One of the biggest opportunities for taking sustainability action at your students’ union is to make good use of space that’s just going spare.
All you need is a bit of enthusiasm for it to become a vibrant hub for positive impact.
At the University of Manchester Students’ Union, a group of students turned an old Royal Bank of Scotland outlet into a pop-up, upcycled clothes shop for a month’s residency.
“We recruited a wide base of students to lead this project for themselves, and tried to involve some who had not necessarily been involved with “green” campaigns or even the union in the past”, explains campaigns and citizenship officer Conor McGurran.
“We took donations from students, students’ union staff, and university staff, upcycled some clothes into more appealing items and stocked them in the shop”.
But this wasn’t only a shop. It was a space where different groups could come together to share skills and collaborate. They planned a full month of events and workshops, engaging the widest range of students possible.
They hosted sessions with local upcycling group Stitched Up, as well as sustainable fashion business Junk, local designers, and even AltGen speaking on the value of shared ownership and co-operatives.
The output has been amazing – raising hundreds of pounds for Women International, and providing clothing donations for Shelter. And that’s not to mention the huge numbers of students getting involved in their union for the first time, engaging with sustainability, and picking up a bunch of new skills.
Best of all, it’s an idea which pretty much any organisation can try out for themselves.
“All you need is a room and some donations bins”, Conor advises. “Once you’ve got some donations and some interested students, it’s just a case of setting up some workshops and publicising your opening hours”
“You can do any kind of workshops in the space”, he continues, “and if there are any local upcycling groups in the area then get in touch. Decorating the space helps, and just contact as many people as possible”
By getting students to consider waste in the textiles industry, the University of Manchester Students’ Union spent a month exploring pathways to a more sustainable economy. And it all happened in an empty branch of RBS.