Alcohol Impact scheme offers Manchester students alternative to booze in bid to tackle Freshers’ Week antics

A new scheme is targeting students’ boozy nights out on Freshers’ Week by offering non-alcoholic alternatives – with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) leading the way.

The institution has been working with the National Union of Students (NUS) to launch their NUS Alcohol Impact project, designed to ensure that revellers stay safe when drinking on a night out.

MMU is one of seven universities taking part in the £90,000 campaign funded by the Home Office and each university is required to meet specific criteria to gain an NUS accreditation mark.

Paul Norman, Head of Membership Development at the MMU Students’ Union, told MM: “First and foremost, this is a pathfinder for us to discover what will work and what won’t work.

“We know that alcohol abuse is prevalent at all levels of society and culture and we are looking to present positive alternatives.”

Initially launched in May, the one-year pilot aims to ‘create a social norm of responsible alcohol consumption’ among students.

The campaign targets excessive alcohol consumption associated with the kind of pub crawls that are prevalent as university students return.

Alcohol Impact aims to reduce alcohol-related crime and subsequent health issues.

The participating universities have also committed to offer cheaper non-alcoholic drinks at university bars while providing formal training to staff on the harm caused by alcohol.

MR Norman said: “We never want to vilify the use of alcohol, but anything in excess can be dangerous. This is an educational project that is designed to steer a change in attitudes over a long period of time.

“We are trying to give a positive health message and we hope that students will be empowered to make decisions for themselves.”

MMU will be monitored by the NUS to gauge the effect of the campaign on crime and student experiences.

The scheme has received criticism from some quarters, with certain aspects of the criteria being targeted as unrealistic.

Criterion A1-23 states that ‘either the students’ union does not have a licensed trade venue or, if it does, it actively refuses to serve intoxicated customers and demonstrates a duty of care to intoxicated customers’.

Refusing to serve intoxicated customers in the students’ union could be both severely damaging to the venue’s popularity and harmful to their potential profits.

However, NUS Vice-President (Welfare) Colum McGuire was positive about the direction of the project:

“The demand from other institutions wishing to get involved has been absolutely massive already. They are looking at the pilot institutions and thinking about mimicking their activity,” he said.

“Manchester Metropolitan in particular is looking to tackle the pre-drinking culture that damages the health and finances of students.

“It is also keen to develop alternative spaces which will be a massive help for students who want to still experience the social side of university without the alcohol.”

Mr McGuire acknowledged the project could gain a negative reputation among students – but was quick to reinforce the goal of the scheme:

“Some people are seeing it as a draconian measure, but it is not about telling people they can’t or shouldn’t drink. It is about challenging normalised and excessive drinking,” he said.

Other universities taking part in the pilot campaign consist of Brighton, Liverpool John Moores, Loughborough, Nottingham, Royal Holloway and Swansea.

The NUS are looking to secure a second year of Government funding, although all participating universities will be encouraged to continue funding their own projects in the future.

Image courtesy of Aberdeen Student Radio with thanks

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