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April 2015 - the Students' Union

April's podcast notes that the first students lobbied for a Students' Union to house their administrative and social activities. Since then, Warwick’s Students’ Union has always held a special place in the hearts of the student populace. Here, ten interviewees describe their relationship with the building and its place as a student hub over the past five decades.

The Students

Siobhan Benita was a student of English and German, graduating in 1996. She remembers living within close proximity to the Students’ Union. “A group of us who had been abroad lived in Hurst 1 flats. We had the first flat as you cross the road from the Students’ Union. Because we were probably the closest to the SU, we ended up with people who decided they would camp in our flat of an evening, so we became quite a social flat in the fourth year. It was really nice actually.”

Damon Boughen studied for a Master’s degree in International Relations between 2009 and 2011. He spent a lot of time socialising in the Students’ Union as the social spaces for meeting up with other people were so good. “It was a large part of what drew me to Warwick in the first place - the amount of facilities available on campus.”

Vicky Bourne was an undergraduate student of Sociology at Warwick and she remembers what the SU offered from 1980 – 1983: “They just had the Whip Round every Saturday night with some really big names, I remember King, a Coventry band. It was great, it was on a really good circuit. We’d go there all the time and if you hadn’t heard of the band to start with, they’d usually become well known within weeks, so it was a great opportunity to see a wide variety of people for really no money at all. And they had all the bars and discos too. I remember John Lennon’s death being announced on the SU Tannoy in 1980 and some people bursting into tears. It was very shabby, had a burger place you wouldn’t have wanted to eat in, and had the airport lounge place. I went in recently and it seems completely changed!”

Ian Caldwell studied Mathematics between 1972 and 1976. “The Students’ Union was being built for most of the time I was there. I remember it opening, I probably drank too much beer! I was on the student representative council as well, and they had a selection of brewers offering their wares. I do remember that one - I did drink too much, which wasn’t unknown for me at university!”

Steve Carr was an undergraduate student of MORSE from 1979 – 1982. “At the end of each term on the Thursday night they’d have a late licence at the Students’ Union and the Airport Lounge which was connected to it, and you’d have the bar going from 8 till 2 in the morning and a series of bands on in both places. So you’d go to that because you got to see loads of bands most of which you’d never heard of, but some of which became quite famous or they were about to make it big. In those days to get yourself heard you’d play loads of gigs. And campus universities are great for that because students will listen to anything! The Smiths played here, Dexys Midnight Runners, Bad Manners, Toya, Mari Wilson, A Flock Of Seagulls. And then we used to be able to thumb a lift at 3 in the morning back to Leamington Spa, I remember one night, eight of us in a Mini!”

Jon Cartwright studied History from 1993-1996. “I did like the old building because it had a sense of things happening in quite an open space, you could be stood on one balcony and you could see six different things happening in different parts of the building. I always had a soft spot for the Students' Union because you could go in there and you could have a really heavy night and then stagger away, and the next day you’d be sat in a different part of the room having a sandwich from the sandwich oven. It was a forgiving sort of place, you could make an idiot of yourself one day, and the next day be back as if nothing had happened, and I rather liked that.”

Andrew Bradley was president of the Students’ Union in 2010. “A lot happened in this year. We had a new building – the Students’ Union had been shut and it had a huge multi-million pound refurbishment, which was a huge investment in a student facilities on campus.”

Olurotimi Lawson came to Warwick as a postgraduate student from 2006-2010 at the Medical School studying the MBChB course. “I used to come up for a few of the nights they had up at the Students’ Union. In my final year they started doing some demolishing and building out of the back. I went to a few Brazilian themed nights and concerts. It wasn’t as posh as it is now. It wasn’t as colourful. There were a lot of smaller spaces, now it’s quite big, it’s more upmarket. It seems more accessible now.”

Thomas Bray studied German with History and Culture, followed by a Masters and PhD in History. He used the Union a lot in his first year, and preferred the older, worn feel. “When I first came in 2006 we had a very different Union. It was much shabbier, much less attractive, far more effective, far better because everyone would go to “Top Banana” on a Monday, it was where you’d go to see and be seen. You could meet someone and say, ‘I’ll see you on Monday [at Top Banana]’ because you would! The new union is much better for parents and looks much more attractive! On open days they see it and think, that’s ok! The old union was falling apart! I have very fond memories of the old union.”

Cathy Connan started to study Chemistry, switching eventually to Business Studies and graduated in 1988. “Coming back to live on campus in third year you felt more ownership. You felt like this was your space, this is my marketplace, this is my Cholo bar. I loved the union. Even now, my niece was thinking about where to do her Law degree and I went round to see it from the student’s perspective again, and there was a part of me that thinks ‘Home!’ and there’s part that thinks ‘It’s changed, it’s completely different!’, but all these years later the concept of the Union is where we spent a lot of time.”

Listen to April's accompanying podcast here for more details on student calls for a Students’ Union building and stay tuned for next month’s instalment on student activities on campus.

Click here to listen to the full interviews featured in the blog (and podcast). Browse the page by searching for a particular participant in the search bar, or scrolling through the alphabetical list.