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George Whitworth

George Whitworth is the Union Development Officer

Graduation Ball Mythbusting


The launch of the graduation ball has, as usual, ignited a fierce debate about how it’s so expensive, how the SU is completely out of touch, and how ‘other Unions do it better.’

Well, it is, we’re not, and they don’t.

We’ve already taken tickets off sale because we realised pretty quickly we’d made a mistake and a lot of students have cash flow issues at this point in term. Sorry! They’ll be back on sale at the beginning of term 3, once your student loan has arrived.

I apologise as this is a bit of a long one, but I felt it deserved the attention. If you’re in a hurry and/or don’t like reading things, then skip to the summaries for each question.


“£68 a ticket? You must be having a laugh…”

We’re not, really. It’s a lot of money. There’s no two ways about it. However, the Graduation Ball is budgeted to be completely non-profit. That is to say, at 1150 tickets sold (the number of attendees last year, give or take) we break even. To put this into context, when societies put on any event, including balls, we ask them to budget for a break even at 65% attendance, to avoid making losses. That means the Graduation Ball is a fairly big risk for the Union to take, and one that we don't take lightly. We do it because we know it's going to be a brilliant event, and something to remember your University life by, but 'brilliant' does not come cheap.

We don’t attract any sponsorship for this event, so we can’t subsidise the costs at all. That means that your £68 covers the four course (delicious) meal, transport to and from the event, décor to transform the venue, entertainment to add a unique and unforgettable twist to your night. We’re not planning on making money out of you; the ticket price is literally what it costs.

Summary: £68 goes in, £68 value comes out. It’s expensive, yes, and if you don’t want to pay it – don’t go.


“Other Unions do it better…”

“…my friend goes to the University of Narnia and they had Freddie Mercury performing, gave them pure gold to eat, and actually paid them to go…!”

Some Union’s may do it better, but we think we’re actually pretty near the top. We’re lucky to have an experienced, dedicated entertainments team who really know what they’re doing. Besides, most unions have stopped doing a formal dinner because they simply can’t make it viable. Most other Summer Balls that you may hear your friends going to or see advertised are much more similar to our Summer Party than the Graduation Ball, and from what I’ve seen of those, they’re all considerably more expensive than the £38 you’ll be paying for the Summer Party.

Just to give a couple of examples of how other Union’s really don’t do it better sometimes…

Two years ago, Nottingham lost £70,000 on their version of the summer party. -

Last year, Imperial Union made a £120,000 loss on their version of our summer events. (To put it into context, this is double what our planned surplus is for this year) -

Summary: You might find a couple of Unions who do it better, we’re not saying we do it the best. But we do it pretty well, despite the risks that are evidenced by the two previous links.


What the hell is with the medieval theme? What have you guys been smoking?

First things first – the Grad Ball will always be a sharp, glamorous black-tie affair. The theme is meant to add a bit of a twist to a night and make it something you will never forget. It’s obvious that some people have read into this theme as though they will be expected to dress up in medieval garb, which was never the intention at all!

We’ve still got plenty of time before the graduation ball, and, importantly, plenty of time before we re-launch the tickets. So here’s your opportunity to put some feedback in about the theme and give us an idea of what you want. Here's a question I've asked on facebook:


If you don’t use facebook then just drop me an e-mail [ ] or comment on here!

Summary:  We realise the theme has created quite a few misconceptions. Take your opportunity to say which of the themes you would like to see at the graduation ball.


Too long, didn’t read summary of the whole thing – we’re not perfect, everyone makes mistakes. Hopefully you can at least respect the fact that we’ve taken immediate action to address the concerns that have been raised to us, and take this opportunity to give us your views!


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Caroline Jones
11:42am on 10 Apr 12 Like I said in my email, A simple, classy, black tie event is all most of us are asking for with no silly gimmicks. I like the above suggestion of a bond theme but surely this is the same as classic black tie. What's wrong with old school Hollywood glamour?! I think this is certainly more appropriate for the nature of the event. but as others have said the efforts made to rectify the situation is appreciated.
Latoya Ferns
9:30pm on 22 Mar 12 George I really appreciate all the hard work that is going into this. Its really great that you are trying to pull off something on this scale. However, 68 pounds still remains a lot of money and most of us wouldn't mind brands shoved in our faces if it was cheaper. Please recruit a sponsorship team and have them work on it. Its very important to those of us graduating and it would be much appreciated.
George Whitworth
9:02pm on 17 Mar 12 Hi Catherine, It's my job, so that's quite alright :) It is expensive, as events go, there's no denying it. We're certainly not saying it's cheap! The balls you've been to which cost less may have benefited from subsidy through sponsorship or other financing, or may have had less put into them - eg, smaller courses, no entertainment, smaller venue with flexibility in food pricing, etc. Without specifics I can't really comment. The themes really don't add much to the price, though. Once you've got food, transport, entertainment (band, DJ...) and basic decor to give the room a bit of a 'wow' factor, you're basically over £60 per head already... With the combo tickets, and the fact that you've stated you'd be happy to pay £38 for the Summer Party, a good way of thinking about it to help you psychologically when parting with £90 might be to consider the discount entirely applied to the Graduation Ball... you're then getting the Graduation Ball for £52, which seems a lot more reasonable.
George Whitworth
8:56pm on 17 Mar 12 Hi Clare! We don't put much effort into attracting sponsors to the Graduation Ball, for a couple of reasons. The first is that we think it would be fairly fruitless - companies who can give enough money to make a difference are generally graduate recruiters, and it's a really bad time of year for promotional activity as far as they are concerned. Secondly, we're not sure how overt sponsorship would go down within the event - people have spent most of their University life having brands sold to them, so it might detract from the night if there was big, obvious sponsorship. We don't discount the idea completely though and remain open-minded about it. Re: the poll - I didn't want to create too many options, really. If enough people mention it it will still be considered though, I've seen it suggested at least once elsewhere as well.
Catherine Thomas
8:11pm on 16 Mar 12 Thank you for explaining things George. A combined ticket of the Grad Ball and the Summer Party is £90, and that, for me, is quite a lot of money. The Summer Party is great, I've been the last two years and I'm more than happy to pay £38. The Grad ball is a little excessive to say the least! I've been to balls that cost just over half that amount that have been brilliant. They haven't included themes. Would it be possible to lower the cost if you don't include all the gimmicks and ridiculous stuff that no one cares about, and just have a nice venue where we can all just be together celebrating our achievements? Thank you for listening to us and taking the time to reply, I thought we would just be ignored to be honest! Catherine x
Claire Hall
5:31pm on 16 Mar 12 Hey George, Really glad to read this article and see the SU is addressing concerns that have been raised by many students. Just out of curiosity more than anything, why doesn't the event attract sponsorship? Is it out of principle? From a quick google search (not exactly model student research but you know) it looks like a lot of balls get sponsorship from both local and national companies so there is obviously a market there, and surely every little would help (I do realise even over a grand of sponsorship would knock off only £1 per person but it still seems worth it) - first research I got on google showed Southampton had Holiday Inn and Dominos sponsonsoring theirs last year...a quick advert for a nearby Holiday Inn in Brum (obviously with Hiltons consent) or an agreement with Dominos that they can flog pizzas on the piazza for example when everyone arrives back on the coaches would just be idea of the top of my head that wouldnt seem impossible! (obviously I understand there may be issues with these specifics so don't worry about highlighting them, its just the general idea I'm trying to get across!) Also, already voted on the fb poll (great to see one up) but hows about 007/"Diamonds are forever" as a possible theme...lends itself to casino games, cocktail making show-bartenders etc! Really sorry this had turned out to be an essay (I'm obviously not working hard enough in the SU right now!) Claire
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