union president

 

 

Dave Keenan

president.union@stir.ac.uk

 @Stir_President

Dave is a third-year Sociology and Social Policy Student from Dundee, currently taking a year out of his studies to be your Union President

I love Stirling because...of the beautiful campus!

Favourite student moment...taking part in the Fair Rent Now Protest to demand affordable rent for all. 

My Top 5 Priorities for the Year 

  • #StirRent Campaigning for affordable accommodation for our students.
     
  • #Speak Your Mind De-stigmatising student mental health.
     
  • #Transparency & Accountability Making decision makers more relevant.
     
  • #StirFoodbank Ensuring no student goes hungry.
     
  • #Equalities Zone Empowering students to lead on what matters to them.
     

blog

It's Massive Victory for Students on Rent Deal                                            28/02/2017

Following the Big Rent Survey, we analysed the data and compiled the Big Rent Report which was present to the Rent Review Group. Today - a year ago since the Fair Rent Now! protest - we have managed to secure a huge deal for students: • The creation of new fund called the ‘Accommodation Enhancement Fund’, which will be allocated £125k for 2017/18. Successful applicants to the fund will be awarded a sum of money that will be deducted from the total cost of their rent. for example, a student living in Fraser of Allander, (which costs £93/week) who is awarded £500 for the year, will pay around £80/week. If they live in Polwarth and get £1k, they will pay around £57/week, making our accommodation amongst the most affordable in Britain. • 1% reduction on Polwarth. • Price freezes on the University’s heritage properties (except Andrew Stewart Hall). • Agreement that University will map out a long-term Accommodation Strategy.

Within the overall plan for 2017/18 there will also be a: • 1% increase on Andrew Stewart Hall. • 2.5% increase on Beech, Willow & Juniper. This fund is designed to benefit students from poorer backgrounds and will be the first time we have rent subsidies. This fund is ground-breaking and innovative and to the best of our knowledge, no one else seems to be doing this. It is effectively a housing benefit.

The deal we have struck with the University is the biggest victory on rent we have had to date and the enhancement fund will make lasting changes to those who need it. It will make the University more accessible to poorer students and it is the first step on our way to securing further rent subsidies.

-Dave

It's Good To Be Back                                            1/1/17

Today is my first day back in the office after two weeks off and it’s good to be back. This semester is going to be extremely busy from my perspective but there will be a lot of exciting projects coming to fruition over the coming months.

My top priority is rent and accommodation. Back in November, I asked students to complete the Big Rent Survey, which 400 students filled out. We have collected the evidence and I am now finalising the report which will be presented at the next meeting of the Rent Review Group later this month. It is clear that rent is not affordable for some students, therefore it is the responsibility of the Rent Review Group to offer a fair solution to the poorest students. Whilst it is extremely difficult to argue the case for material rent reductions in the current climate, I have come up with some creative ideas that will help students who most need help. The report, along with the recommendations, will be released in the next week or two. I'm really excited to share my ideas with all of you, and if the university agree to my plan, we will be breaking ground and we will be able to support students in ways that we have never been able to support them before. Watch this space.

Sticking with housing, I am hopeful that this semester the university will launch the long-awaited guarantor scheme. The scheme will mean that international students, students from poorer backgrounds and care leavers will be able to access the private-let market as the university will act as a rent guarantor where students don't have one. Next week, Stirling will be hosting the Scottish Student Housing Summit where we will be discussing guarantor schemes, rent strikes and more. We have done a lot of good work on housing so far, and I hope to do more before my term ends in June. I met with Start-Up Stirling back in November to discuss the possibility of opening an access point at the university, for students. It is one of my manifesto pledges to create a student food bank, so this month, I will be working with the local food bank to investigate how we can set up our own access point here with their support. We have established good links with the local food bank and will be looking to pilot a scheme here similar to the one that operated at Forth Valley College.

This semester will also see the rest of my manifesto come to life. I will be promoting the work of University Court as part of #Transparency&Accountability. I want students to know about the existing governing structures of the university and who exactly makes the decisions which impact them. In addition to this, I will be holding open surgeries in the Atrium called, 'Questions for Keenan.' Alongside this, I will be working to ensure that the new Student Equality Steering Group is up and running. I'm really keen to run at least one good equality campaign which will be led by your Equalities Officers.

There are some other projects that I have picked up, but the priority is fulfilling my manifesto pledges and responding to the needs of students. I will also re-launch Speak Your Mind with some fresh people and ideas. It’s going to be an exciting few months as we start to see these ideas come to life. Sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated when you don't see instant results, but the work I have undertaken this year is long-term and the benefits will be felt by generations of students to come. There is a lot that needs done over the next five months, but I am confident that I will fulfill the promises I was elected on.

-Dave

Rent Reviews & The Foodbank                         1/12/2016

Last week I visited start-up Stirling which is the local food bank. As most of you will know, it was in my manifesto to set up a food bank at the university for those students who are in need of a helping hand. The meeting went well and the Student Union and Start-up Stirling will work together to have a branch of the food bank in the university, hopefully at the start of next year. We are looking forward to working in partnership with Start-up and hopefully this will strengthen the existing relationship that already exists.

Upon my visit to the warehouse, I was struck by the scale of the operation. It was an incredibly poignant experience looking at crate after crate of food – some crates had baby food, others Christmas presents. Standing in a warehouse full of food destined for people that can't afford to eat really hit me hard and it made me realise that these are desperate times. It also made me realise that we need to do much more to help those in need. If you do have any toiletries and non-perishable items that you would like to donate, please get in touch and we can contact the amazing team at Start-up to get those collected.

In a couple of weeks time, I will be attending my first meeting of the Rent Review Group. Rent is my number one priority this year and I will be working hard to ensure that I can get some sort of result for the student body. Rent on this campus, like many others across the country, is extortionate and it is clear from early data from the Big Rent Survey that some of our students are being forced to choose between rent, food and a social life. Some students can't even pay the rent. This is completely unacceptable and I promise to fight tooth and nail to right those wrongs. Now we will have hard evidence to show the university how much our students are hurting as a result of the five-star premium they have to pay to reside in halls. I've patiently waited six months to get round the negotiating table and I'm looking forward to presenting my arguments. I am hopeful that we can win some concessions, but I need students on my side every step of the way.

We had our final General Meeting of the semester last week. It was policy heavy but we managed to get through it with ease and I’m really pleased at the policy positions which are now being assumed by the Students’ Union. Members voted in favour of the’ One Member One Vote(OMOV)’ policy which means that the Student Union now officially backs OMOV for NUS full-time officer elections and policy ballots. Sabbatical officers and NUS delegates will now be expected to network with members from across the country to push OMOV to the top of the agenda in an attempt to democratise NUS and make FTOs more accountable to members. In addition to this, members also voted to radically reform the Equalities Zone and make it the Student Equality Steering Group (SESG). The Equalities Zone has always been poorly attended and has only been quorate once in the past two years rendering the zone ineffective. The reforms now mean that the Student Equality Steering Group will have the same powers and remit as Zone but will not need to be quorate to pass decisions.

We are now approaching the end of the semester and I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone the best of luck as we approach exam season. I will be releasing a ‘President’s Report’ at some point in December to reflect on the past six months and lay out my plans for the next six months. In the meantime, good luck and study hard!

-Dave

Speak Your Mind                                            12/10/2016

Monday 10th October was World Mental Health Day and also the launch of Speak Your Mind. Speak Your Mind is a student lead campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues and encourage students to have a more full and frank discussion about mental health. I want this campaign to reach all students with a particular focus on men. Suicide is now the single biggest cause of death for men below the age of forty-five in the UK. Surveys carried out by credible pollsters, such as YouGov, show that men do not want to talk about their problems because they feel ashamed or don’t want to cause a fuss – this is not new information. Furthermore, we have witnessed a worrying increase in the number of students presenting mental health issues. That is why it is imperative that we start the conversation now so we can break down stigma and empower our students to talk about mental health on their terms.

I am particularly passionate about mental health as I myself have been plagued with mental health issues for most of my adolescence and all of my adult life. Back in March 2013 I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. However, with the power of hindsight, I can see now I’ve been ill for a much longer time than the three and a half years since my diagnosis. It was in my 6th year at school secondary school that I really started to notice that something wasn’t right. I started to feel numb and empty, sometimes sad. I had lost all of my drive and passion – not feeling any passion was the worst thing about my depression, as everyone knows I have a lot of fire in the belly.

I became distant in school, gazing at a blank jotter or at a wall, feeling lonely and isolated in a noisy classroom. I couldn’t concentrate or muster anything within me to do any work or hold a full conversation with someone. Everyone, students and teachers, were constantly commenting on how miserable I looked and that I was always down in the dumps. This just made me feel worse, and it made me feel like I was somehow to blame for my mood. This inevitably led to a breakdown in my relationship with some of my favourite teachers and my classmates. School life was truly miserable. Home was no better. I had tricky life at home which compounded how I was feeling – it was in fact the root of my woes. Crisis point was fast approaching.

After a hard day at school I went to my job as a telesales adviser feeling incredibly anxious and distressed, I felt like I could burst at any moment. I did. Whilst in the middle of a call, I snapped, slammed down the phone and ran out of work in floods in tears unable to comprehend what I was feeling and why I was feeling like this. I didn’t want to be here anymore feeling those feelings. I phoned my mates and headed straight to the Boars Rock, our watering hole. After a few miserable pints I left without saying much and headed back home, back to my room where I had spent many a sleepless night torturing myself with vicious thought after vicious thought. As soon as I got in the door, I grabbed a bottle of whiskey and sat at my desk drinking and crying until I was drunk, until I felt utterly hopeless. I realised that this was no way to live, I had to reach out, I had to get help. The one person who I could trust was a youth worker that I met when I volunteered with Dundee City Council. I paced about my room pondering over whether I should send him a text or not. I decided to send the text and I’m glad I did because it’s the reason why I am here now.

By reaching out and speaking to someone, I was able to get the help and support I needed to get to uni, but more importantly to get well again. Speaking to someone I trusted gave me the confidence to be more open about my mental health issues which empowered me to take back control over how I felt. Don’t get me wrong, the past three-and-a-half years have been tremendously difficult and draining. I sometimes struggled with uni and on occasion my mental health got the better of me. What kept me going was my ability to talk about how I was feeling. Talking about my feelings made me feel sane and it made me realise that I really am not alone in this battle; that so many others are facing the same challenges I face. Although it took me years, I got over this rough patch and reignited my passion for living. The turning point was when I decided to run for Union President. I have never felt so alive as I did when I was running in that election. The highs, the lows, the anticipation, the pressure – I loved it. I was doing what I wanted to do.

Getting elected was the biggest turning point in my life. It signified that I was able to overcome what was the most difficult period of my life to date. And now that I am in this position, I want to use it for good so I can help others. That is why I am so passionate about mental health. No one should suffer in silence and sometimes all you need is a little encouragement to open up. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my rough weeks and this week is one of those. It might take me an extra hour to get out of bed, and my mood might be a bit low, but I force myself to come into work because I know I have the strength to overcome this rough patch and I know that I am more than capable of fulfilling my duties despite my mental health issues. My message to you is don’t suffer in silence, talk to a friend or someone you trust. Speak your mind and you will take the first step to recovery.

-Dave

Busy Summer                                            29/08/2016

Although students don’t return to study for a couple of weeks yet, the summer has been a very busy period for the sabbatical team. Since writing my last blog entry, I have been representing Stirling at NUS events and conferences around Scotland and the United Kingdom, forging strong relationships with other sabbatical officers and students’ unions. Building these networks is vital for the work we do locally and particularly at a national level. It is clear from my discussion with other officers that the issues which face students here at Stirling are reflected across campuses around the country. Rent and accommodation, as well as mental health issues, are some of the most pressing challenges that face students; finding common ground with other sabbatical officers and unions will go some way to help overcome those challenges.

The working relationships I have established are already beginning to bear fruit. I visited Edinburgh University Students’ Association just a week ago to meet with their Vice-President Services to discuss the accommodation issues which face both of our respective institutions. From that meeting, we were able to identify individual objectives, but also find scope for collaborative work nationally. We have both agreed to work in partnership with other students’ unions and NUS Scotland to organise and host a Scottish Student Housing Summit. It is envisaged that this summit will be an opportunity for students’ unions to come together to highlight the accommodation issues which face our membership and start building a national campaign to tackle this ongoing crises.

Last Thursday, Stirling University also hosted the NUS Scotland The Gathering. The Gathering is the first big meeting of Scottish students’ unions and sabbatical officers and is an opportunity to discuss NUS Scotland’s plan of work for the year ahead and student issues which are more specific to the Scottish context. The event went well and delegates were particularly impressed by Venue and the Studio bar. The Union’s commercial staff served a delicious dinner and the sabbs enjoyed an evening of karaoke in the bar afterwards.

Whilst I have been busy networking and visiting other parts of the country, I have been busy making students’ lives better here at Stirling. I have had the opportunity to work with our Academic Representation & Development Coordinator on several student cases which have drawn my attention to the day-to-day issues which face Stirling students. Working on student cases has proven insightful and has made me aware major issues which I hadn’t previously considered as a student myself. This reactive work is shaping some of the work I do as President.

One of the more prevalent issues which appeared through case work is – my favourite topic – accommodation, more specifically, acquiring a guarantor for renting accommodation within the privately rented sector. International students, care leavers and students whose household income is less than £19,000 a year are unable to acquire a guarantor, meaning that they either have to pay up to six month’s rent to secure accommodation, or are completely excluded from renting privately. Paying large sums of money to a landlord upfront carries great risk to the tenant as the private rented sector is riddled with unscrupulous landlords and the termination of a tenancy would make it extremely difficult for a tenant to retrieve their money. This encouraged me to undertake research on guarantor schemes and I have since submitted a proposal to the university to introduce a University Guarantor Scheme here at Stirling. The idea behind a UGS is that the university will act as a guarantor for a student who cannot acquire one. At the moment, the university and I are in discussion about the possibility of introducing such a scheme at Stirling. Its early days at the moment, but I’m hopeful of a favourable outcome. If we can agree to introduce the scheme, this would be a huge win for students, but also a huge win for the university.

We are now only a couple of weeks away from students returning to their studies and also the new intake of Freshers. I’m very much looking forward to what is going to be a fantastic Freshers week and I hope you can join us in the Studio bar and Venue for some cracking entertainment. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your time off and I look forward to welcoming you back in September.

-Dave

Here We, Here We...                                             05/07/2016

Hi guys, I thought I'd write a wee blog post to fill you in on what I've been up to since I took office at the start of June. It's quiet over the summer as students have gone home, but preparations are being made for when everyone returns to uni in September. I'm very much looking forward to seeing you all and launching my individual campaigns, as well as setting out the Union's top three priorities for the year.

I am currently in Liverpool at the moment, representing Stirling Students' Union at the NUS SU 2016 conference. This is a great opportunity to meet other sabbatical officers, network and discuss our plans for the year ahead. As well as attending the conference, our Union will receive a Green Impact Award which is a tremendous achievement. I hope you're all enjoying your summer and I'll keep you all updated on what I'm doing over the break.

-Dave

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