Despite its unparalleled popularity and far-reaching influence among Newcastle students, NUSSC has recently decided to disaffiliate from the Students' Union, opting instead to operate as an independent social club with no ties to the University. The decision, which was confirmed by a vote at the society’s annual general meeting at the conclusion of the 2022/23 school year, has seen the club rebrand to the “Newcastle Upon-Tyne Ski and Snowboard Club,” scrubbing all University motifs from its branding.
With almost 5,000 Instagram followers, NUSSC is well established as one of Newcastle University’s most subscribed clubs, which makes their decision to disaffiliate all the more notable.
NUSSC is not the only society to run independently from the Students' Union, as seen by the Newcastle Medical Society. MedSoc now claims to be the largest student led society in the UK despite their lack of official affiliation to Newcastle University.
NUSSC’s motivations for disaffiliating are broad, though the bureaucracy of the Students' Union proved to be a key point of contention.
When asked for insight into NUSSC’s decision, the club's newly elected president Tom Wighton told The Courier that “The past couple of years have seen the club's member population increase rapidly, with record numbers of students attending weekly social events, trainings, and our trip. We found that, despite many positive relationships with those who worked within the Athletics Union, the existing systems weren’t providing for a club of our size, output or budget needed.”
The admin associated with merchandise and international trips exacerbated existing difficulties.
“The extra step of having to work through the SU for transport bookings, merchandise sales and sponsorships took valuable time out of our hands,” Wighton continued.
Despite the existing challenges, Wighton felt that the decision was still in the balance on the day of the AGM, with members of the club divided on the vote’s outcome.
“We thought [that the AGM] would be a fantastic opportunity for the club to see what direction our members wanted the club to take, whether they felt we should remain within the SU or disaffiliate and operate independently,” said Wighton.
“If I am honest, I'm unsure as to what outcome I was expecting on the day. I knew multiple people on either side of the argument so I genuinely thought it could go either way.”
One factor which made the vote hard to call was risk, as the removal of the Students' Union's safety nets placed extra pressure on NUSSC’s executive committee. However, Wighton feels that the decision to disaffiliate has created a sense of liberation rather than trepidation among both the club’s executives and members.
Speaking candidly on the potential pitfalls of disaffiliation, he noted that the decision “comes with a lot more risk. Despite the risks, however, I think the club has really tackled its new-found independence head-on, which can only be seen as a massive positive for the current academic year and future years as the club seeks to reach its full potential.”
He went on to add that “We have also incorporated much of the AU’s existing disciplinary and regulatory policy into our own and will commit to keeping high standards of behaviour and safeguarding our members,” acknowledging the potential new weight on the shoulders of the executive committee before reiterating that “I can’t see [behaviour] being much of an issue!”
The new president made no attempt to hide his optimism for NUSSC's future. Despite the loss of Students' Union funding and support, Wighton has made it his mission to make the notoriously costly endeavour of winter sports as accessible as possible for the Newcastle student population.
“This year, we are aiming to provide as much subsidisation as possible over a range of events, continuing our aim to make snow-sports accessible for all. For example, we are pushing to host extra affordable freestyle sessions down in Castleford this year. This year's trip is also set to be larger than ever, with some amazing artists in the works, and a booking price that remains affordable for all students! All will be announced via our social media channels early November, so anyone who is keen should keep an eye on our Instagram.”
While NUSSC is enjoying its new freedoms, Students' Union leadership has been left to pick up the pieces after the loss of one of its largest sports clubs, with plans already in the works to create a replacement winter sports club. Official plans for this club are yet to be announced, though one might expect that it’s social calendar, events schedule, and operations will be modelled heavily after those of NUSSC, which has set the standard for sporting societies over the course of its nearly sixty years of operation.
NUSSC’s decision to disaffiliate will likely have been one of the first issues to cross the desk of Kimiko Cheng, the Students’ Union’s newly elected Athletic Union Officer. Charged with overseeing all Newcastle University sports clubs, the responsibility to raise a new ski club from NUSSC’s ashes will fall to Cheng.
When asked for her thoughts on the situation, Cheng told The Courier that “Coming into this role, I was disappointed to hear that the Newcastle University Ski & Snowboard Club is currently dormant. The external ski club they have formed no longer benefits from the support or insurance of the Students’ Union. Although this is disheartening, we are actively looking for students to form a new principal committee so we can continue the legacy of the club here at Newcastle.”
It remains to be seen whether the Newcastle Upon-Tyne Ski and Snowboard Club will make the most of its members' decision to disaffiliate, though at this moment in time they seem to show no signs of slowing. As NUSSC prepares for its first year loosed from the moorings of the Students' Union, there will surely be treacherous waters to navigate, but those at the helm seem more than ready to steady the ship.