Three days of SPANCing, Gair Rhydd reflects…

You may have seen the flurry of activity over Gair Rhydd’s social media this last weekend. In case you hadn’t realised what was going on, this was a result of the Student Publication Association National Conference (SPANC) being hosted by our teams at Gair Rhydd and Quench in a three-day event at CUSU.

The SPA was founded in 2012, and with 112 member publications, acts as a unifying network of student journalists around the UK. Every year, members from all publications are invited to the conference which offers talks, workshops and panel discussions, with a rather spectacular awards ceremony on the Saturday evening.

For those of us at Gair Rhydd and Quench, this year was like no other. After winning a bid to host SPANC18, we formed a host team, and a team of volunteers to run the event smoothly. From working late at night on table plans, to sourcing decorations, scheduling itineraries and running a 24 hour helpline (which nobody rang thankfully), we have had SPA on the brain for the last few months.

The weekend began with delegates checking-in on the Friday afternoon, and being welcomed to Cardiff with an evening dinner. As this was the first time SPANC has been hosted in Wales, we of course had to serve a Welsh special; curry with half and half chips and rice. Following on from this, the SPA trustees organised a media themed pub quiz which included a range of the student publications. We guessed at each other’s logos, struggled with anagrams and listened intently to the voices of newsreaders. Sadly, the Gair Rhydd team didn’t win the pub quiz, but we were pretty busy running around behind the scenes.

Saturday kicked off with breakfast at the Taf, our beloved SU pub, and promptly moved into rounds of talks through the day. A particular highlight of the day was ‘swap shop’. Acting as an opportunity for us to explore each other’s publications, the differences in design and content proved interesting for all those attending. Not only this, but it acted as a more informal way for us all to network, and you know how us student journalists like to chat!

Another stand out talk was run by Brenda Wong, on the topic of self-branding for a career in journalism. Former Editor-in-chief of Gair Rhydd, Maria Mellor said that “Every time Brenda Wong gives a presentation it is full of energy and good advice – #SPANC18 was no exception. She talked to us about finding our personal brand without damaging your mental health, and had her audience take out their phones to live tweet and ask questions. It was a breath of fresh air to have someone tell us that it’s okay to mess up, and to not take it too hard on yourself if you need to take a break. At the conference Brenda was awarded a lifetime membership with the SPA to commemorate all the work she has done for them since their founding.” We all know that branding has an essential part to play within the journalistic field, and with many of the talks focussing on prepping ourselves for the world of journalism, SPANC18 couldn’t have been more suited towards the needs of student journalists.

Saturday night saw the esteemed SPA awards night, with a three-course meal and copious wine, the photos from the night reflect a celebration of the hard work and dedication shown by all the media teams. The awards were selected from over 1,000 submissions shortlisted and judged by SPA trustees and professionals within the field. We are very proud here at Gair Rhydd for winning ‘Highly Commended’ for our sports coverage! Our thanks go out to our Sports Editors, and last year’s Editor-in-chief, Maria Mellor for their incredible coverage of Welsh varsity last year. At Gair Rhydd, we are in awe of The Plague; a brilliant one-woman-show run by Alice Roberts, as well as the many other award winners throughout the night. ‘Best Publication’ was a well-deserved win for Palatinate, the student newspaper at Durham University.

Sunday morning, and with many of our delegates a bit worse for wear, the fry-up breakfast went down a treat. The talks on Sunday were brilliant at exploring the future for journalism and news coverage, with the talk ‘how to film on your phone; online video content for beginners’ offering brilliant advice for those of us that want to advance our online coverage.

Here at Gair Rhydd, we are incredibly grateful to have hosted SPANC18, and meet all our wonderful delegates. Never have we been so overwhelmed with the passion behind student media across the UK, and cannot wait to advance Gair Rhydd with the lessons and advice we have learnt in the last three days. Thank you to all of you that attended, and for those of you that are new to student media, or perhaps have never even thought about student journalism…your student publication is ready to welcome you with open arms.


Your Cardiff Student Media, SPA Host Team

Kate Eagleton-Etheridge, Laura Price, and Jessica Warren

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