May Ball Presidents’ Committee addresses student concerns

They discussed ticket prices, worker wages, sustainability and disability access with The Tab


For the past few days, discussions about ticket pricing, accessibility and sustainability have dominated everyone’s Facebook feeds. You may have seen recent discourse on Camfess about May Week and wondered to yourself – what even is a May Week and why are so many people riled up about it?

To clear things up, we sat down with the May Ball Presidents’ Committee Chair, Alice Perkins, and Vice-Chair, Rose Sergeant to learn more about the events and address some of the controversy online. The Committee is made up of Presidents and Chairs of all “major May Week Events” and works in a facilitative role to help all the individual college committees.

First off, what is May Week?

May Week is actually a series of two weeks in June (post most exams)  with a variety of events run by individual college committees. According to Alice and Rose, this year is likely to be Cambridge’s biggest May Week ever, with around 25 college events already on the books.

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There’s a huge variety in events – some are white tie, others are fancy dress, there are garden parties and balls, dining seats and food trucks. For Vice-Chair Rose Sergeant, the point is for students to “have fun” and partake in what she hopes will be two weeks of well-deserved celebration at the end of the Cambridge year.

Tickets & Prices

Ticket prices have been perhaps one of the most contentious aspects of the May Week discourse this year. Prices range from around 80-190 GBP and have been a source of concern for many students. While she “recognise(s) that they’re not cheap tickets,” Committee Chair Alice Perkins thought it may be beneficial to outline why the events cost as much as they do.

A key point she mentioned was that none of the college committees look to make a profit from these tickets – that the entire ticket cost does go towards costs associated with the events. A large part of the cost comes from production, infrastructure and security costs – the only “non-scalable” cost.

Staging, electric generators, sound systems, fences for colleges on the river and the technical expertise of the people running these items are key factors to consider. Of course there are then also costs associated with food, drink, staffing and entertainment.

She also mentioned that some of the larger events have “VAT payable, although the colleges may have some of that reimbursed” and that many colleges had made significant losses during the pandemic that couldn’t be mitigated due to event cancellations. Speaking from her personal experience, she added that in the past, student surveys have been carried out by college committees to judge what students believe is a “fair price” for the events.

Screenshot via Camfess

To increase financial accessibility, “a lot of colleges are working towards a bursary scheme” to reduce ticket prices for students that require it. The Presidents’ Committee has also done their best to ensure that these discussions will be held very sensitively and by a small number of staff to reduce any discriminatory pressures the students may feel.

Working the Event

There’s also the option of working the event to reduce the cost of your ticket. Some events have a “half-on, half-off” structure that lets you work half the ball and enjoy the other half. Not all roles are the evening of the ball itself, with positions on some clean-up crews being the next morning. If you have experience in the service industry, there are also supervisory roles available.

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The Presidents’ Committee has created a Facebook Marketplace for all May Week worker applications, where students can check wages, shift timings and other details.

While the May Ball Presidents’ Committee themselves cannot mandate specific wages, they have done their best to encourage fair working conditions for all events. They recognise that student workers are “integral” to the running of these events, and ask that any work condition disputes be raised with college committee members – who should be wearing identifiable clothing/sashes the night of the event.

Access-a-ball

This year, the Cambridge SU Disabled Students’ Campaign and May Ball Presidents’ Committee have worked together to launch Access-a-ball – a scheme to help large events be “designed as accessibly as possible.” Individual committees are given training on access needs and a workbook of “guidelines for different areas of event planning.”

At the end of the event, all committees must submit evidence to show that guidelines have been met, after which they may be ranked or rated. The Presidents’ Committee aims to publish information about the implementation of the program at the end of May Week 2022.

The website has a list of which events have already signed up, as well as a requirement of what colleges must do in order to successfully be “access-a-ball.” Vice-Chair Rose Sergeant discussed how “as a member of the disabled student community” it meant “a lot that people’s needs are being taken into account.”

Screenshot via Access-a-ball

Chair Alice Perkins also encouraged students with specific needs to get in touch with their College Ball Committee’s Access Leads, who are there to ensure everyone has a good experience.

Sustain-a-ball

Similarly, Sustain-a-ball was launched by the Cambridge Union Environmental Consulting Society and administered across college events in 2019. They provide resources on recycling, item sourcing and sustainable event planning for individual committees.

One of the things they particularly encourage is that committees consult their annual guide before purchasing resources for the ball.  Rose also mentioned that sometimes colleges may share resources, which both reduces waste and reduces costs.

Covid Safety

While everyone was “hoping that the pandemic wouldn’t be as much of a concern by the summer,” the Presidents’ Committee is aware of potential challenges posed by the new variant. There are likely to be many discussions about how to make sure the events remain Covid-safe in Lent term, and “at the end of the day all events will follow government guidelines at the time.”

In their advisory position, Alice and Rose have encouraged provisions such as “hand sanitising facilities” to make sure the events remain safe and enjoyable.

Making the best of May Week

Alice and Rose have “worked hard” with their committee to make sure they’ve done everything in their power to have May Week events “take strides” in the right direction across many criteria. They hope students will be able to “celebrate the end of their year” and enjoy May Week 2022.

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Some of their tips to make the best of May Week included setting a budget in advance, being aware of your limits both socially and when it comes to alcohol (if you drink), and being careful while reselling tickets!

Many tickets come with specific requirements for name-changes etc, which cannot happen last minute. Others may be revoked if you are caught trying to sell them for a price higher than the cost of the ticket + the name change.

Most of all, they stressed that May Week was designed to “facilitate a big celebration of just making it through the year” and they hoped that it would be a “rewarding experience” for those that attended. 

Feature Image Credits: Cmglee, Wikimedia via the Creative Commons License