Feel Good February is here, and as is customary, it all began with the Refreshers Fair. Ooops, I mean Feel Good Festival. The name “Refreshers” is so synonymous with failure that it was banned from being used this year due to its negative connotations, despite the fact that everyone involved in the Feel Good Festival called it Refreshers anyway.
Unsurprisingly, the Feel Good Festival was just as catastrophic a failure as the Refreshers of the years before. Stalls remained unvisited, sign-up sheets empty. The stall I was in charge of, Poker Society, only had visitors who were either visiting to socialise with me or were just wandering the halls, having abandoned their own stalls due to lack of activity.
I too was guilty of this. I frequently went to visit the Scouts and Guides committee at their stall, which had been moved to the downstairs of the bar, and wandered aimlessly around the Engagement Space striking up conversations with those committed to running their stalls to spare them a few minutes of pen fiddling or regret at signing up to participate.
Regret was certainly at the forefront of my mind as I spent my time making sculptures out of poker chips. The most popular stall at the Festival was Alpen, giving out free snack bars. The Festival ran for five hours, but my stall was packed up and I was long gone by the end of the second. Many other societies, when I checked back in at the Festival at hour four, had followed suit.
Despite the resigned acceptance that Refreshers is doomed to fail every year, the Students’ Union continue with this absurd policy of trying to re-capture the energy of Freshers’ Fair in February. The wide-eyed, curious, excited and clueless Freshers have by February been replaced by students with habits and routines, and a complete apathy in regards to joining societies where pre-established social circles dominate.
What’s worse, the policy of Refreshers justifies in the mind’s eye of the SU a lack of structured promotion of the existence of societies throughout the rest of the year. After Freshers Fair, apart from Vice-Presidents posting links in the Freshers Facebook group to stand-alone special events hosted by societies which often have nothing to do with what that society is about, there are no efforts to sustain the momentum the Fair is the culmination of. People wait excitedly for the summer holiday to end and their new adventure to begin, receiving their Welcome Pack in the post showcasing the Biggest Freshers’ Fair in the UK. Once they’ve attended Freshers’ Fair, the momentum plummets from the sky and silently crashes in the forest without a trace.
Rather than letting the momentum crash to the ground like Chris Hadfield in a Soyuz capsule, it needs to be released gradually over time. The existence of societies needs to be continually promoted throughout the entire academic year, to remind students who aren’t already involved with the Students’ Union that there are opportunities available to them, either to join a society which already exists or to create a new society based on their interests. It needs to be made easier for those who want to create societies but lack a friend network interested in their idea to find people who share that common interest. And it needs to be made clear that the Student Union’s top priority is to help people with those interests either join or create a place where they can enjoy themselves through sustained promotion of the existence of societies and the benefits and experiences waiting to be enjoyed by being a part of one.
The current system of society promotion needs a serious overhaul. Refreshers, in its current form, is a flawed concept which hinders the ability of the Students’ Union to promote societies due to a gross overestimation of its impact and effectiveness on reaching students. It either needs far more effort and energy poured into it to match the scale and success of Freshers’ Fair, or it needs to be scrapped entirely and replaced with something new. If it continues as it is, they shouldn’t be surprised to find an abundance of empty, abandoned stalls at Refreshers in years to come.
By Thomas Layton, President of the UWE Poker Society