It was seeing the high rates of homelessness around her that first led Oxford University student Lauren Blum in the direction of charity. “I wanted to find a way to help that could be built into the framework of Oxford University’s structure and could have a wide-scale impact” she told me. Upon further inspection, she found that college balls, the staple of the Oxford events scene, gave none of their proceeds to charity. Shocked, she stepped up her efforts to find a solution.
The idea for ‘What’s A Pound?’ was the product of these efforts. The website and Facebook page of the charity stresses that it aims to “help find an intersection between student enjoyment and social responsibility”. In order to realise this vision, Ms Blum turned to her university peers. She said that she “spent time speaking to a range of people who I felt had different perspectives on Oxford”, in an attempt to conduct what successful operations call market research. This was, she told me, the product of a desire to “understand how I could make “the product” as appealing as possible.” A manifesto that explained the idea followed, which was subsequently taken to the JCR (the ‘parliament’ of each college is the way Ms Blum described this body) of every college, which “pledged the college ball committee to explore the ‘What’s a Pound?’ scheme at the next opportunity”. Finally, a Facebook page was created and shared widely, which readers can access here.
Fast forward to today, and ‘What’s A Pound?’ is a presence not just at Oxford, but at five (soon to be six with the inclusion of Edinburgh) other UK universities – Cambridge, Exeter, Durham, Bristol, and now St Andrews. “It’s so easy; it’s such a simple idea!” Serena Dwerryhouse, the third-year history student tasked with bringing the charity to St Andrews, told me over a steaming mug of Bibi’s coffee.
I can’t help but agree. ‘What’s A Pound?’ works by approaching ball committees and petitioning them to add a single pound to the cost of every ticket. The money raised is free to be donated to any charity the committee sees fit, though ‘What’s A Pound?’ urges them to “donate to local charities”. Ms Dwerryhouse emphasised the potential effectiveness of the charity using a hypothetical example. She pointed out that 2000 people attend Welly Ball – with the help of ‘What’s A Pound?’ and a pledge to add a mere £1 to the ticket price the committee would be able to raise a staggering £2000 in one go. Welly Ball being just one of many St Andrews balls, the money-raising possibilities are clearly huge.
With ‘What’s A Pound?’ only having arrived in St Andrews this semester, Ms Dwerryhouse is looking to form a committee of her own, with applications for roles closing at midnight on Wednesday 4th. As if the usual, well-understood benefits of working for a charity weren’t enough, the unusual character of ‘What’s A Pound?’ as an entirely student-run body makes it all the more attractive as a volunteering prospect. In her request for newspaper coverage Ms Dwerryhouse put it to me that ‘What’s A Pound?’ was “the first widespread network of students at different universities across the UK using one single framework to raise money for charity.” We discussed this further when face-to-face.
“I haven’t seen anything that’s similar, with all the different universities involved,” she said to me, beaming, “that’s the exciting thing.” Continuing, she made it clear that Oxford was at the centre of this inter-university charity framework, and, interested in how this worked practically, I got in touch with current ‘What’s A Pound?’ President Blanca Rivero, whose website bio stated that she’d take a smoothie maker as a luxury to a desert island.
She informed me that Oxford was “the hub which helps guide and direct all other ‘satellite’ committees” but was keen to stress that whilst they “decided on the branding and final direction ‘What’s A Pound?’ takes, [the Oxford branch] worked in a partnership with all other universities.” She continued, saying that they were always keen to hear opinions and new ideas from other branches, and that it all boiled down to “changing the culture of giving” – a task that could “only be achieved together.”
Whilst the charity wants to change the culture of giving, it equally clearly hopes to foster a culture of togetherness. Though it was their long-running friendship that led Ms Rivero to approach Ms Dwerryhouse with the prospect of establishing a St Andrews branch of ‘What’s A Pound?’, the latter is keen that it is not just her friends that get involved. She told me that she hopes to gain students from all years for her team, and that working for the charity was about “creating a student network, making [What’s A Pound?] more approachable, and making it easier for people to get involved with charity.”
An example of this outlook is the club night the Oxford branch have held for the past two years in May on the charity’s “birthday”, which Ms Rivero declared helped reflect “both the fun side to [their] personality but also the importance of [their] work”. Back in St Andrews, and Ms Dwerryhouse was eager to pull off something similar, such as a charity launch. “We’ll think about it as a committee!” she laughed.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Ms Dwerryhouse how it had been setting up the new branch, and whether she was enjoying it. She made sure to tell me that she had been sent a handbook, which she had scoured. “I’m doing everything properly!” she stressed to me. Going on, she told me “It’s a work in progress. I’ve never set anything up completely from scratch before, but it’s been really fun getting messages from people who are genuinely interested.” She finished with a statement that had already been clear to me from the start. “I’m just really enjoying it” she said.
If you are interested in getting involved in ‘What’s A Pound?’, contact Serena Dwerryhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org