The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Interview: Saffa Mir – Community Officer

We spoke to Saffa about her efforts to improve student safety and tackle exploitative landlords

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One of Saffa’s key pledges in her manifesto as Community Officer was safer streets. As part of this, Safe Zones have been relaunched: “Not many students were aware of them, but they’re essentially businesses (normally along the Oxford Road corridor) that have these stickers in their windows that say Safe Zone. If you feel like you’re not safe you can go into that business that has that sticker and you can use their phone if you need to call a taxi or emergency services, you can ask for a glass of water and you can just have a place to chill while you feel a bit better,” she explained.

She also told us that the key part of relaunching them was “training them and making sure that not just the employer but the employees know that if a student, or anyone, was to come in then they know what their duty is.”

Reclaim the Night is also going to be a huge part of this relaunch, as “it’s just about mobilising students and making them more aware and Reclaim the Night couldn’t be a better opportunity for this.”

However, Saffa argues that the introduction of G4S patrols has not helped improve student safety, as “I don’t think they were implemented to make the streets safer, I don’t think that was the purpose behind them, and I think the university has made that very clear — I don’t think they ever claimed that it was to make the streets safer. So I’m not going to say that it has, as I fundamentally disagree with the using of G4S.”

Despite this objection to the G4S patrols, Saffa admits that “there were reports that they helped some vulnerable students that had got too drunk and took them home”, but says that this is the limit of their help towards student safety, and that she has “been able to look at the recordings and most of the time it’s was just parties and just saying ‘can you turn the volume down?’ so I don’t think that’s necessarily making students safer.”

G4S were instead introduced to improve the relationship between students and the wider community, a relationship which is currently “a rocky one,” according to Saffa, though she argues that “you’re always going to have some students that are going to cause trouble, and you’re always going to have some residents that, no matter what, will always complain.”

Instead, Saffa believes that students need to “better the relationship with those who are willing”, and that “it wasn’t all about not having parties, it’s nothing about that at all.” Rather, students need to work on being “mindful of those around you, and the way most people are more mindful is when they know their neighbours.”

Another key pledge was to prevent exploitation of students by landlords. Saffa is continuing Rate Your Landlord, which she says has “given a good knowledge of what students are feeling… what experiences students are facing and what difficulties they’re facing as well”, but admits they still need to do “a lot more,” accepting that “a survey’s good for collecting results but unless we act upon those results nothing’s going to happen”.

Saffa plans to tackle these issues with “Get to Know Your Rights, a big campaign that the advice centre are trying to do”, explaining that “if students before they sign their leases know what their rights are, it’s really important so that when they are facing issues with their landlord they have a leg to stand on.”

She highlights such problems as “landlords not paying their deposits back, which is literally illegal, and a lot of students either don’t know that or they can’t be bothered with the hassle.”

The bulk of the work on Get to Know Your Rights “is there and it’s been done, and it’s just about publicising it a bit better now,” according to Saffa, and that this should hopefully improve things, as “knowing your rights will lead to better housing”.

Finally, applications are now open for students who want to be on the executive team next year. Saffa believes people should stand for Community Officer because “it’s an amazing role”, unique in that it requires “dealing with external people… I have meetings with the police, the council, councillors, I’ve had meetings with MPs”. So “if you’re interested in widening your horizons beyond the university and the Students’ Union” but still want to remain a key part of student life, community officer is the role to stand for.

To see all of our interview with Saffa, head to Fuse TV’s YouTube channel.