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‘I want to support working students better’: An interview with Beren Maddison

Beren is running for Welfare Officer

Active across different areas of the Students' Union throughout his time at uni, Beren Maddison is one of the candidates in the current Welfare Officer election.

Beren told The Sheffield Tab a bit more about his campaign, experience, and plans for what he would do as Welfare Officer.

What has motivated you to run for Welfare Officer?

Getting involved in the SU, by joining the Welfare and LGBT+ Committees, has definitely been what motivated me to run for Welfare Officer. I’m currently the chair of Welfare Committee, and in that role I’ve worked closely with Kath and the other officers to tackle welfare and inclusions issues in our SU.

I’ve helped organise campaigns such as “Let’s Talk About Eating Disorders…”, I’ve coordinated events during LGBT+ History Month, and I’ve provided training on LGBT+ inclusion to different groups within uni. It’s been a really fulfilling experience and I feel like I still have work to do, so being the next Welfare Officer would be the perfect opportunity for that.

Outline a few of your key policy points.

I want to improve exam support by making support services such as 301 and the extenuating circumstances procedure clearer and more accessible, as they can be really useful when exams and coursework are stressing you out. Far too many students go into exam season feeling under prepared and overwhelmed, often getting into really bad habits in the name of constantly revising.

I also want to support working students better. The current university policy recommends that students only work a maximum of 16 hours a week, but I know many that work more than that just to pay the bills. Currently departments don’t acknowledge the realities of working alongside your degree, so I want to change this and make sure that students can balance their job and their degree well.

I also want to make sure that liberation groups shape the support services we provide at uni, as often the services aren’t sensitive to their needs and they often face barriers accessing them. Making sure we address the issues that liberation groups have with the support at the University of Sheffield is so important to ensuring that every student feels happy and safe at uni.

How do you plan to reform the Welfare Committee?

I want to change the structure so that the Welfare Officer has a more active role in coordinating the welfare campaigns in our SU. There are so many different groups and students tackling different welfare issues, but Welfare Committee itself is a massively underused resource that could really help these groups go far with their campaigns.

For example, groups like Mental Health Matters and Sheffield Cut the Rent could use the housing and mental health areas of Welfare Committee to further their campaigns, and most importantly highlight that welfare issues are political.

What do you want to do to help students who work alongside their studies?

The first thing that needs to change to better support working students is for departments to acknowledge the reality of working alongside your degree. It’s stressful, and can impact student’s ability to prepare for exams and coursework meaning that they don’t achieve the best grades they can. Departments can provide academic support in the form of extensions, learning support plans, and direction to financial advice available in the SU.

Beyond this, I think education on worker’s rights is a vital part of supporting working students. Many students will get their first part time job at uni, and employers can take advantage of this by not treating them fairly. We also need to make sure that students know they can come to the SU for legal advice if they feel like they’ve been mistreated in the workplace – our SU has loads of support services available that students just don’t know about.

Are the current mental health support services good enough?

I personally think there are a lot of changes needed to the current mental health support system – it’s a reflection of wider issues of underfunding of our national mental healthcare. As a university we could definitely fund the University Counselling Service more, and provide more BME and LGBT+ counsellors that are so often requested by these groups. There’s also work to do on revising SAMHS to make it more accessible, as well as reducing the waiting lists to see a counsellor.

Finally I think we need to push for more training for university staff to make sure they know how to help students beyond referring them to SAMHS. While there are students who undoubtedly need to access counselling and this shouldn’t be discouraged, there is also tangible support that personal tutors can give to help students who aren’t necessarily in need of counselling.