The Student meets outgoing sabbatical officer Rachel Irwin

As her term comes to an end, Edinburgh University Students’ Association VP Activities and Services Rachel Irwin and I discuss her year in review, looking back at her achievements, and how the pandemic affected what was to be a year of activity on campus. 

I begin by asking how the pandemic altered her role. 

“I guess, massively, completely in lots of ways…My intention of having lots of in person activity that we would normally do…the Activities Fair in September and the ‘Give it a Go’ fair in January, we couldn’t do that…”

She states that building a relationship with the 350 societies has been challenging. 

“It’s difficult to do that in an online way, it’s difficult to do that in an in-person way, I suppose.“

But she states moving online created positives, including engagement from across the student community during the online Activities Fair.  

Students from different time zones could attend, as well as “different demographics of students, like mature students, student parents, student carers who maybe wouldn’t have been able to make the time that an in-person fair would’ve had.”

She also feels there has been “more engagement with our student reps, activities reps who’ve had more conversations…than we would’ve probably had in person conversations.”

This leads to interconnectivity within the student body, which Irwin’s manifesto hoped to encourage, for example ensuring society representation at meetings.

She states her own School of History “would have regular meetings [with] school staff, teaching staff, administrative staff and society representatives…, and it would be a really good space for you to hear about everything that’s going on in your school.”

With VP Education, Fizzy Abou Jawad, Irwin wanted to encourage this in other schools and found “societies were already supposed to be invited to these meetings, but people didn’t know that.”

They secured an amendment for representatives from societies and student groups to be invited to meetings, spreading awareness via social media.

“We had a school rep forum last week and one of the reps said they had society representation coming along to their groups after [our] initiative, and how much better the meeting was for having more student representation there…We still need to do a bit more quantitative analysis of how many more people are aware of this,’ but for the moment she is positive. ”

Student wellbeing was important to Irwin’s work, including promoting the mindfulness events run by the chaplaincy, and bringing academic families into every school.

“I still think it would be great, but to do that in a year is probably a bit ambitious.”

A further key point of her manifesto was promoting sustainability, including the ‘Green during Covid-19’ campaign. 

This “spotlighted work of students during the pandemic” around sustainability and the climate emergency and addressed “the additional challenges that the pandemic has brought to sustainability.”

An unexpected positive of the pandemic was to foster long-term action, developing a sustainability policy for the Students’ Association. 

She and Amanda Scully have now drafted a policy she hopes “will long outlive my role.”

Her aim to secure subsidised gym membership for students on bursaries remains a work in progress. 

She hopes to promote the idea during the Participation Grant’s review period, with many students needing it for gym membership. 

However, she states “it’s quite a bureaucratic aim… it’s a lot easier said than done.”

Improving links to Peffermill was suspended as the pandemic shifted priorities, but she hopes that “it will be factored in…when Peffermill is redeveloped”. 

We end by talking about her proudest achievement, her sustainability work which has been “really wide ranging…and on a policy and strategy level.” 

She hopes “next year’s VP Activities and Services takes up the mantle with the sustainability work too,” as well as introducing some of the in person activities this year prevented.  

Image: Rachel Irwin