Inside Planning an Oxford Ball

Image Description: a painted image of a ball in the Royal Palace of Naples

The Coronavirus pandemic meant that many aspects of Oxford life were put on hold. One of the most glamorous and exciting of which is college balls, which are notoriously popular. I spoke to the organisers of three balls each scheduled for different points in the year and asked them about their upcoming events!

Somerville-Jesus Ball

What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming ball?

As I am sure is the case with any team who are organising a college ball, we are incredibly excited to see our hard work become a reality come April. After a year in which socialising outside of a college bubble was prohibited, we are particularly looking forward to seeing different year groups, alumni and outside guests coming together to celebrate. Indeed, much of the college community have not been able to experience a formal or a bop, let alone a college ball. This makes the prospect of approximately 1,500 guests mingling and wandering around a transformed Somerville site particularly exciting and of course nerve-racking! In terms of specifics, we are very much looking forward to choosing and setting up the décor for the night. Somerville has beautiful grounds that provide a great canvas for us to play with. Moreover, our Dreams/Nightmares theme provides us with the opportunity to include some interesting props and mind-bending entertainment. In sum, we are most looking forward to creating an unforgettable environment for our diverse set of guests to enjoy together! 

What has been the most difficult aspect of planning so far?

Organising a team of 15 students is difficult at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a pandemic. The pandemic meant that it was initially hard to brainstorm ideas in an inclusive way, considering we could not meet in person. This meant relying on technology to ensure everyone was kept in the loop. Luckily Zoom and Slack have been incredibly useful and allowed us to hold regular meetings where we share our ideas and give updates. The second, and arguably more difficult, aspect of planning has been getting to grips with all the licenses, contracts and other legal documents that come with hosting a college ball. In particular, the Oxford City Council requires information regarding fire safety, the sale of alcohol and the level of sound in the different areas of the site. Thankfully our Logistics Officer has been great at collating the necessary documents and noting any deadlines. But overall, what goes on behind the scenes is certainly more challenging than what guests see on the night!

How has Covid-19 impacted plans for the ball? And how has it changed expectations? 

Overall, I do not think that Covid-19 has significantly changed expectations for the ball. This is largely due to the fact that we have over half a year until the actual date of the Somerville-Jesus Ball. By then, I hope that nearly all students will be vaccinated, and Covid-19 will be less of an issue. However, this is not to say that Covid-19 has not impacted plans for the ball entirely. The first way Covid-19 has impacted plans is by affecting the availability of musicians, entertainers and food/drink stalls. More specifically, we have found that companies are either at one of two extremes; they have either closed down or are offering a limited service due to the detrimental impact of covid, or, they have been inundated with new booking requests for next spring/summer leaving them unavailable for our date. This has meant that we have had to get quotes and book acts/stalls as early as possible in order to avoid disappointment. The second way Covid-19 has impacted plans has been by raising the importance of contingency planning. The future is still uncertain leaving the possibility of a resurgence of the virus. Contingency plans will thus be at the forefront of our minds as the date of the ball approaches.

How are you prioritising guests?

As there is a finite number of tickets and popularity for balls will no doubt be higher than ever, we have had to prioritise different groups of guests. Whilst there are ticketing details yet to be confirmed, Somerville and Jesus students will be the first to access tickets at a base price. Recent Somerville-Jesus alumni will also be able to buy tickets at a slightly inflated price. If our capacity does not fill selling these tickets, then we will open the event up to all Oxford students. We have also made accessibility a priority for our guests. After working through a proposal, Somerville and Jesus colleges have kindly agreed to subsidize tickets for students on the Oxford bursary. Essentially, we want to ensure that no Somerville or Jesus student will miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime event, no matter what their financial situation.

Will your event be open to people from outside of college?

The Somerville-Jesus Ball will be open to people from outside of college if the tickets reserved for Somerville-Jesus students do not sell out. Students will also have the option of adding a guest onto their ticket during the purchasing process. This guest does not have to be an Oxford student, allowing friends and family to join Somerville and Jesus students for the night of celebrations. That said, the number of outside guests allowed has not yet been confirmed and will be subject to change.

Have you felt even more pressure to deliver knowing that there hasn’t been any balls for 2 years?

I think pressure to deliver is always there when planning a ball. However, there is definitely added pressure considering that the Somerville-Jesus Ball will be the largest event held in college since the start of the pandemic; for many people attending it will be their first experience of an Oxford ball. That being said, the previous ball committee left us with a number of useful templates and documents, ensuring that the scale of the event does not overwhelm us. Also, as many of the committee members are yet to attend a ball due to restrictions, there is greater free reign to be creative on what we want for a ball, rather than comparisons to previous ball experiences. Furthermore, the pandemic has illuminated the importance of access and sustainability in the planning and execution of the ball. We aim to limit the environmental impact of the ball and ensure that ticket prices reflect the diverse financial backgrounds of students.   

When is your ball going to be? 

The Somerville-Jesus Ball will take place on Saturday of 1st Week, Trinity Term. This will be on the 30th April 2022. This is particularly exciting as it means our ball will run into May Day 2022!


St Catz Ball 

What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming ball?

There is genuinely too much to choose from – did we mention that Catz Ball 2019 was the largest college ball of the past decade? We have three stages of music which will have a mix of DJs, student bands and some larger names! While we can’t give too much away right now as we have yet to announce our theme, we can say that there will be a variety of entertainment including arcade games, minigolf, a light show, movies, a silent disco, unlimited food and drink for our guests and so much more. There will also be quieter spaces for people to relax and chat if they need a break from dancing!

What has been the most difficult aspect of planning so far?

One of the most challenging things has been that we haven’t been able to track down some of the files from the last committee, so we’ve just completely guessed the whole thing! Jokes aside though, the planning has been fairly straightforward, although worrying about potential changes to COVID policies has been a bit of a nightmare, since we have no idea what might happen!

How has Covid impacted plans for the ball? And how has it changed expectations?

It has made planning a bit more complicated for sure, but we’re in the fortunate position of at least knowing about COVID-19 and how it can work, unlike many of the balls from 2020 that had to be cancelled. As a team we are working hard to ensure that safety is a priority and remain cautiously optimistic, not least because we know how much the ball means to everyone after 18 months of limited socialising!

How are you prioritising guests? Will your event be open to people outside of college?

We are releasing tickets the same way we did for 2019 (one of the things that cOVID-19 hasn’t impacted!) In terms of priority, Catz students will be able to buy their tickets ahead of the general public. However, Catz Ball has the unique position of being one of, if not the largest college balls in Oxford so we welcome people from other colleges with open arms. In 2019 we hosted 1800 guests in total with a large number of them being non-Catz members and we aim to do so again at this ball too!

Have you felt even more pressure to deliver knowing that there haven’t been any balls for 2 years?

The fact that there haven’t been any balls certainly means there’ll be a lot of anticipation both inside and outside of our college, and also amongst our alumni. However, we’re treating this as a positive and therefore using it to motivate us. We also hope that the absence of any events like these will mean that guests will be even more psyched than usual for the ball (considering this will be many people’s first ever Oxford ball!) and be able to let loose and really enjoy themselves on the night!

When is your ball going to be?

Saturday February 19th 2022! Or in Oxford terms – Saturday of 5th week Hilary


Univ Ball

What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming ball?

The Univ ball hasn’t taken place in 4 years, which is a really long time! We are super excited to get students from 4 different years to experience their first Univ ball and bring everyone together for what should be a really fun night packed with lots of entertainment and good food and drinks! It will be a really great way for the community to get tighter and have some fun together!

What has been the most difficult aspect of planning so far?

We are working to a tighter schedule than previous committees as we were unsure the ball was going to go ahead, which meant we were elected a term later than usual, which meant there was a lot to do over the summer vac! That being said, we are in a really good place and have worked really hard to present the proposal to college at the start of Michaelmas.

How has Covid impacted plans for the ball?

It has made it a bit harder to find student performers, as we were unable to go to student events last year! We are aiming to see as many as possible in Michaelmas but urge anyone interested to get into contact with us!

How are you prioritising guests? Will your event be open to people from outside of college? 

As usual, the Univ ball will cater to all students, providing a subsidised price for univ members and alumni with a reasonable general ticket price for students throughout the university and those that aren’t at Oxford at all. We’re using student owned ticket service that will allow tickets to be bought through batells in a uniquely oxford style. Obviously because of the last couple of uncertain years, we’re completely ready to provide refunds and support if there are issues. The aim is always to provide a great night for everyone! 

Have you felt even more pressure to deliver knowing that there hasn’t been any balls for 2 years? 

Covid has been tough for everyone, so we’re really trying to make a special event that will get Oxford back into balls. The main motivation behind the univ ball will be bringing back the joy of excess and the pleasure of being together in proper 20s style. 

When is your ball going to be? 

Starting the evening of Friday 24 June going till the morning Saturday the 25th!


Image Credit: Carlo Raso via Creative Commons