Somewhere in the multiverse, the Fellowship of St Andrews hosted a 1920s themed ball on Lower College Lawn. The ball adhered strictly to the time-honoured St Andrean event structure. A glittering marquee, a black tie dress code, and a barrage of house music characterised the generic, Gatsby-esque revel. It would go on to receive “whelmed” reviews from the press; the event was not overwhelming, nor was it underwhelming. It was simply an event, the product of an equally “whelmed” committee.
In our universe, plans for this ball never came to fruition. They were too restrained, too deeply entrenched in champagne-drenched dogma. Charley Drover, fresh off an enlightening journey through Budapest, thought to herself: “What if I don’t do this? What if I come up with whatever I want?”
She came up with Szentek. Billed as the “ruin bar experience,” the startup event broke boundaries in its inaugural year. Guests marvelled at the intricate works of art – political and abstract in equal measure – that filled Kinkell Byre. A bathtub sat nestled in the corner; effigies of Donald Trump decorated urinals. Above it all, Wankelmut played behind a DJ booth that pulsed with colourific contours of light. Szentek spoke to the people, prioritising student satisfaction over a diehard dependence on events of years’ past. Gone were trappings of tradition and pretensions of propensity. This was something new.
As Event Director for the Fellowship, it fell upon Ms Drover to present her initial concept to the committee. Far from being a hard sell, her “ruin bar” proposal found enthusiasm where her original 1920s pitch had not. Alexandra Georges-Picot recounted the reaction as being a shared moment of “Hell yeah, I would buy that.” She elaborated, “It wasn’t something we had felt before. From the beginning, we knew it was different.”
First Fellow and de facto President of the Fellowship, Ms Georges-Picot is described as a “breath of fresh air” by Ms Drover. The Fellowship is barely five years old, a fledgeling organisation by St Andrean standards. Its most consistent contribution has been the annual St Andrew’s Day celebrations on Market Street. Beyond that, the group’s CV is eclectic, to say the least. The 600th Anniversary Ball, the St Andrews Ball, and the 602 Ball felt like repeated exercises in rebranding, without any constant thread holding them all together. It was Ms Georges-Picot who saw this perceived weakness as a hidden strength.
“The [Fellowship’s] biggest strength was that it was so many different people in one room,” she said. “I thought, I never would have met these people if it weren’t for the Fellowship.” She believes the Fellowship should be about “the freedom of the student body, who can come up with ideas that don’t fit into an existing mould.”
Szentek acted as the flagship of this theory. Everything – from its marketing campaign to its launch events – challenged the traditional notion of a St Andrews event. “We don’t even know what black tie is!” claimed a promo on Facebook. It channelled the Fellowship’s unofficial slogan, “For students, by students.” The £30 price tag further ingratiated the elusive event to its potential consumer base, and come showtime Kinkell was flooded with eager guests.
“We used to be in this balance of doing current events while upholding traditions,” said Ms Georges-Picot. “But we’re in an era where everything is evolving and we want to stay current.”
“With other student committees, you have a very set idea of what’s happening every year,” added Ms Drover. “The Fellowship is more diverse than that. Szentek was, for me, an example of what you can do by having that openness and that flexibility.”
The non-exclusivity of Szentek further differentiated it from the standard notion of a committee. Despite having funded and marketed the massive event, Ms Drover firmly rejected the notion that the Fellowship had, so to speak, “done Szentek.” Over forty volunteers, entirely independent of the Fellowship, donated their time and artistic talent to the event, based on a shared passion for the project.
Ms Drover emphasised that Szentek “came to life because of volunteers.” Several members of the Fellowship effectively managed the logistics of the night, but the St Andrews community at large came together in the spirit of creation.
“Those are the people that I have to thank for pulling it together and making it happen. There were first years and fourth years coming together and making dream catchers out of bicycle wheels. That’s the attitude I want for all future projects with the Fellowship.”
Effectively, the Fellowship is a facilitator of startup events. “We’re looking for people who have an idea and just need a place for it to come alive,” said Ms Georges-Picot. “We’re a platform that can run the costs and organise the marketing, and that has the initial reach to get people interested.”
In the vein of Szentek, the Fellowship has two upcoming events, both spearheaded by fellows and backed by numerous outside volunteers. Fellow Alyssa Godfrey, Head of Volunteering, is leading a refurbishment of the botanical gardens. On a larger scale, Fellow Yasmin Bou Hamze has partnered with the Middle East Society to create Noor, a charity festival for Syria. Each event reflects the spirit of the Fellowship, a desire for unity and for change.
In Ms Georges-Picot’s words, “It’s been an incredible journey to realise how, when you actually have the structure and that one good idea, it just flows. We have the institutional memory to say ‘Oh, we’ve done this before, we shouldn’t do this, we should try this.’” By joining the Fellowship, entrepreneurial students will have the necessary groundwork to develop a personal project.
“We want to make every project bulletproof,” said Ms Georges-Picot.