Your town, your choice

Ben Sundell reports on the new Street Wardens scheme in Leamington Spa

Monday of Week One this term was one of the best times I’ve had as an officer of the Students’ Union – and it all started off with a discussion about dog poo!

Now granted, that in particular, wasn’t my personal highlight of the day… but it was actually part of something much wider and much more exciting. Those of you who know what I’ve been working on over the last couple of years will know that a big priority of mine is to do everything we can to better engage with the local community.

The launch of the Love Community campaign has heightened our presence in the local area. One way this has happened is through substantially increasing the number of community forums we attend. Going to these, as some of us did on Monday – are a great opportunity for us to engage with the issues that are affecting the areas we live in. If you think discussions about dog mess are my favourite way to spend a Monday night you’d be wrong – but these forums also help build a much needed bridge between students and residents – helping us to listen to any concerns that they have, but also giving us the chance to show just how much students give to our local area and a platform to stand up for, and represent you.

Welfare officer, Cat. Photo: Ben Sundell

Welfare officer, Cat. Photo: Erin Davies

Students are an amazing and vibrant part of the community and should never be regarded as a sub group, or made to feel unwelcome because their residence is more short term than others. You might not know for example, that students living in Leamington bring in £64.5 million a year as a contribution to the local area. You might not know too that students are actually a high risk group of being a victim of crime or anti-social behaviour and are very rarely the perpetrators. It is things like this which we are ever keen to make sure we convey to you and the rest of your area, so we make sure that both you and your neighbours have the best living experience possible. .

As we have developed our community strategy over the past year we have realised this more and more – and have been determined to develop what we are doing in the local area. We have developed a fantastic partnership with Warwick District Council’s Community Safety team and Warwickshire Police– and they are some of the most student friendly people I’ve ever met. Their team have run a number of events in the past called ‘Your Town Your Choice’ – and after working closely together last year, we were able to agree a partnership where this event would be run on a student night. And what better option than the Monday night of Week 1, outside Neon?

It was an absolute pleasure to have been involved in it – and I’m really excited about the next one! The aim of these events are to promote safe and responsible drinking when people are on a night out, and to help people get the best out of their evening, without letting drink ruin their first night out of the year!

One of the evening's events in full swing. Photo: Ben Sundell

One of the evening’s events in full swing. Photo: Erin Davies

During the evening we ran a number of events. We had a great team there including Cat our Welfare and Campaigns Officer, Erin our Education Officer and some of our staff. Spencer Street was shut off completely, to make sure everyone was safe and to avoid any repeat of the overcrowding incidents of last year. In the big space that we had then, in partnership with the local police, ambulance and council services there were loads of different stalls and gazebos put up, with loads of different features and freebies in each. The main stall had games like the ‘drinks time machine’ – where you can project what you would look like if you drink certain amounts of alcohol over a period of time, the breath test – where you can see how much you’ve consumed and make a plan for the rest of the night, and loads of freebies like condoms, attack alarms, lollipops and loads of bottled water. Neon were also really helpful and got involved with our event. They gave us a number of free queue jumps, which we were able to give out to anybody who could successfully put someone in the recovery position in one of the stalls.

Photo: Ben Sundell

Photo: Erin Davies

In addition to this, there was a really extensive welfare presence on the night. If you go to an event in the SU you will notice that we have a high provision of first aid and stewarding to help in the event of something going slightly wrong on the night. Unfortunately, most other venues don’t offer this kind of care, and often this can leave people very vulnerable if they are leaving when they’ve  had a bit too much to drink. So it was really great to see our local services giving up their time to cover the event and make sure our students are safe with extra ambulance and first aid support drafted in specifically for the evening to partner in the event – the work done on this night really was invaluable and could well have saved lives.

It was also exciting to see the work of the Street Marshalls in action for the first time. It is really encouraging that the University are funding an extension to this already existing Leamington scheme in order to bring the marshals onto the weekday students nights as well as the weekends. Already the benefits have been seen to vulnerable students– with the marshals being there to help people into taxis, usher first aid support, diffuse potential conflicts and even to walk people home if they need. They go around in pairs – with a male and a female marshal always together, and they  carry welfare cards listing all of the available support services from the University and the Students Union, to give out if should someone need it. Having heard the reports of how their first few nights have gone, and having had to opportunity to meet with them, they are all very friendly and it seems like they are already making an impact in helping students feel safer.

Photo: Ben Sundell

Photo: Erin Davies

I was really happy with how the night went as a whole. Most of the students who were going on the night out, ending up coming over and engaging with the Your Town Your Choice event – while they were probably enticed by the glowsticks, queue jumps and lollies more than anything – it was great to just get people having a little think about what they are drinking on a night out to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable and safe time. For me too, it was culmination of a whole lot of unseen work that has been going on for over a year now, and it is great to see some of it come to fruition. Students are absolutely incredible and are a great part of any community and I won’t let anyone say otherwise – it is a joy to be able to be involved in some of this stuff, in support our students in the local area. There is a lot more that we want to do in developing the Love Community campaign with things like the social action projects – but for now, I’m delighted that we have made some great partnerships with some really student friendly teams, we’ve done some good work to help promote safer drinking and that you can genuinely feel safer on nights out and more supported should they ever need.


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