A lot done, but so much more to do
It already feels like a lifetime since you chose me to be your Community Officer in the Leadership Race back in March. I sobbed on stage and it wasn’t pretty, but democracy in general didn’t really ‘do’ pretty in 2016 anyway. After an exciting few months getting ready to start on the Exec, I hit the ground running in July, getting to work on delivering on my manifesto pledges.
I promised to cut the cost of living. This has always been a huge concern for students, but with fees rising (again!), prices rising and maintenance grants being axed, it’s becoming an even bigger worry for us.
Right away, I started talking to the university about why student accommodation needs to be more affordable. Rent is our biggest outgoing cost and we shouldn’t have a situation where a lot of us can barely make ends meet, with student loans not covering halls in a lot of cases. We’re overcharged and then hit again with those naughty hidden costs like on laundry. After a few difficult conversations with uni, I’ve got some exciting announcements coming up over the next few weeks about the cost of Halls. Watch this space!
I’ve also had a words with a few landlords in the city. I came in and said that LUU needs to stop working with landlords and agencies who charge rip off signing fees. We’re being charged anything from £50 to £250 pound (each!) for agents to press the green button on the photocopier when we sign the contract. We hit problems over the summer, with some telling me that ending LUU’s relationship with these wheeler-dealers wouldn’t work and that agents would ignore us, harming LUU. But guess what happened next…
First came an announcement from Spencer Properties that they’d axe their admin fees off the back of our work at LUU. Then came Pickard Properties. Then a few others jumped on the bandwagon. This is real money saved for thousands of students in Leeds. Students are more powerful when it comes to stuff like this than we realise.
Next term, I’m going to start campaigning for more summer-free housing contracts. It surely can’t be right that we’re being charged hundreds of pounds in rent over summer for houses we mightn’t have even moved into yet. These landlords need to realise that they can’t take advantage of students anymore.
I’ve also been getting students the info they need when looking for a house. With the Leeds Community Project (our new team of Community Organisers), I spoke to thousands of students in November, letting them know about the start of house hunting in January. We’re also about to start a ‘House Hunting Buddy’ scheme. For the first time ever, you’ll be able to get help from someone to go house hunting with, letting you know what to look out for to avoid a potential year from hell with a dodgy landlord and a horrible house. Just drop into the Advice Centre upstairs and sign up.
Also with the Leeds Community Project, at the start of term we spoke to over a thousand students across Hyde Park, Headingley and Woodhouse about avoiding crime and burglaries. Remember to lock your doors and keep your valuables out of sight! We’re also trying to get the university to put some safety features into the University’s app.
We also collected meals for those in need before Christmas, working with the amazing Real Junk Food Project and the Leeds North & West Foodbank, raising awareness of Leeds’ food poverty problem.
I started working with the university to develop the union and the university’s volunteering opportunities. We’ve held the volunteering fair and we’ve got Student Volunteering Week coming up in February. Volunteering is your chance to give back to the community, working with charities, organisations and even local schools all while developing your own personal skills and building that CV.
Also, if you hadn’t noticed, just before this year’s Exec started, a political crisis engulfed the country when the UK voted to leave the EU on June 23rd. The overwhelming majority of students in Leeds voted ‘Remain’. I’ve been working with the university to help students register to vote because, as we’ve seen, when students don’t get engaged, bad things happen. The university’s spent a lot of time hand-wringing about how bad Brexit will be for students and our university, but at the time of the referendum, they didn’t do a jot to get students informed about the consequences of voting for either ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’. With the council and the university, we’ll hopefully have voter registration as a key part of the online enrolment process next September, potentially bringing the number of students registered up to about 75%, up from about 50% at the moment.
In Semester 2, keep your eye out for more from me on summer-free housing contracts, cheaper halls and voter registration.
With your help, I got a lot done last term, but we’ve still got so much more to do!