What even is an SU?

The history bit

Okay, let’s start from the beginning…

Back in 1964 the University of Essex was born.  

It was set up as a ground-breaking type of university with a deliberately different way of doing things.

In that first year students came together to set up a group that would be run by students, separate from the university, with the aim of representing students’ needs.

You guessed it, that group was the Students’ Union. 

Since 1964 we’ve grown from having 122 members to more than 14,000 members today.  

In that time we’ve achieved a lot, like… 

  • shaken up the status quo by campaigning for change on everything from fees to apartheid
  • built a student-run empire of societies, sports clubs, shops, restaurants, bars and clubs that make Essex one of the best places to live and learn
  • transformed the lives of thousands of our members, giving them the skills and experience to go out and make positive change in the world

The founding members of the SU from (1964)

Essex students sat on one of the Towers (1970)

Essex students at the Berlin Wall (1989)


Our members


Every student at the University of Essex is automatically a member of the Students’ Union, free of charge. 

We think it’s the best membership available and that’s because our members are incredible.  

Essex has students quite unlike anywhere else, people who want to challenge things rather than just be spoon-fed a degree.

And the SU is the platform for every single one of them to achieve whatever they want.

Regardless of age, gender, nationality, sexuality or shoe size every member has an equal say in what we do and where we go next.

Our tattoos

Our tattoos are what we stand for.  They’re our values.

If the SU were a person these would be the things that we believe in so much that we’d get them tattooed on our body:

We only get one life, let’s live it to it’s fullest

Together we’re stronger and can do amazing things

It’s in Essex’s DNA to never accept no for an answer.

Everything we do is driven by our members

We’re about keeping it honest and frank, not jargon or spin



How we’re run

To make sure the SU always stays true, we’re literally run by students.

In February each year we hold the leadership race, where every student gets to vote for the 17 students that they want to lead the SU on their behalf.  Any student can also put themselves forward to fill any of these roles.

Of the 17 elected students, 7 of them then go on to work full-time for a year (the sabbatical officers), while 10 are part-time (the part-time officers). You can meet this year's officer team here

These officers are supported by an amazing team of more than 450 staff, who are responsible for the day-to-day running of everything the SU offers. 

Our diversity is one of the reasons why we’re such an exciting place to work - 75% of our staff are students working alongside their studies and 25% are full or part-time staff who all have unique skills and talents that drive us forward. 

The SU is also a charity (registered charity number 1140278 in case you’re interested), so we have a board of trustees who make sure that we’re always properly run and legally ship-shape.


How the money works

People often imagine Students’ Unions as a bar with a couple of volunteers, but we’re actually a big organisation.

Not only do we employ more than 450 staff, but we’re based across three campuses (in Colchester, Southend and Loughton) and our turnover last year alone was over £7 million.

This amount is made up of a mix of income from our student services - shops, cafes, bars, a salon, lettings agency, even a cinema - plus our annual block grant from the University.

What makes us different to other organisations is that any money the SU makes goes straight back into services for our members.

So every time a student at Essex buys a meal deal from one of our shops or a coffee from an SU cafe they’re actively investing in better services that they’ll directly benefit from.

We think this is the way more organisations should be run - no fat cats, just happy members.


Did we miss anything?

Well done for making it to the bottom of the page - go you.

Hopefully you now know a bit more about who we are and how we’re run.

If there’s something that you’re burning to know but we’ve missed why not ask us