By Jack Robert Stacey | Editor-in-Chief
Laying out what his role involves this year, Chris Grieve said that, in addition to championing the work that “societies at the SU” do, he is responsible for supporting these societies as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape life in Wales. He continued by noting that, as the result of easing restrictions and the greater level of freedom that this awards the Sabbatical team, his role “probably looks a lot closer to pre-COVID than it did to last year.”
With such a large and diverse range of societies at the Students’ Union, Grieve stated that his role primarily involves being aware on how “societies are going to be affected by” changing restrictions alongside informing these societies of “how could they benefit, and how [these changes] could detriment them.”
As societies at the Students’ Union were suddenly forced to reorganise their social events around the Welsh Government’s guidelines last year, Grieve recognised that many societies understandably struggled with this early-on in the pandemic. This year, however, he remains confident that all students would be able to re-engage with what societies have to offer this year in-person.
“There is,” Grieve said, “a group for you and there is a chance for you to voice that and engage with that.” “We have activity-based groups… We have performance groups …We have political and ideological discussion groups… International and cultural groups, we have those,” so there is a “huge range of societies that students can go and join!”
The Sabbatical Team’s work as part of the upcoming Freshers’ Week celebrations
Following on from the recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions across Wales, Gair Rhydd asked Chris Grieve what the Sabbatical Team had been working on in order to ensure that students can have an enjoyable, but also safe Freshers’ Week. The team, he explained, are focused on bringing back a more ‘authentic’ experience for students, with “the in-person side of events” set to return in September.
“Again,” Grieve admitted, “there will be exceptions to this”. He noted that even if the “guidance from the Welsh government changes” and events are required to feature social distancing, masks or a limited attendance capacity, “students can expect an almost entirely back in person provision like we had pre-COVID”.
“If we have to do vaccines, if we have to do tests,” Grieve said, “we’re more than happy to run that and make sure that we’re keeping our students safe at the same as ensuring that we’re putting on as much as we can” for students adding Freshers’ Week in-person.
Speaking to BBC News back in August, Becky Rickets, President of the National Union of Students Wales, asserted that “2021-21 was incredibly hard for students” with many spending “more than half the year learning online” and most being restricted to only socialising “with flatmates that many of them had only just met.” “The social side of university” this year, she continued, is “a key part of the student experience, and contribute positivity to students’ mental health and well-being”.
“Coming out of COVID,” Grieve also acknowledged this and added that “there is going to be huge pressure” on the team to provide a variety of daytime events and virtual activities for students who may not feel comfortable attending the full-scale of Freshers’ events this year. Grieve said that, “because [Freshers Week 2021] is so soon after everything, there’ll be a lot of people who are not comfortable coming back on campus yet or back in-person – And that’s fine”.
He explained that, as part of their preparations for Freshers’ Week, the Sabbatical Team, “are trying to give as much as we can through a virtual provision,” so that all students (even those “who choose to attend virtually”) are able to experience what he expects will be “a more proper, full-on Freshers”.
Taking a step back from the Sabbatical Team’s preparations for Freshers’ Week, Chris Grieve told Gair Rhydd that the Sabbatical Team are primarily focused on engaging with students through social media and, in addition to working closely with societies, aim to raise awareness of key issues that students are facing this year.
Grieve’s key focus for the year
He raised that, in summary, he wants people to be aware that “there are students sitting at the highest level at the Union” who are working to “support societies” and welcome students back to campus with what he hopes will be “a really good Freshers,” especially after what many may have experienced over the last few months.