Fergus Mainland interview: Meet your new Athletic Union Officer

Peter Bath talks to the sporting sabbatical officer about his plans for campus sport this year

Peter Bath
29th September 2021
Image: @nusu_au via Instagram

Fergus Mainland is this year's Athletic Union officer. The Courier talked to the sabbatical officer in charge of campus sport about his plans for the year...

How have you found the position of Athletic Union Officer so far?

Busy! It’s been fascinating learning about how all the other sports clubs work and operate. I think this will be a very rewarding job and hopefully I can help drive a lot of positive change in the way we deliver sport at Newcastle. There’s been lots to get up to speed on but the Activities team have been brilliant.

How would you describe your job? What is the AU Officer responsible for?

The Athletic Union Officer deals with all things sport-related and leads the development, training and support for Sports Clubs. Main responsibilities have included club grant allocation, overseeing BUCS/Non-BUCS fixtures and chairing the AU Executive Committee. This role leads on many projects such as Inclusive Sports Week, This Girl Can, as well as Mission Nutrition. In recent years, the AU Officer has also been inputting ideas to the development of sports facilities at NCL and organising the AU Ball. I’m also in regular contact with the university to ensure the student sporting experience is at the heart of their decision making process.

What are a few of your top priorities in your role this year?

This year, I want to reignite passion and participation in sport once more. I’m hoping to reengage the student body and have have more students involved with sport on all levels than in 2019.

  • To provide sports supporters kit in the NUSU merchandise shop.
  • Work with the University and the Sports Centre to provide resources for sport. For example, providing access to a sports psychologist and more resources for our student athletes
  •  To run a women in sport campaign. This would be to both encourage women into sport and men to better understand the issues that may be a barrier to women in sport.
  • Change the culture within sports clubs to ensure that they are more accessible to all.

Outside of sport, student housing is quickly becoming a top priority - making sure students are fully aware of their rights when renting and holding the city council and landlords accountable.

Based on your time at Newcastle, just how important is sport to the student experience and our community here?

I can’t overstate how important sport is. Not just for the student experience, but also for all the health benefits that sport has.

I have made some of my closest friends through sport at university and I only have the best things to say about my involvement with sport.

Last year was strange - campus sports were suspended due to the pandemic. How did you find this, particularly as president of Boat Club, and have you learnt anything from the experience?

It was hard, particularly tough in the first semester with numerous lockdowns. Being away from the river and away from my friends was very challenging but my heart went out to the freshers who arrived and then went into isolation pretty much immediately. A lot of these students picked Newcastle because of the rowing and to see that taken away from them was utterly rubbish. The day we were all back, March 29th, was one of the best days of the year. 

Now that sports on campus are back, how do you plan on getting participation up to pre-pandemic levels?

It all starts with Freshers and clubs being proactive and thinking outside the box. Plenty of taster sessions and lots of Give It A Go Opportunities.

Last year's AU Officer, Benthe Tanghe, managed to secure gender inclusive sportswear for Newcastle athletes - what plans do you have to make sports on campus more inclusive?

Breaking down barriers is one of the key objectives for the whole Sab team and we all want to work together to ensure there are equal opportunities for students to engage with everything we are doing, and this includes sport. I hope to continue the good work that Benthe has done and also learn from a BUCS Conference I recently attended about what more we can be doing, particularly for disabled students, about inclusive sporting opportunities.

As a former Boat Club president, how has it felt to see the success of Newcastle students and alumni in rowing at this year's Olympics as well as the u23 European Championships?

Utterly brilliant! Head Coach, Angelo Savarino, has built this programme up to be a dominant force in UK rowing and now we’re seeing this at the very pinnacle of the sport.

It is such an inspiration to all of our current students and it is testament to the culture of success that has been created over the years.

James Rudkin, Emily Ford and Tom Ford are legends of Newcastle Rowing and I hope their successes will continue to drive the club forward and see it continue going from success to success. The whole club and the alumni are incredibly proud of our three Olympians.

Finally, have you got any words of advice or encouragement for new Newcastle students looking to get into sports?

GO FOR IT! It’ll be the best decision you make and there really is something for everyone. Email me or message any of the sports clubs and they will be delighted to have you come along and get stuck in.

Pick up a weekly Courier on campus to read Fergus' column, or check it out online at thecourieronline.co.uk.

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