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'If SCAN is negative about people doing good things, they will never happen...'

9th March 2011

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Week 6 of this term saw Lancaster’s RAG Society breaking out their collection tins and hitting the Carleton in fancy dress in the hope of raising money for three charities –North West Air Ambulance, Kids for Kids, and The GEM Appeal.

Kids for Kids raises money for village children in Darfur, in the Sudan, and The GEM Appeal is a national charity that researches genetic and metabolic disorders in children.

The North West Air Ambulance costs £4 million per year to run.

The amount of money collected in RAG Week 2011 has not yet been confirmed, however, £5261 was raised during the 2010 event.

Views aired by SCAN’s Comment editor Emily Robertson last week however, which questioned the success of Lancaster’s RAG Week in comparison to academic and sporting rival York University, has caused a storm of debate.

Robertson called Lancaster’s efforts ‘pitiful’, pointing out that lack of publicity left many students unaware that RAG Week was even happening. She went on to suggest that she felt unable to involve herself in the activities, and that they didn’t inspire interest in students.

RAG’s former President Leah Smith, who held the position in 2009/2010, believes that the view published in SCAN was unreasonable. She voiced her views to TNS, pointing out that statistics quoted by Robertson were incorrect and that the article failed to consider the limitations put on charity events by LUSU.

Robertson’s article stated that £3500 had been raised in RAG Week 2010 –almost £2000 short of the actual amount collected. Also omitted was the fact that over £8000 was raised by Lancaster RAG throughout the whole year.

Current President Catherine Byrne points out that, ‘The money meant a lot to the charities that received it and I firmly believe that raising money for charity isn’t a competition. The total given for the University of Cumbria also seems a little inaccurate since an article posted on their website around this time last year says that their RAG society has raised ‘over £4000 for charity since their formation in Spring 2008’. This figure appears to include both the Lancaster and Carlisle campuses over two years, not just the Lancaster campus over one week as was suggested in SCAN.’

She adds that around £22,000 was raised at York University throughout the whole year, not the £25,000 in one week that Robertson appears to suggest.

Smith follows this by pointing out that the RAG Society Exec was struck by health problems in the days leading up to Week 6. President Catherine Byrne contracted a kidney infection and was hospitalised, whilst Publicity Officer Eileen Davison was taken ill with food poisoning –possibly accounting for the lack of awareness of RAG Week amongst students.

The biggest problem that RAG faced, says Smith, appears to have been from within LUSU itself. The Pancake Man, whose stall is extremely popular with students, was banned due to fears that business would be taken away from university run eateries such as Pizzetta. Smith says that during her presidency it took six weeks to obtain permission for The Pancake Man to attend RAG Week and that permission was not granted this year.

Former Vice President Leah Geldeard has also voiced her annoyance: ‘In trying to organise RAG week 2010,’ she says, ‘we were continually shunned by LUSU, making organising the week extremely difficult. When trying to create more exciting, original events we were pretty much told not to bother as health and safety checks would not be granted.’

Activities that have been banned on health and safety grounds include a bouncy castle and the Bucking Bronco machine that was present at last year’s Cartmel Extrav.

Drawing comparison with the RAG Week totals of other universities when the size of the cities are considered, Geldeard says, is disproportionate: ‘We have previously held collections in Lancaster and have raised just £50 after a whole afternoon collecting, an amount far less than what we have raised when we have travelled to Preston or Manchester and held raids.’

Smith adds that in one afternoon in Preston during RAG Week 2010 £500 was raised, but that a permit for street collection could not be obtained in time for this year’s RAG Week.

Smith also brings up the wealth of other charities that are prevalent on campus, for example the newly formed Oxfam Society. She points out that a large amount of the £22,00 raised by York University in 2010 came from a fashion show, similar to that which Oxfam held in conjunction with the Fashion Society in the Great Hall on the evening of 8th March. York’s fashion show has only recently been incorporated into its RAG Week, significantly boosting the total amount of money seemingly being raised by RAG. Because Lancaster’s charity societies are separate, its RAG Week is deemed to have been less successful. 

RAG plans to run further events, including a street collection, later in the term.

An official response to Robertson’s article from the Society’s Exec is expected to be published in SCAN in the near future.

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