On Wednesday 21st February, Redbrick Editor-in-Chief William Baxter and News Editor John Wimperis met with Kris Ali, Housing and Community Officer at the Guild of Students
When asked what he thought about figures recently reported in The Tab claiming that Selly Oak was tied with Hyde Park, Leeds, for being the most burgled student area in the country (with 293 burglaries reported in 2017), Ali questioned where the youth news website had taken these figures from.
‘Selly Oak, as an area on crime stats’, Ali said to Redbrick, ‘includes down Bristol Road towards town, up to Edgbaston, past Raddlebarn Road, all the way down towards Pershore Road, going past Sainsbury’s, and towards Harborne, towards Weoley Hill and all those residential areas there’.
Ali claimed that, in meetings with police, it had been established that out of this number of burglaries, the amount that affected students was ‘less than a third’. When Redbrick pointed out that students do live outside Bournbrook, Ali insisted that this was taken into account and that this statistic covered ‘95% of students’ but that he was unable to give specifics due to restrictions.
On what crimes he felt most affected students and what he had done to tackle them, Ali said that he thought people were most worried about break-ins, though he claimed that these usually happened because of unsecured doors and windows.
Ali credited the ‘great work we’re doing with the community wardens and the police on our all-out patrol where we’re checking all the doors to make sure all doors are locked’ as the reason why no break-ins or front door burglaries have been reported to him yet in 2018. However he did acknowledge that people still would ‘quickly open and grab something through the back door and run out, which is unfortunate’.
He also admitted that ‘there are some that will occur as a result of breaking in’, and claimed that he had been working with security and the police to tackle this. He added that he would like more security patrols throughout Selly Oak, but said that this would have to be a ‘long-term’ goal as resources could not be increased quickly.
‘We all live in Selly Oak; I wish that it could be done ever so suddenly’, Ali told Redbrick, emphasising that any change would take time.
Redbrick asked Ali what work he had been doing and he responded that ‘a lot of it is obviously private’ but he did have plans.
One potential plan was for a ‘Street Watch’, a scheme Ali said was used successfully in other university communities and would consist of student wardens with police training and support patrolling Selly Oak. Ali claimed this was in its ‘embryonic stages’ but he hoped it would be rolled out towards the start of the next academic year.
When asked what achievements he had made in terms of safety, Ali said ‘I question myself every day. What have I actually done?’
Ali claimed that he had almost implemented security patrols in Selly Oak in September and that trials were done, but that this could not go ahead due to issues which were ‘confidential’. Ali said he would liaise with UoB’s new director of security services to implement this in the ‘long-term’.
The HCO also said that he was ‘re-planning our community strategy’ with the community wardens, but that ‘students have left the community wardens so we haven’t been able to implement as much as we would like’. However, he said that this was ‘finally now starting up again’ and he planned for regular campaigns ‘working on some of the stuff that’s already being done’.
Ali claimed that crime in Selly Oak ‘is better than where it was before. It’s not where we want it to be; it’s getting there but it needs to be important that people know what’s happening and they’re not left in the dark about it’. Redbrick asked Ali for statistics but he said they were ‘in a restricted document’.
Redbrick then spoke to Ali about how much of his manifesto he had achieved. On his ‘Safer Selly’ policy, Ali said that police had increased their presence in Selly but was unable to say by how much. He said that this was something that ‘should be worked on a lot more’ and that he would ‘keep pushing for’ it, with the aim of getting a ‘commitment on paper from different bodies’.
Another of Ali’s policies involved creating a ‘Housing App’ to ensure ‘everything is easily accessible’. He said that though he came up with the idea while running, he had not considered the ‘functionality’ of the idea and had since decided that ‘something like a housing website or a platform would be better’.
As a result, there is a Facebook group with just under 600 members as an interim project where spare rooms can be advertised before a new page, ‘I Love Selly Oak’, is worked on with the community wardens. According to Ali, this would provide students with more information, such as ‘informing student tenants of their rights’.
Ali told Redbrick that, ‘when you come into elections weekend, you have your policies; you don’t have a real understanding of everything. You feel like you want to change what you think there is to change, but you don’t understand everything. And what I’ve realised is that there is a lot more to the issues than just having a housing app to deal with housing. […] A lot of the things I want to work on are hopefully going to be implemented over a long term’. He said that he wanted next year’s Welfare and Community Officer (a new hybrid role) to continue working on what he had started.
When asked whether he thought an officer who has to take on the responsibilities of welfare as well as housing would be able to achieve anything, Ali said ‘it depends how you measure achieving something’ and said that it would be ‘all to do with prioritisation’ as well as relying on the core staff. He emphasised that next year the community wardens would be there to ‘help the officer deal with the stuff that they want to in Selly Oak’, though they had been largely absent this year due to a ‘restructure’.
Ali said he believed ‘the one thing’ he could change directly was students being taken advantage of by letting agents, by getting ‘data from students about their housing experience’ when their tenancy agreements come to an end and using this to assess the performance of different agents, giving ‘codes of practice’ to those that do not perform well, and ‘trying to push people towards better agents’.
Returning to his manifesto and his policy of restructuring the Resident Advisor (RA) scheme, Ali said that a review had been done and there would be ‘a change in the system’, with RAs longer no being elected but appointed.
Asked about his abandoned manifesto policy to set up a shuttle bus to the Vale, Ali said it was not needed now there was a ‘really safe path’ between campus and the Vale. When it was pointed out to him that this path had been there last year while he was advocating for a bus, Ali claimed he had not been aware of it. When asked if he thought people would feel as safe walking down the path as in a bus, Ali said ‘you would have to ask those people’ but added that ‘personally I don’t feel that unsafe’. He told Redbrick that the university had told him the path was safe and the Vale was close enough to walk, ‘so [the bus] wasn’t viable’.
In response to being asked if there was anything from his manifesto that he could say he had achieved, Ali mentioned ‘getting information booklets out to students moving into the community at the beginning of the year’, making the Meal Plan ‘opt-on’, trying to get Meal Plan students reimbursed for the price rise, and setting up the housing platform Facebook group.
‘At the moment,’ Ali admitted, ‘there isn’t many out of all of them that I’d say that I’ve 100% ticked off but again, it’s only 60-70% of the way through the term and it takes time to understand how to get things done effectively with that year’. He claimed, ‘things have been quite similar for a lot of time [in Selly] and to be able to change you need to start something off that’s different but you can’t just do it in one year’.
Ali confirmed that, in regards to the increase in food prices across campus, he was working with HAS (Hospitality and Accommodation services) to ‘get some reimbursement for the Meal Plan card that’s equivalent to the percentage of increase in the food prices’ because, though he understood why prices had to increase, he believed students on Meal Plan ‘don’t really have an option’.
As a final remark, Ali wished luck to all the candidates running in the Guild Elections and said ‘it’s a great honour to do this role and to represent students. When you get into place, you realise that you can’t always just focus on your manifesto objectives because it’s a lot more about the job that does occur on a day-to-day basis’.
Ali said he would put out more information about what he was trying to achieve in his last few months ‘so that some real change is seen’.