From Student Guild to Chester Students’ Union

After two weeks of campaigning, and four hectic days of voting at the beginning of March, the results of the Chester Students’ Union elections were announced. Four different Sabbatical Officer roles were up for grabs, including: Students’ Union President; Vice-President Education; Vice-President Activities and Vice-President Warrington. Through these roles, students are able to make positive changes here at the University to benefit their peers, and become the voice for thousands of other students.

Joe Rawlings & Cherelle MitchellEarlier this year, our current Chester Students’ Union President, Cherelle Mitchell, met the first Student Guild President of the then Chester College, Joe Rawlings OBE.

Joe was a student at Chester College and gained his Teacher Training Certificate in 1937. At 104 years of age, he is the University’s oldest known alumnus. Cherelle travelled to his home in Carlisle alongside the University’s Alumni and Development Manager, Fiona Roberts, to gain an insight into how the Student Guild was set up and what Joe’s role involved.

Joe arrived at Chester College, aged 22, having spent a year volunteering for the scouting movement in North Wales. Prior to this he had studied Science and Geography at Southampton University. Joe came to the College with a fresh perspective, and felt that the students were not treated as adults nor given the right to make their own decisions.

Joe Rawling's Prairie office 1937Joe said: “The College in those days was run like a school and the staff appointed prefects. It was all very strict. By the end of the first year, the staff had already decided who they wanted to be prefects for the next year.”

Joe was chosen by the Principal and Vice Principal to be Head Prefect during his second year. It was during this time that Joe suggested that the old system of prefects should be abolished, and a Student Guild should be set up. His ideas were clearly listened to and he was democratically elected as Chairman in 1937.

Joe was provided with an office in Prairie and warned that he may not have as much time for his studies anymore. He said: “The Principal told me that as Head Prefect, I wouldn’t have as much time for my studies, but he said not to worry as I would pass my exams! In my office, I had a desk, two arm chairs and facilities for making tea and coffee. If a student was worried about anything, they came to me first, rather than to the staff. I was able to say come in, we’ll have a little chat and a cup of coffee and find out what the problem is. In some cases, I had to refer them to the nurse side of the College. In some cases, I could see it through myself and it saved the staff a lot of time.”

The Student Guild officially became the Students’ Union in 1976, with Tricia Naylon as its first President. This year has marked 80 years of the Students’ Union and without the formation of the Student Guild, it would not be what it is today.

Joe Rawlings & Fiona RobertsFiona spoke of her privilege in meeting our oldest alumnus. She said: “Joe’s memory was incredible! He gave us a clear insight into college life over 80 years ago – what the dormitories were like, the types of difficulties the students faced and how they participated in a lot of sports. What we learned through the memories Joe shared, is that he had been identified as a leader at a young age, and has continued to lead by example throughout his life, whether as a teacher, in scouting or during his time in the Navy. Always humble, but always a very wise gentleman, thinking of others first.”

Cherelle added: “It was an absolute honour to meet this hero, we learnt a great deal about him and his time at the then Chester College. It was great to also be able to share how things have changed and what is still similar! The reason I ran in the election for President is because of a new year’s resolution, which was to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself – and so the journey began! The perks of the job, such as a salary and free accommodation, are obviously attractive, but the most rewarding part of this role is knowing that it directly benefits students and others. The job really is what you make it and you literally can shape the Union and your manifestos however you wish.”

We are thrilled to be able to let you listen to Joe’s interview in full here:

Were you a member of the Student Guild, or perhaps more recently Chester Students’ Union? We would love to hear from you! Get in touch by dropping us an email at alumni@chester.ac.uk.

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