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15th February 2017

Interview: Tamara O’Neill – Activities and Development Officer

Tamara O’Neill sat down to talk about Pangaea’s future, societies’ new way to secure funding, and the Union’s relationship with student media

The second Pangaea of the year was just around the corner when I spoke with Tamara, her time dominated by décor and marketing meetings with the students who help bring it all together, in her own words a “very very busy time” for her.

As the interview went on however, it became clear that anyone who thinks the role of Activities and Development Officer simply requires knowing how to throw a great party would be sorely mistaken. In just the first few weeks of term Tamara was involved in the many events, including the first ever Societies Conference, the Refreshers’ Fair and the planning for the Give it a Go campaign running throughout February, to name just a few.

However, she did not seem to mind how much she was balancing, telling me that “it’s a very fun time at the moment”.

Something she did seem to struggle with however, was deciding on what her biggest achievement was. Instead she settled to describe what she had most enjoyed — her involvement in developing more support for student enterprise.

Tamara explained that this had been “quite unexpected because I hadn’t planned to get involved with enterprise at all”. The interest, she explained, had sprung out of attending a university meeting about employability and graduate destinations for students, where she discovered that only two students graduated last year and went on to set up their own business.

This sparked her engagement in the project, claiming that “there was a massive gap in the market”. She went on to set up the Student Enterprise Christmas Market and is looking to develop more projects around the subject this semester.

She seemed genuinely excited talking about the subject, as she spoke of how in her mind there are many students who want to set up their own business “but there doesn’t seem to be an easy and accessible platform”.

After chatting about the areas she enjoyed about her work we moved on to the challenges she has faced. She was much quicker to settle on a choice for this question — Fund It.

Fund It is the new method by which societies can gain Students’ Union funding, implemented, as Tamara explained, because it is “a lot more democratic and transparent”. Societies pitch why they want funding and then those in attendance vote. But apparently, democracy and transparency do not come easy to student society, as Tamara revealed that at early events students were found cheating during the voting process.

Apparently getting 35 societies to both bid for the funding and then listen to those bidding against them is “very challenging”.

Tamara explained that they now have new rules in place and a limit on societies who can attend, making the last one “really calm” with no evidence of cheating.

Something I imagined was less calm was the organising of Pangaea, the largest student-led festival in Europe.

I wanted to find out if her manifesto pledge of a ‘Pan-DAY-ea’ was still in the cards. The last Pangaea, while it was able to go ahead in the Union, was disrupted by the ongoing building works, but the summer one will probably have to move elsewhere.

Tamara couldn’t give much away in the interview however she heavily hinted that it could be moved off-site for a day party, “meaning a much bigger event”.

On the subject of events, I questioned Tamara as to whether she had been able to fulfill her manifesto pledge to make the “Union as the place to go on a night out in Manchester”. She admitted that the market is saturated but still insisted she thought “we could put on a night here [and that] it would be successful”.

However she admitted her focus instead had been on the gap she’s perceived in the market for non-alcoholic events, the inspiration behind her ‘Café Sessions’ nights, evenings of societies showcasing their talent in the Union café .

We then moved on to discuss her thoughts on us, an odd move in an interview — but looking after student media falls within Tamara’s job description, so was hard to avoid.

I asked what her thoughts were on the criticisms many make that the close relationship between student media and Students’ Unions restricts the content produced and is harmful generally to the notion of a free press.

She quickly admitted that “it’s a really difficult relationship”, due to its lack of clear definition and used the election period as an example of a time she believed we need to “have a lot more free range”.

Speaking of The Tab, she said “you can see that it must be so much easier for them” without having their publishers as the Students’ Union, however she suggested that the resources we get from the SU mean that “that’s something we have just got to deal with”.

In general however she believed that the closer the relationship is the easier it is to “get clearer expectations of where we’re both at” and added that personally she felt there “should [be] the freedom to write whatever you want to write”.

To finish of our interview, with standing open for students to put themselves forward to run for her position, I asked why she thinks they should consider it — “because you get to pretend you’re still a student”.

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