Union President Aaron Thompson on: Woodys opening

The new Parkwood building has been open for a month now, allowing many students new and old to take a drink at a place where treasured memories were once made, and countless more to come.

Replacing the iconic wooden-clad pub and the (arguably less iconic) Essentials, was no easy feat for those involved, so Inquire decided to catch up with Kent Union President, Aaron Thompson, discussing how the project has evolved, student’s reaction and whether students are scared of fruit.

How do you think students have reacted so far?

I think students have definitely enjoyed it so far, I know a lot of sports clubs have already had their socials there and they continue to do so. Obviously Woodys has always been a sports bar, so they can flock there when the sports games are on, so it’s always busy during the evening times.

Construction for the new SU building took place over the last academic year, leaving Parkwood students without the iconic wooden-clad pub.

I think the SU shop has gone down really well. It’s obviously bigger with a lot more space and more environmentally friendly as well, no plastic bags in there. There are brown bags or the campus bags that we’ll be giving out as well. More activity space for the dance students, they’re a great space for students. And one thing I know students really like is the second floor social space above Woodys because it gives a different feel to a social space on campus, it is there for socials, but is also there to study and stuff like that. I think it’s a great development for students and they will definitely enjoy it for years to come.

What do you think the main concerns for the project as a whole? It has taken a year now, do you think that students have missed out or will miss the old Woodys vibe?

I think some students will miss the old Woodys, I know when we announced the menu there was the whole issue around the stack not being on the menu, but it is being served. I think it is important that we do move with the times though. We identify that a lot of students are not drinking anymore, so we’re trying to create a different feel in Woodys and I think people still enjoy the experience they get there. But everyone does enjoy the comfortable sort of old time traditional pub feel, so we understand that students might feel a bit upset that’s gone. But I think that students are beginning to embrace what is the new Woodys and we’ll look forward to using it in the future.

Having looked at the new Essentials so far, how scared do you think students should be that fruit now exists there?

*Laughter* I think that is something that we should all indulge in, we see more people becoming vegan and vegetarian, so people are becoming more aware of what they’re eating. Fruit isn’t a bad “thing” for anyone, I don’t think fruit has killed anyone.

What would you say is the most exciting part of the new SU building?

I would definitely say the dance studios, as a previous dancer myself, having that space for activities has always been on the wish-list for students. So to have a space that we can call our own, that is operated by the Union and not the university gives us more flexibility in how it’s used and when it’s used. So students now have a home on campus that they can use on campus, whenever they want, effectively. Because normally dancers would be dancing and rehearsing in seminar rooms and lecture theatres and don’t have a dedicated space.

But now they actually have two dedicated dance studios that are fully equipped, fully sprung floors, mirrors, surround sound etc. This will help to develop the clubs a lot more, make their abilities stronger and also potentially see the increase in groups coming onto campus, in terms of more dance groups, more activity based groups because they didn’t have the space to do whatever they want.

Have there been any teething problems so far? I’ve talked to a few students and service at Woodys certainly seems to be a problem.

We definitely acknowledge that, and it is sad to see that that occurred. The project opened slightly late, our intention was that it would open a few weeks earlier and therefore we’d have time to train staff and train our chef and train our people on the bar, but it literally opened two days before arrivals weekend. So people were trained but they didn’t have the customer service training just yet. There were some issues around our technology and the actual systems that we are using which saw service times increase. But we have dealt with these issues now. We have employed an external chef as well to help with the turnaround in the kitchen. So we’re hoping that those turnaround times will improve in the future.

Are there any other plans, such as this in the near future?

We are lobbying the university to have an actual SU building, so Parkwood is small scale for what we actually want to achieve. We recognise that in terms of Kent Union we don’t have one building, we have Mandela reception, we have the activity centre, we have the Venue, we have the Parkwood building. So basically four different centres to do different things. What we want to do is have one big building on campus where you can have all your activities centred in there. All your social space, all your clubs within that, your shopping in that, meeting groups to meet in and campaign. Potentially have a theatre in that as well, a multipurpose room where we can have clubs and a lecture theatre in the day-time. We are lobbying the university to do that and we are hoping to have that confirmed. The university have kind’ve confirmed that they’ll do it but haven’t dedicated funding to the project just yet. We’re hoping that they’ll try to dedicate funding this year, but we started the campaign last year around the building and what people want to see in it. This year we’ll continue to do that, get students input and what they want to see