New University of Canterbury student president to oversee $25 million rebuild
A 23-year-old student will oversee the $25 million rebuild project for the University of Canterbury Students' Association. EMILY MURPHY meets the man who was elected to the top job thanks to four pink ponies.
Ask James Addington what his favourite animal is and his answer will probably be 'ponies' – but not just your average pony, they have to be pink.
That's precisely what the new president of the University of Canterbury Students' Association (UCSA) used to help gain popularity on campus prior to the student elections last year.
He hired four pink ponies from a company advertising farmyard parties for children and paraded them around campus, only to find himself inundated by a lot of "big" children, most aged in their late teens, or early 20's.
"We thought what will people look at when they're walking to a lecture . . . and that's what we came up with."
Ending up 378 votes ahead of his competition, it appears the plan worked.
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Addington is working towards a double degree in law and commerce, but because the president's role is full-time he aims to complete one paper a semester.
He's four papers away from completion.
"So I'm just ticking it off outside work."
It won't be an easy feat though, as Addington has some serious business to attend to this year.
The new president will oversee the $25 million post-earthquake rebuild of the UCSA's building.
He brings out big, A2 sheets of glossy paper – each providing a different perspective of the building's design.
"This will be a student's space," says Addington, pointing to a section of the paper.
"It's going to be an area like a lounge, with couches, where students can really hang out."
The health centre fits into the plans. There's also provision for the recreation centre to fit in at a later date.
"It's earmarked as the wellness precinct in a way."
Addington says emotional and financial pressures are the two biggest issues facing students, and creating a space to get away from the stress of study remains a top concern.
"We're definitely seeing mental illness becoming a bigger problem."
He says it could be a result of of post-earthquake pressures.
"Those students who went through high school years after the earthquake, and now they're coming to university and that's creating a whole new layer of uncertainty and stress."
The old UCSA building was 75 per cent owned by the student population. The new building will fall under 51 per cent student ownership.
Addington says the UCSA still needs $5m for its share of the project, but he hopes fundraising efforts will help make up the shortfall.
"It's going to be a pretty full on campaign, through the alumni and development department at university."
He says there is a lot of attachment to the old UCSA building, and that alone should generate money.
The build will likely take two to three years to complete. A contractor to complete the work has not been decided.
Addington is what you would expect from a young student leader – determined, confident, and enthused.
"It's interesting, because you come from being a fifth-year student to being thrown into this role, and you really have to prove yourself."
At 23 years old, it's occasionally a challenge getting people to take him seriously, he says.
But he is determined not to let that get in the way of his future. He has no specific plans, but says he's keen to gain experience in a large organisation, where he can be involved in governance and strategy.
"I really am enjoying the management side of things."
On the topic of re-election, Addington isn't making a call just yet, but it's safe to say he's considering 2017.
The last two presidents – Sarah Platt and Erin Jackson – each spent two years in the role.
"It's kind of become a bit of tradition to stay on for more than one year," he says.
"It definitely takes around six months to get your head around the job."