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Union News

Interview: VP Welfare & Community Candidate, Amber Grout

Where are you originally from?
So I’m from Reading originally. So yeah, not too far away. My sister comes down every now and then for a little trip. She’s two years younger but we’re really close. So yeah, we’re quite fortunate that we’re close as sisters.

What drew you to the University of Portsmouth?
Well I looked at, additionally while I was applying for university there was all the Russell groups and things like that. Then I took a year out and when I came back and looked at potential universities with the perspective of do I actually I want to go here? Instead of aspiring for grades. So I came and I looked at it from a real point of view which was very different I found actually. I just really like, it had a really nice feel about it. It felt really accommodating. All the lecturers were really keen to help and things like that. It really drew me in initially because my course had 100% coursework and no exams. So that was a major factor for me. But, yeah Portsmouth just has this really nice feel about it. I kind of felt like it could be home, which other places which I had gone to felt quite like formal and like I couldn’t imagine myself there, whereas here I really could from the start.

What is your favourite thing about the city of Portsmouth?
I think about the city is the fact that there’s so many different elements to it. Say like in Reading, you’ve got the town centre and everything is in that one place. Whereas in Portsmouth you kind of have it quite spread out. So you have the really fancy shops in Gunwharf, but one of my favourite things to do is just be on Elm Grove and Albert Road, down to Palmerston. Do all the little small shops and you just kind of like stumble along things, like little cafes or whatever. As one of my favourite things, especially in first year. If I had a free day like Wednesdays when I didn’t have any lectures I’d just take whatever my reading was for that week and find a cafe and just go sit in it for a little while. I really like that about Portsmouth, there’s a lot of independent places. It’s something I’m not used to at home.  

What course do you study?
I study English Literature. It can be quite intense, especially in the last few weeks where I haven’t done much reading…

Who is your idol and why?
I’ve always struggled with role models a little bit. I’ve always found them to be a little bit of a scam. But, I really kind of aspire to be like Emma Watson. I’ve always found her really aspiring, especially her ‘He for She’ campaign and she’s always been someone like, she started as like the little nerdy girl, Hermione. Then actually morphed into who she actually is as a person. I really like some of the work she’s done. So, yeah I’d say that or like Fearne Cotton I really like. I follow her on Instagram and I really like how she’s always like doing yoga in the mornings and things like that. She’s really realistic in terms of the fact like, this is crazy and I felt really tired this morning but I did it and now I feel better. I think that’s something that I could in the future see myself doing if not now.

What is your dream job?
I think, I have said this but it’s been something that’s been in the back of my mind is I would really love to set up my own charity. So, I did volunteering before I came to university for three months in Uganda. We did a lot of work around sexual reproductive health, period poverty and things like that. I’ve always considered if I could set up my own charity around things like period poverty and trying to make things easier for people. So, like one of my manifesto points is I want free sanitary products in all of the campus toilets. I feel like it’s something that’s so small but so simple. It shouldn’t be a problem, but it just is for a lot of people. A lot of people really struggle.

When I was volunteering abroad we were making reusable sanitary pads for people there. So like, it was really cheap accessible materials, they didn’t have a problem with having to dispose of them all the time. And at the same time, kind of like trying to break the stigma about it. All of them really engaged with it, we were doing it with a big class of boys and others as well and it just got them all like having a bit of a joke about it and it not being like a taboo.

I feel like around campus, it really can be like a taboo thing at the minute…
Yeah, it can be. I think for my like all my friends are guys so if I get caught out without a tampon I’m screwed. Sometimes I’ll be going to one of them like ‘have you got a spare tampon’ and they’re like no. So I’ve had to, quite a few times like I’ve been in the library and I’ve had to go home and it’s just been so annoying. So yeah, it’s been something that a dream job would be to completely set this up from using what’s already around. There’s quite a few really good organisations but just making it easier for people here and for people in different countries as well. It’s definitely a trend that’s on the up.

The tax has always been there but it kind of became public knowledge that it was a luxury tax. So everyone was like what on earth. Then people were going oh well it’s an EU tax so we can’t debate it. Well it’s a luxury tax, this is not a luxury item. At all.

If you won the lottery what’s the first thing that you would buy?
I think first I would love to set up my own charity/NGO but after that I desperately want to travel. I’d like to do it all the proper way by seeing places like the back alley restaurant and all that. But do the whole world, not just one part. I’ve got a friend in America and I’m going over there in the summer for a road trip so that will get me started a bit.

What was the primary reason for you running in the student elections?
Initially, I didn’t know anything about the role. I got the email through while I was lying awake in bed one night and I was like, you know what I’m just going to put my name in. I didn’t really know what the roles were or anything like that. I think it’s just obviously, like it is a career that I want to go into. It’s almost like, this is a starting point. You kind of start at the top, you come in and you actually have quite a lot of influence to be able to make a change in society. I think students are a very unengaged demographic a lot of the time. There’s so many things out there that the union already does but that students have no idea about. I think mobilisation is something that I could achieve. I just think that I would really enjoy doing it and be able to do it at the same time.

So really kind of stirring up the student population?
Yeah, sort of just give the students a kick up the arse and it’s kind of an attitude that I’ve have with a lot of my friends. I’m always that person that’s like ‘get yourself together, sort yourself out’. But I think it’s just students that do need that little kick up the behind sometimes. I’m also genuinely really passionate about my campaign points. It was a bit of a struggle to narrow it down to three things for my manifesto but I think because they are so important for me it really drives me because here is the perfect opportunity to achieve everything I want to and really implement the changes I wish I could.

If you could change one thing that would instantly improve everyday life for students at the university, what would it be and why?
I think it would be for students to actively engage with all of the awesome parts of university life. Everyone who wants to join a society finds one where they feel at home, everyone who is struggling with something can find the help they need. I think that a lot of the time people just don’t know what is already out there for them and there’s a lot of things that could really have a major impact.

Could you sum up your manifesto for us in ten seconds?
Okay, so I’m campaigning for free condoms, free tampons, and less general stress. They are overall points.

How do you intend to promote the union to our less engaged students?
Well, I guess I have heard one of the other candidates proposing an app and I thought that was a really amazing idea. I guess kind of just driving up support. There is a very crucial period in the first few weeks of freshers where students are really open to everything. I think you really do need to capture that brief period and hone in on it and really target and grab that engagement at the start. Because I know myself, even in terms of like talking to people in halls. First week, two weeks maybe is the limit, I talked to so many different people. Doesn’t matter where I was, if I was out in the courtyard in James Watson, or if I was in a lecture. I would talk to the person next to me. But, after that two weeks, you don’t do that anymore. You kind of almost become a normal person again.

Yeah, so you settle in and you’ve got a little bit of a group going now, so you just feel comfortable. So you don’t need those extra parts. And I think it’s the same with societies or getting involved in your course. If you set the precedence on that two weeks and then it completely peters off and I think capturing that bit at the start, making people really aware of what’s around, what’s going on. Facilities that are available, ways that they can get involved. Capturing that right at the start and then reminders along the way for those who maybe didn’t pay as much attention or had the intention but forgot. Just sort of capturing that and keeping that up across the board.

What do you feel is the top ‘welfare’ issues facing students and how would you use the role to support them with this?

I would personally say stress. I think so many students are undergoing constant stress. It doesn’t end. There is like no relief whatsoever. I think that is one thing from a welfare perspective, really is like the worst thing as a student. It’s just that feeling of impending doom that never leaves. I know myself like last term I had two full months where I was stressed and I did not have a single day of relief because you have a few deadlines and then it continues, then it rolls on. Then it spirals then you can’t stop it anymore. I think it’s just like, there’s so many small things that could be done to alleviate that. I think it’s something that is completely universal as well for all students. I don’t think there are any students that are like ‘uh, no i’m not that bothered, like I’m not stressed, like ever’.  

Student safety is a big concern at the moment. If elected how would you address this issue?
I feel like definitely working with the current system, talking to to the council and the police and things like that. I know there has been talk of extending the bus route into the evenings and things like that as well. I think it’s just talking to the students as well and finding out what it is that they think could be done to make it better. Also, what are the specific parts where people feel worried. Is it when they are walking home on their own? Is it when somebody is talking to them but they don’t want to be spoken to?

Because personally, I’m living on Hudson Road next year where the shooting was. I’m not too worried about that because it was a drug thing and I’m not a drug dealer so I’m not scared of being shot. But I think it is just that feeling of unsafeness and there are certain areas, particularly where a lot of students live, some of which are a bit dodgy, or not well lit. There are some parts where you know you’ll find some people just hanging around and stuff like that. I think it’s just working with the council and those areas to make sure they’re doing their job as I don’t think it’s the university’s job to make the place safe. I think it’s just holding the local forces accountable and making sure that they’re doing what is needed to ensure students feel safe. I think that extending the bus into the evening is definitely one way to help, but it’s only a short term fix. It’s not a long term solution. I think it’s those long term solutions that need more investment than the short term ones.

There can sometimes be tensions between those who live locally and students, what would you aim to do to improve this and the view of students in the city in general?
I think it’s just trying to make people understand the students are real people. I get on so well with my neighbours, we’ve got a family next door. When I moved in they said to us that I had to pick up a parcel as I had some books delivered and they said ‘Are you a party group because we’ve got an autistic son so noise really late at night is like a big problem for us.’ So I said ‘Oh okay, that’s fine.’ So we’ve always made a conscious effort and because they had spoken to us in those first few days, they’ve kept speaking to us whenever we’ve seen them. We’ve got a really good relationship with them.

I think it’s because we’re people to them, we’re not just those students next door. I think putting people in that category is quite bad for students. As students just have this reputation for drinking and being lazy and thinking that 9ams are too early. Just making them understand that actually we’re real people, we do just want to live here and mind our own business most of the time. Obviously, I think it is a two way thing as well. From the union’s perspective I think it’s up to students. So, encouraging students to make that first step. So when you’re moving in, just knock next door and just introduce yourself. That’s something that could be just so small but could go a long way. I think if you can encourage that engagement from a student perspective it will be so much easier than trying to get all of the town to introduce themselves to students. It’s just not going to happen. So just humanising students and not just putting them in a category.

What are your values as a candidate and student leader?
I think inclusivity and equality for all. I think that everything should be equally accessible and just promoting a culture of understanding I think is one thing that is really important to me. People sometimes will disregard or not even bother trying to understand other people and I think it’s just not good to have it for life. I think that for the university, it would just be so much easier if people just understood and just tried to understand at least. Or make that effort, I think it’s just something that could go such a long way and could make everyone’s life so much easier if people just took that one step towards making things easier.

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