    UMSU and UoM need to stop putting together utter trash like this and think about why JCRs/RAs chose not trust them to work with for Welcome Week. Didn’t see any mention about how much the total failure of M13 cost the Student’s Union, at least Social Junkies consistently perform for their events regardless of how “controversial” they are.

    Maybe the moment has arrived for change, but soon the current UMSU Executive will be out of office and a new batch will be put in that will most likely care even less about student welfare and more about their own personal politics. It’s also extremely unlikely those in UoM management are going to make a change any time soon..

  • JS

    Wasn’t there a front page slagging off M13?

    How is this trash? RAs signed deals with Social Junkies and then went to work for them. Bar managers brought Social Junkies leaders to RA meetings without consent and handed out cheap drinks to anyone with a Social Junkies membership card. What is the benefit for the bar to do that?

    £47 of my money and having to buy those rip off packs just so RAs could land themselves a job. Fuck Social Junkies.

  • JS

    Oh, and why are Social Junkies saying to RAs they only need bar manager support to run their packs to freshers? They should go back to managing bars dying on their arse.

  • Baffled

    Just amazes me how this makes headlines. It’s hardly news and its not even remotely shocking; just get over It. There’s much more pressing issues such as the situation for Syria students and the impossible exam questions.

    • Mo

      Do you not think it’s unfair that money meant for students doesn’t go towards representing a diverse range of students? How about just one non-alcoholic event during freshers week?

      • Lisa Williams

        We made a very clear emphasise on non-alcoholic events within Halls when designing our Welcome Week package. Sports tournaments, bowling and laser trips, city tours, shopping trips…

        So, no, there was no inequality on where money was spent. You lot are very ill informed.

        • Charlie Booth

          I agree we put on plenty of nonalcoholic events. Including a meal out to a local restaurant. Which social junkies personally paid a substantial deposit to out of their own money. Might I add that no one turned up to this event, and so social junkies lost hundreds of pounds on an event they put on on our request. At no point did they hold it against us or complain.

  • Charlie Booth

    The obvious witch hunt for social junkies is becoming boring and pointless.

    I was a social secretary for Victoria halls during my fist year and therefore had to organise freshers week events for the subsequent year. It shouldn’t be underestimated how much of a challenge this is to a group of first years in a city they have only had six months at most to get to grips with. Social junkies offer a service to the RA committees who are repeatedly let down by the student union. During our decisions as to what to do each night or where to go we invited social junkies, rough hill and the representatives from the student union to pitch to us what they could offer.

    There was never any pressure from social junkies to choose them. The representative from the student union never followed up on any of his grand promises to us. There simply isn’t the structure in place to use the student union.

    Might I add I also organised this years freshers for Victoria halls through social junkies. Again not because of pressure but because of a proven, professional attitude for organising a mammoth event. Not only do they promote and sell the tickets they actively attend the events providing security and safety to drunken bright eyed freshers. This is something I highly doubt the student union have the capacity for.

    I understand this article aims to encourage the student union to use the example of nottingham as a basis for change. However, I am from nottingham and would like to point out the reasons it’s student union works so well. First of all nottingham is a campus university with halls and bar all nicely packaged in a cut off environment away from the city centre. Secondly, nottingham does not offer the same diverse range of huge nightclubs that manchester does. At best nottingham has 3 or 4 worthwhile ‘clubs’ and therefore students are willing to look to their union for a good night out. This is the same for Loughborough which I have visited many a time because or it’s proximity to nottingham.
    This is, in my opinion, a few reasons why our union can never be as successful as the earlier mentioned unions. We should embrace outside companies and use them to our advantage. Learning a valuable skill to be applied outside of university, that is outsourcing to more competent and experienced companies.

    • Lisa Williams

      Entirely agree. This blatant witch-hunt is completely ridiculous. As a Social Secretary for Hulme Hall & Burkhardt Hall of Residence (around 400 residents), I chose to work with Social Junkies because they pitched the best package. Not because I was bribed, not because I was pressured to and certainly not because of any other outlandish accusations that the Mancunion and members of UMSU appear to be mindlessly throwing about.

      Contact: lisamaryfrances@gmail.com

      As for the insinuation that Bar Managers pressurised RAs/JCRs to work with Social Junkies? I had not met them, or even discussed Welcome Week with them at all prior to arriving back in Manchester this September for the new academic year. Therefore that is absolutely unfeasible. The talks leading to the decision made about what promotion company we would chose to work with for Welcome Week 2012 was between my JCR and our Hall of Residence Tutors and Wardens. No-one else.

      It is entirely insulting that UMSU believe RAs/JCRs would chose a promotion company that “rips off” student’s. Especially if they haven’t the first clue about promotion or undoubtably have their own questionable agendas… UMSU wasted RA/JCR time with two hours meetings for weeks to come up with a plan of “leave Saturday night free in Halls and we’ll get some huge names in like Swedish House Mafia and Tinie Tempah.” Two months later they published that Marina and the Diamonds will be now be performing (hardly “huge name”). Then, one month later after the blunder of M13, informed that no artist at all will be performing just hours before the event was due to kick off. The result of which left us in Halls with nothing to offer our residences for that Saturday night. Yes, that’s really great support from UMSU’s behalf. Such a shame that the representative responsible for that fiasco and break down of communication between RAs/JCRs and UMSU is now an NUS Executive.

      Welcome Week was outstandingly successful in all Halls that chose Social Junkies to outsource their club events. Social Junkies also were aware of our desire to create a community feel not only with Hulme Hall & Burkhardt House but also with neighbouring Halls such as Dalton Ellis and Victoria Hall. As such they made a special effort to see Hulme Hall & Burkhardt House were attending the same club nights at the same venues as much as possible. In addition, they put on prompt and efficient bus services from right outside our Halls doorsteps, how can transportation of thousands of student’s from Halls to Manchester nightclubs be any safer than that?

      The Mancunion, and UMSU, are doing a terrible job at branding RAs and JCRs. It’s apparent now they are targeting Bars on Campus in a similar fashion. Why the consistent need to damage the reputation of our Halls of Residences? I feel sorry the poor students that are to be attending Welcome Week 2013 this September.

      The University of Manchester is so focussed about Student Experience but if the Mancunion and UMSU keep putting down our RAs, JCRs and Bars on Campus then that experience and community feel within Halls of Residences is going to be completely destroyed.

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