Wessex Scene Takeover: The History of SUSU (and its media) By Bridie Pearson-Jones

In General

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As Wessex Scene turns eighty years old, the Editor, Bridie Pearson-Jones, has completed her first Union blog takeover to tell us about the history of the SUSU and its student media through the ages. Get in touch with your comments @yoursusu, or contact Bridie directly at editor@soton.ac.uk.

This year has been historic for SUSU. All of its student groups sitting in the Creative Industries Zone have significant birthdays – Wessex Scene turned 80, Union Films turned 50, Surge turned 40, SUSUtv is turning 10, and the Edge 5. SUSU is reviewing their brand this year, after years of apathy towards the Students’ Union and a lot of feedback from students saying SUSU was not a strong brand – so we thought we’d take a look at the history of media and SUSU itself.

The Students’ Union is over 100 years old. The Hartley institute opened in 1862, and 41 years later the Students’ Union formed, with only 171 students. Today, it’s grown into one of the largest unions in the country, with more clubs and societies than other university in the UK.

In 1921, democratic structures where put in place, which caused the first clubs and societies to form, (including Wessex Scene in 1936) – and the West Building – which housed the Students’ Union.

Wessex Scene is the oldest surviving Union Group on campus- the magazine today is far from its original format. It launched as a weekly printed newspaper on 26th February 1936, and now is a monthly features-based magazine and a news website. SUSU media on the whole has done excellently in recent years, Wessex Scene has been nominated for several awards, including 5 Student Publication Association awards, a Guardian Student Media award, and two of their journalists were named ‘student journalist of the year’ by the Huffington Post and the Independent.

In 1996, Wessex News, changed its name to Wessex Scene, and in 2001 it launched a website, now averaging around 30,000 hits a week – it’s come a long way since a small college paper of the Hartley Institute. Five years ago, The Edge, Wessex Scene’s entertainment supplement became its own publication, and since has become an excellent publication in its own right, reaching one million web hits this year.

On the 29th April 1952, the Union expanded following the granting of University Charter (from the Queen) – meaning the expansion of many student groups – including Union Films in 1966. After the University got its charter – there was serious expansion, including the first bar, and a Games Room. In 1967, the current SUSU building – designed by Sir Basil Spence – opened.

In the 1970s, Surge Radio was established, as ‘Radio Heffalump’ and originally broadcast from Glen Eyre – over the years, Surge has won dozens of awards, and this year was nominated for two Student Radio Awards. In 2006, SUSUtv formed, and has since become one of the leading student TV channels in the country.

Over the years, there have been many renovations on the SUSU building. In Christmas 2002, there was a huge renovation including adding The Cube, four bars and Union Films. Since then, the Union has gained an in-house American-style restaurant, Bar 3 Diner, a student lettings agency, SUSU Lettings and recruitment agency, SURecruit.

Perhaps the ‘quirkiest’ piece of SUSU history is SUSU the cat. Susu – a stray-  turned up on campus in 2002, and the then porters gave her kitchen food straps. When the Cube was still used as a busy nightclub, SUSU use to sit at the tills and greet customers as they entered – she once managed to get locked in after the Cube and set the alarm off, another time she got stuck behind Union films. Seven years ago, she was severely injured following an attack – and the Union paid for her £400 vet bill. She is part of SUSU’s history, and our own Union President described her as “an independent feline who doesn’t rely on anyone for anything (except food, water and the occasional belly rub) – she is the world’s most aloof cat and if she lets you pet her, you are truly among a blessed number. Bae of the year, every year since 2002.”

One of the biggest ongoing sagas in SUSU’s history is its relationship with the NUS. For most of its existence, SUSU was affiliated – however, in May 2002, SUSU voted to disaffiliate with the NUS. In 2010, and 2012 there were further referendums to re-affliate, on both occasions the students voted for SUSU to remain independent.

As the sun sets on the history of SUSU, we will also be saying farewell to the SUSU brand. Having appointed Manchester branding agency, Holdens’ to review the SUSU brand, the feedback we have received from students and staff from a combination of workshops and survey results has led to the decision to undergo a rebrand. With the final choice for the new brand in the hands of the Student Councillors at Union Council, the future of SUSU looks exciting.

The new brand will kickstart a whole new era for the Union, in line with Vision 2020, our strategic plan that aims to place us as one of the Top 5 Students’ Unions in the UK. As part of this, there will be many changes being made within democracy, volunteering, communications and much more – all informed by you! Keep up-to-date with the changes via our blogs.

While SUSU is changing, our commitment to supporting our student groups will remain.We are immensely proud of our 300+ student groups and societies and their incredible achievements over the course of the year. For example, as well as the amazing student media wins during 2016, Team Southampton won the Varsity cup for another year running and RAG society raised an incredible £4754.87 during The Big Give! If you would like to showcase your student group in our blogs, get in touch with us at comms@susu.org.

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