Image Credit: 2023 Worcester Commemoration Ball Committee

After postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Worcester College are set to host their first commemoration ball since 2017 in 9th Week of Trinity, 2023. More excitingly, the ball will have one of the most generous access schemes seen at any Oxford commemoration ball, with non-dining tickets priced at £95 for any Worcester student in receipt of an Oxford bursary.

Many Oxford balls, run by both colleges and societies, face criticism for the expense of their tickets, which lead to many students missing out, or even resorting to ball crashing. The Oxford Union recently hosted their termly ball, not only with a limited number of access tickets, but with a discount of merely £10, in comparison with Worcester’s £85 discount. The Worcester Commemoration Ball President, Nitheesh Velayan, told The Oxford Blue that ‘There’s so much red tape around [access tickets]. It’s not just the price, it’s the price difference, and it’s also a case of having enough available. If you have 5 access tickets, it’s not really inclusive—even if it’s quite a bit cheaper than the normal ticket’. 

For this reason, Velayan and his ball committee were able to work with the college administration to ensure that every Worcester recipient of the Crankstart Scholarship, the Oxford Bursary, or the Ruben Scholarship was emailed the link to purchase a ticket at the discounted price of £95, almost half of the regular non-dining ball tickets. Furthermore, there was no strict limit to this number, meaning that anyone who needed one was able to purchase one. ‘To my understanding,’ notes Velayan, ‘this is the most generous and comprehensive access ticket scheme ever for an Oxford Ball.’

He continued, ‘This is something that I am incredibly proud of being able to offer, and I hope it sets the tone not only for future Worcester Balls, but also for balls in the rest of the university.’ The decision to have this access scheme in place was a priority for Velayan from the outset. ‘From the beginning, we were thinking about how [other college balls] will have a bigger budget than us, so we need to be better along a different line. We had to think about what makes [Worcester] special and different, and I think it’s the more inclusive and laid back atmosphere, which played into some of the decisions that we’ve made.’ During the planning of the access scheme, the Worcester Commemoration Ball Committee worked closely with the JCR’s current and previous Class Act representatives to ensure that the scheme was considerate and comprehensive for those with socio-economic difficulties.

When asked about the difficulties of delivering such a generous access ticket scheme, Velayan discussed the importance of prioritising access from the beginning of ball planning, ‘even at the point when you’re designing your budget, rather than four months into planning’. By doing so, it’s possible to incorporate any necessary ‘trade-offs’ into the budget, as well as combatting any potential pushback from the college itself. ‘A lot of the time, having an event enhances [the college’s] reputation,’ explains Velayan, ‘and offering cheaper tickets doesn’t do that, so quite a few colleges aren’t keen on it.’ However, by prioritising the access scheme from the beginning, Velayan maintained that it had not necessarily been difficult, but instead a non-negotiable factor of the ball, something that he believes many Commemoration Balls have not considered equally before.

Of course, as well as the high ticket prices, many balls have hidden costs, such as those of accommodation and dress code requirements. In regards to this, Velayan told The Blue that ‘it doesn’t make sense to have a really good access ticket scheme and then mandate that people hire white tie’, which can often cost as much as, if not more than, the ticket itself. Explaining his decision to make the dress code ‘white-tie optional’, Velayan stated that it would ‘undermine’ the ethos of the access tickets scheme. Similarly, the Ball President is aware that, for those who are not local to Oxford, accommodation for the duration of the ball can be an additional cost which renders many balls inaccessible, be it as a result of having to evacuate accommodation during the ball, or having to stay in Oxford outside of term time, as is the case with the Worcester Commemoration Ball. Whilst nothing is currently set in stone, the committee is in discussion with the college’s administration to negotiate reasonable accommodation provisions for the ball.

Ultimately, Velayan emphasised that his main goal was to make the ball accessible for any Worcester student wishing to attend. ‘Commemoration Balls are one of Oxford’s most special traditions,’ he stated, ‘[but] unfortunately this splendour comes at a price that is inaccessible for many in our community.’ Even with access schemes in place, the price of balls is still steep, and this may prevent the attendance of many students not in receipt of a bursary, too. There is evidently a much bigger problem surrounding affordability in Oxford, and one that necessitates continued discussion—but this is certainly a step in the right direction.