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Live! - Opinion

This article is an opinion piece and should be taken as such. It is highly likely to be biased, but either the article itself or the ensuing discussion will probably be entertaining. Live! takes no editorial line on opinion pieces.

Self-righteous Balls

May 03 2004 21:50
Mustafa Arif
Prima donnas on Internet bulletin boards are in desperate need of a reality check.
Tasha Netwon (ICU President 1999-2000) who had to go cap-in hand, begging to College to bail out the Union for the 1999 summer ball losses.

Recent goings on have prompted me to write my first Live! article in months. Namely, the fuss about the Summer Ball ? mostly from people who are not aware of the facts, did not take up the opportunity to question officers at Council meetings, have shown no demonstrable interest in wanting to help and yet sit comfortably at their computer desks telling everyone how they would do it better.

Let?s look at the facts. Historically there has been no ICU summer ball. The annual ?posh do? was left to the constituent college unions (City & Guilds College Union, ICSM SU, the former Royal College of Science Union and the former Royal School of Mines? Union) ? although the non-medic ones were usually in spring. ICU?s big events were limited to the carnivals in Beit Quad.

In 1998, the first ICU ball was held at the West Hall of Alexandra Palace and was a great success. It actually turned a (real) profit and remains the only ICU ball ever to have done so. It was helped, in no small part, by a generous sponsorship deal from EDS. The Ball was sold out well in advance (about 1200 tickets) and by the end there was actually a waiting list of around 300 people for returns.

In 1999 the Summer Ball committee had grand visions for building on the previous years' success. They decided to go for the 7,000 capacity Great Hall at Ally Pally, with a target for 2000 tickets. Unfortunately, things didn?t go so well. They booked the same weekend as Royal Ascot so struggled with the coaches. They didn?t advertise the tickets so didn?t sell many. Dave Hellard was President. The Medics held their ball at the same time. The event was a disaster and in the autumn President Natasha Newton had to grovelling to College for a £30,000 bail-out to cover the losses of both the ICU and ICSM SU balls.

The College were not very keen for us to go back to Ally Pally (given the cost to them of the 1999 disaster) and so the 2000 Summer Ball was held in the Paragon Hotel. Whilst quite a nice event (by all accounts) it too flopped and made a loss. Union Officers were rightly indignant about the losses and there was a strong sentiment in both Council and Felix that the ball should either break even or be scrapped.

In 2001, President Hamish Common, negotiated a £20,000 subsidy from College. The condition was that the ball should be held in College (so that money would flow back into College Catering ? which makes a loss most of the time). Idris Harding took up the challenge of organising the ball that year and was very successful in transforming the format into the now familiar one centred on the Queen?s Lawn. Whilst Idris would claim the ball broke even it actually made a loss of several thousand pounds once all the invoices had come in. (Yes, a loss, on top of the £20,000 College subsidy).

The format of the 2001 ball (and the £20,000 College subsidy) was emulated in 2002 and 2003 balls. The 2002 ball made a similar loss. The 2003 ball supposedly made a profit. However, when I took the reigns as President the first thing I found were a load of unpaid summer ball invoices. On top of that, the big stage on the Queen?s Lawn had, that year, been replaced by a marquee ? shared with the College Open Day and hence in receipt of a further subsidy (the marquee cost around £12,000).

So the bottom line is this: The Queen?s Lawn Summer Ball that we are now all familiar with is not financially viable. It made, on average, a £25,000 loss every year. To make it break even we would have to jack up the ticket prices and severely cut down on costs (getting rid of fairground rides or quite a few rooms). That would have severely limited the appeal of the ball, in that format and, given expectations based on the previous years probably not have sold. We needed to either accept making a loss of £25,000 or come up with a different format.

Why could we not make a £25,000 loss? Because the money would have to come from somewhere ? probably by cutting clubs and society grants, and there would (rightly) have been uproar. So what about the money from College? Well what about it? Union money is College money. If the College gives us money for one thing that just means they are not going to give us money for something else. I think it?s outrageous that for the last few years money that could have been given to the Union for club/society grants or spent on accommodation or (dare I say it) on teaching was, instead, wasted on a big piss-up.

I was offered £20,000 for this year?s ball. I turned it down. Instead I asked the Rector to double it and fund 24 hr library opening for the summer exam period ? he agreed. Anyone who has seen the incredible early hours usage of the library since Easter will know that was the right decision and benefited many more students. If you disagree, grill me on it at the next Union Council ? I?m more than happy to be held to account over it.

So the ball has to break even. College isn?t viable, there?s no big dining venue for a formal ball. Local hotels just aren?t big enough (if it?s not big enough for 1000 students then there?s no point in holding it ? C&G and ICSM are more than capable of running smaller balls). Our options were limited to the Royal Albert Hall, Olympia, Excel, Alexandra Palace, Earls Court and a couple of really big clubs. The only option that was economically viable and available was Alexandra Palace. Not only that, but we had done it before and hence had confidence it doing it again.

This year?s ball is the same format as the original 1998 ball (the only one that ever paid its way). Yes, it?s completely different from the last three Queen?s Lawn balls and will attract a different student demographic. Many of the initial sales have been to finalists and postgraduates who are less likely to attend Union events. Is this a bad thing? We are supposed to be here for all the students. We do that by providing a range of events. If you want a cheap and cheerful piss-up, come to the Union for the end-of-term carnival. If you want a formal ball book a table at Ally Pally for 21 May.

The ticket price is not expensive. It?s only £5 more than the last West Hall ball (1998). Don?t forget this thing called ?inflation?. Excluding transport it?s only £5 more than the full price last year (and you won?t have to put up with College catering). We are not selling ents-only tickets as we have to sell 900 meals to get the room hire for free and the dinner is an integral part of the event. Cambridge balls usually cost around £100 a ticket ? and they are subsidised by the rich colleges. Sure you get the booze thrown in for that, but not all of us drink ? it?s fairer to pay separately. And yes, I know you only live on a tin of baked beans a week. Most Oxbridge students aren?t super-rich either. Yet they save up for the end of year celebration. Of course, Oxbridge balls are smaller, so a better comparison would probably be somewhere like Edinburgh ? that one?s £80 (no booze).

The timing won?t be perfect for everyone ? but no date will. The earlier the event, the more students have exams. The later the event the more students have gone home or onto industrial/academic placements never to return. This year?s timing was driven by Ally Pally?s availability but conveniently fits right in the ?gap? period when the smallest number of students are in exams. It?s a Friday night. If you want to go to a ball, you probably will. If you don?t, there?s probably someone else who will who wouldn?t go if it was whatever date you wanted it to be on. Wye and ICSM have long-standing balls at the end of the year and we don?t want to clash with them either. If you really want a ball on the last Friday, I?m sure there will be busses to Wye for their Commemoration Ball again this year.

This year?s ball will be fantastic. It?s based on a proven, traditional format ? the only format that has ever worked (financially) for an IC ball. If it?s not your cup of tea, fine. The Union puts on a number events and activities (including clubs and societies) throughout the year. The idea is not that every event or activity appeals to all of our members but that through all the different things we do, we provide something for everyone.

If you think you can do it better, prove it. Do something useful. Tell us how to do it better. I don?t mean post a few lines on Live! about what venue you would use, what ticket price you would set and how your innate ramblings are somehow God?s gift to earth. Instead, email and ask him for a copy of the Summer Ball budget, as a template. Then re-do the spreadsheet for the event, as you would run it, documenting any assumptions / market research used and show that your proposals would work. Then take them to Mike for discussion with the Union finance staff. If your proposals are sound, congratulations, you?ll get the chance to see them in action next year since (probably) no-one else could be bothered to put together a viable plan.

At the end of the day we are a students? union. The most important element of that is not that it is run for the benefit of students (the College is supposed to be too) but that it is actually run by the students. To that end, our success (or failure) hinges on student involvement. If you?ve got some criticisms, great ? get involved. If you can?t be bothered then just find something better to do with your life then moaning about it on here.

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Discussion about “Self-righteous Balls”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
May 03 2004 22:15

Oxbridge balls costing ?100+??? Only for the top colleges! I was at Churchill College Cambridge ball in March, ticket cost ?60 including all drink and food from 7pm until 2am and was more enjoyable than last years summer ball, had dodgems and all.

2. Chris   
May 04 2004 00:14

Good decision.

I enjoyed the ball last year, not going this year. Prefer the 24/7 library to having a summer ball.

The only problem with the library is the number of idiots who walk in early morning, put their bags down, then leave. I often go in and there are plenty of seats, it's just *every* desk has someone's work on it.

I counted 63 bags unattended on tables a couple of weeks ago. I managed to find a seat and in the three hours I was there, the person who's stuff was next to me didn't turn up.

Since college have a policy (see poster at library entrance) on unattended bags in the library, next time I count more than 20 unattended bags and can't find a seat I WILL REPORT THE BAGS TO SECURITY. So don't blame me if your bags get destroyed

3. Sam   
May 04 2004 00:20


?60 - so that's exactly the same price as this year's ICU ball, and that's without one year's inflation.

Oh yeah, and comparing IC to a small c**ppy Cambridge college ball isn't exactly valid anyway.

4. Sam   
May 04 2004 00:25

and while i'm here in a pedantic mood, I'd like to point out that most bomb disposal (and certainly all I have ever heard of in the UK) is carried out by Army (Specifically Royal Engineers) bomb disposal teams - of which there are several quartered throughout the South East - and not, as the previous poster implies, by some wannabe airjockeys from Cambridge

May 04 2004 00:46

Couldn't agree more with Chris. Some library users think they have the right to reserve seats in the library.

24hr libraries? It's more like a 24hr anarchists free-for-all.

They leave their work out over the weekend and come back to take their place again. These people are scum - they think they own the place.


I usually get in around 8am and half the seats are already 'taken'. Pure selfishness.


As for the Summer Ball - best of luck to the event. I still prefer the 'get pissed have a good time' demographic. This is a last opportunity for final year students to let loose and enjoy themselves at Imperial.


Instead they have to nibble on 'pithiver of pumpkin' and make chit-chat over pimms.

Some graduation.

May 04 2004 00:50

Overall however the 24hr library has been a success - although many people have abused the system including students from other Universities in London.

May 04 2004 01:41

What evidence do you have that students from other universities are abusing our facility?

Imperial College has reciprocal access agreements with most other UK university libraries (i.e. undergraduates have reference access; postgraduates can sign up for borrowing rights). The IC Central library is also a UK public access library because it houses the national science & technology collection. Therefore members of the public have access during "opening hours".

Outside of "opening hours" you can only get into the library with an IC swipe card. So, during the 24/7 time periods only IC staff and students should be able to get in. I suppose it is possible for non-IC people to get in earlier and stay the course of the night but that's a little extreme. The only way around that would be for the security guards to go around doing swipe card checks after the library has "closed" to throw out non-IC people. Do people really want to be asked for ID when revising? Are the numbers of any non-IC people staying that late really worth it?

I'm meeting the Head of Library Services at 9am this morning to discuss the 24/7 situation (esp. the cleaning) so if you have any constructive comments please .

May 04 2004 08:48

The other day I saw a bunch of students from Royal Holloway (one of whom I knew) loitering in the corridors. I'd imagine it was the very same students that have been leaving crisp packets in bookshelves, reserving seats for themselves, and making a racket in quiet study areas.

9. Dan   
May 04 2004 10:19


While you are correct that the Royal Engineers do bomb disposal, don't forget the Royal Logistics Corps, (who are probably the nearest ones to us at IC).

10. Sam   
May 04 2004 10:52

Logistics is how to get stuff from A->B. Engineering is a useful skill.


May 04 2004 12:57

Isn't the RAF also for getting stuff from A to B?

12. Chris   
May 04 2004 13:47

I look forward to hearing the results of Mustafa's meeting.

13. Seb   
May 04 2004 15:28


14. Seb   
May 04 2004 15:39

I don't suppose anyone has considered that the first Ally Pally ball was bound to be a financial success because if there was sufficient demand for a ball to actually force the union to organise one, there was bound to be plenty of people willing to buy a ticket?

The venue and format of an event does not necesarily ensure success. I've a few, rather unorthodox, ideas of how to do planning next time. Particularly with regard to acertaining the type of ball students might want.

It's also unfair to charachterise the "College" ball of the past few years as cheese and booze that the union puts on on Friday nights.

The overwhelming popularity of the ents ticket compared to the meal ticket last time ought to indicate that perhaps putting the dinner at the center of the event might not work. I've no idea of the actual sales figures, but this seems to be a recurring complaint by the student on the walkway.

Certainly it attracts a different demographic, but the ultimate question is: is that demographic large enough to sustain a 900 ticket sale breakeven? If the event is supposed to break even by itself with no subsidy, is there really a case to make that this should be organised to cater for a group of students that are normally not catered to by Union ents? Surely it should be a simple matter of organising an event with the broadest possible appeal to ensure breakeven is attained.

15. Seb   
May 04 2004 15:43

Actually, it's not necesarily a 900 breakeven is it. It depends on the income per ticket and the other cost, though I'm fairly certain the penalty for not having 900 covers must make 900 a minium.

Oh well, I hope it's a success, depsite the entire of my department being in the middle of exams.

May 04 2004 23:24

My dear Starbuck,

While the RAF is definitely for picking things up from point A, I would have to question their version of delivery. To drop from 30,000 feet in the general vicinity is the sort of delivery that only the Post Office would take pride in.

May 05 2004 09:36

Come on Sam, the RAF have a better drop off statistic than that. You must be thinking of the US Air Force, that is the one that is prone to missing its target by huge amounts and getting our guys instead...

May 05 2004 10:56

Actually the RAF are more likely to miss - it's just that they drop less, so statistically are unlikely to hit anything that anyone'll notice.

And if they do, given how much the Americans drop, it would be very hard to tell who's it actually was.

19. ..   
May 05 2004 14:08

The Met Police have bomb disposal officers with specially equipped Range Rovers and box vans which they use to transport their "wheelbarrow" remote control bomb disposal machines. They are based at a Central London Location and respond to all suspect packages / devices around the Met. The only time the military are used in the Met area is when any WW2 ordnance is found where it takes a long time to deal with and the police bomb disposal units would be tied up for too long.


20. Beci   
May 05 2004 14:37

Er, thanks?

Gee. That piece of information has made a real difference to my day. How Random.

21. tom t   
May 10 2004 10:55

Look, you wonderful 'defence' industry experts, could you keep the topic to the topic, please?!

Weapons for killing people don't mix well with parties where people get on and have fun, or well with people at all for that matter.

22. Sick   
May 11 2004 20:41

No, quite right. They mix people, rather than with them.

Closed This discussion is closed.

Please contact the Live! Editor if you would like this discussion topic re-opened.


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