INTERN INSIGHTS: Introducing Fiona Sunderland

This week, we introduce Fiona Sunderland, Student Insights Coordinator with the Arts team, and find out a bit more about her…


Fiona has enjoyed finding ways to keep busy during lockdown!


What is your role at Arts at University of Southampton?

I’ll be working as ‘Arts, Culture and Student Insights Coordinator’ which is a fancy title I came up with to look cool on LinkedIn. In reality, it means I’ll be working closely with Louise Coysh and Jen Harris in the University’s Arts and Culture team, alongside our venues John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims, to look at how we can develop the student experience around the University’s arts and culture offer. This involves supporting the student voice in the Heart of Campus project and city-wide cultural development. I’ll be particularly focused on making sure we have extensive student consultation and input!



Tell us about your background. What do you study and how did you become involved in the Arts?

I started in 2016 studying for a degree in Maths with Music (which shortly became just maths). I was very into performing arts and music before joining University and, whilst not an amazing performer, I love playing a wide range of styles and instruments so was really excited to join as many of SUSU’s (Southampton University Students Union) Performing Arts societies as I could.

I got stuck right in during my first year and had so many opportunities with the Arts here at the University. Playing with SUSO (Southampton University Symphony Orchestra), I not only got the opportunity to play in an amazingly high-standard orchestra but also the chance to rehearse and perform in Turner Sims which was quite a step up from my secondary school hall! I also got to play in the pit orchestra for the Light Opera Society’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado – which was lucky enough to be performed in the Nuffield Theatre at Highfield campus – being my first experience in a production like that it certainly set me some high standards for what to expect here at Southampton. It’s for reasons like this that I’m keen to make our amazing venues as accessible to students as possible.


You were SUSU Vice President Activities (VP Activities) before you started your internship with the Arts Team. What did your role at SUSU entail?

As VP Activities my main responsibility was to oversee and be responsible for representing all 216 societies supported by the Students’ Union, covering a massive range of areas including Performing Arts, Volunteering, Culture and Faith. I was also responsible for supporting projects and creating opportunities related to Volunteering and Fundraising, Enterprise and Creative Industries.

A key point in my manifesto was to increase support for student groups using the professional spaces on campus and to create more performance opportunities for students. So as part of that I’ve already been working closely with the Arts team to gather student input as well as put on events – a particular highlight was a Performing Arts societies and Turner Sims networking session last year that was a great step for getting societies more linked in with our arts venues.


Conducting with Concert Band at Turner Sims


What do the arts mean to you and what role do the arts play in your life at the University?

I can honestly say that the arts have played at least as big a part (if not bigger) in my life at University as my studies have. I’ve probably spent more time in rehearsals than I have in lectures. Coming to a new city for university and not knowing anyone can be really daunting, and it can be really hard to find a community, but for me being a part of the societies really helped me find friends and shaped my time here. I don’t know what I would have done with all my time if I hadn’t had rehearsals most evenings and shows on so many weekends (studied perhaps).

I think a key thing for me is how much I’ve developed as a person through all the involvement. I’ve not just grown as a musician but, from being so involved, I’ve developed all sorts of skills from having to arrange concerts, manage my time, lead meetings, etc. I think whilst my degree is why I came to Uni, the majority of the things I’ve learnt and will take away from my time here have been from my involvement in the Arts and societies.


You’re going to be working with the Arts team for the next 3 months. What do you hope to achieve during your time here?

It’s certainly a weird time at the moment and some of the things I would like to see happen are going to be slowed down. My hope is that I’ll be able to get a really solid foundation of student input around what is wanted and needed from our arts and culture offer and make sure it is central to shaping and directing the University’s Arts and Culture strategy going forward. I’m particularly keen to advocate as much as possible for increased student usage of the venues and will be looking at how our student societies can get the most out of these.


What are your plans following the internship?

I’ll be returning to being a student again – this time studying for a MSc in Biomedical Engineering. I’ll of course be continuing my involvement with arts being Music Societies Rep, sitting on the Turner Sims Strategic Board, and being on several of the band committees!


Fun fact about you? 

I’ve performed in Turner Sims 10 times (7 concerts and 3 recitals) on 3 different instruments!


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