Ben Westhead

Ben Westhead, image by UAL Alumni Association team
Image by UAL Alumni Association team ©

UAL SU President and Artist - Chelsea College of Art and Design, BA (Hons) Fine Art, 2011

Outspoken and passionate about student causes, UAL Student Union President 2012/13 speaks out about his time at Chelsea, presidential power and influence, and why it's so important that alumni join forces to support the next generation of artists, designers and creatives.

What are your memories of being a student?

I wanted to go to Chelsea, I was fixated on it and didn't apply anywhere else.  I was lucky enough to get in which was amazing.  I appreciate the College now more when I look back on the experience, I realise how much I changed as a person because of studying there.

Who was your favourite lecturer/support staff and why?

I didn't have a favourite. I think they worked well as a team.  I got lots from my peers too.

What was the best part about being a student and living in London?

I come from Macclesfield, around 20 miles south of Manchester.  I came to London to experience the city, it’s so different and I needed a change. Halls were amazing, they were in Camberwell and I still live with the people I met in halls!

There were lots of things I didn't enjoy at the time, and things that went wrong that on reflection were really good for me. For example, I was doing an exhibition that didn't go well, it was awful at the time.  But looking back it was this type of experience that were best for me!

Why did you want to become SU President?

I was student rep in my second year, I was quite outspoken,  well known from the course and was always willing to stand up and ask questions. I tried to help students with their problems.  One campaign was centred on improving degree show invitations as the previous year students were not happy with them.  I made it my goal to stop it from happening the following year, got students involved and made the selection of invitations more open by asking the student body across the Colleges.  It was a really big success and everyone was happy with the result.

Someone asked me about running as a SAB, I was so nervous and was convinced I would lose!  I won and the rest is history!

Talk us through a day in the life of being the SU president.

Every day brings something new which is great.  I’m lucky enough to have access to the Executive Board and high level decision makers at the University, and also talk to students on the ground about their issues.  The job is all about problem solving and finding solutions – that’s the part I enjoy the most.

What are the challenges facing students at the moment?

There are problems affecting students as a whole and also particular issues facing UAL students.  Nationally, the fee increase is the main challenge.  Although the fees do not have to be paid upfront, it still causes an emotional burden from many students who are highly troubled by the amount of debt they would be entering into, it will Put people off studying. Everyone deserves an education but there are many costs, especially in London; like living expenses, materials and travel - causing wider problems.

Why do you think it’s important for alumni to give to the Student Support campaign?

The psychological weight of fees discourages applications and creates some nervousness amongst students. I think that every student should have access to an education and express their creativity.  By giving to the Student Support campaign, alumni can pass on their support and help students fulfil their full potential and avoid them being held back due to the amount of money they have in their pocket.

What are your goals for the future?

I think I have already made a really big leap from fine artist to SU President; sometimes it makes me wonder if I'm a better President than I am an artist!  I have a real interest in travelling, so when I finish here I may look at doing some voluntary work overseas, but I also have an open mind and would love to work in galleries and museums in the future.

There are a number of things I want to achieve before I finish.  

What do you like most about being part of the alumni community?

I think it’s exciting that alumni have a shared understanding and knowledge about UAL, and how it has adapted and changed.  There are huge amounts of graduates with lots of knowledge to tap into!