JASON LEUNG/ UNSPLASH

Part of the May Balls’ appeal lies in a reclamation of the Cambridge experience. Instead of letting the gruelling months of Tripos preparations define each year we spend here, May Balls let us see off each year literally with a bang, reminding us that Cambridge is every bit about the fun we have, the people we meet and the relationships we build as it is about the punishing academic pressures.

But if balls reclaim what it means to be at Cambridge, what does it mean then, to reclaim a ball?

Amidst the dizzying plethora of May Balls, the Reclamation Ball aims to pioneer a different way of thinking about celebration. The Reclamation Ball is an initiative borne out of Just Love Cambridge, the Cambridge chapter of a national charity that seeks to inspire and release every Christian student to pursue the biblical call to social justice. The ethos and motivations of Just Love are proudly and unabashedly Christian, but the Reclamation Ball is intended to reclaim May Balls for anyone, Christian or otherwise, interested in a celebration which honours not just our own hard work during exam season but also the values of charity and community.

This is not the first rendition of the Reclamation Ball: Just Love Cambridge has been organising such an event for the last couple of years. However, while the event was previously called A Night of Jubilee, this year’s committee chose to rename the event to really push forth a vision of celebration that’s inclusive for both Christians and non-Christians. While Jubilee refers specifically to a passage in Leviticus and was thus a more explicitly Christian reference, it is hoped that by renaming this year’s event to a Reclamation Ball, more students can share and stand behind a celebration that steps away from the excessiveness and extravagance of May Balls. While the committee is frank that Reclamation Ball was conceived to honour the ethos of social justice in the Bible, the ball itself is not intended to be evangelising: as co-President Hannah Cobbold puts it, the Reclamation Ball is “not about Christians doing something good and so you should be a Christian”. Anyone, Christian or not, is very much invited to attend.

In keeping with the focus on community, all profits of the Reclamation Ball, like previous renditions and the May Week Alternative, will go towards charity. This year, profits will go to three charities: Jimmy's, which dedicate themselves to supporting the Cambridge homeless community; International Justice Mission (IJM), the largest anti-slavery organization in the world; and Clean Air Task Force, a non-profit environmental organization that works to catalyse the rapid global development and deployment of low carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. The event this year, however, is focused not just on charity but also on making the celebration itself sustainable and ethical. In line with the growing attention on the climate crisis and to provide support for local businesses, the committee went to great lengths to avoid supermarkets, opting instead to source food from sustainable local suppliers based in market square, and the Daily Bread Co-operative, a wholefood supplier in King’s Hedges. Ents have also been based around local acts, involving not only students but also local performers around town.

In this sense, Reclamation Ball is thus not focused on spending as little as possible or rejecting the premise of holding a ball as a celebration altogether. While Reclamation Ball is definitely nowhere on the scale of a May Ball, the committee is still committed towards providing the vibe and experience of a ball: hard work has been put into bringing in performers such as the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra and into preparing decorations for the venue. In the words of Cobbold, the committee aims to organise a ball where “you don’t need to spend 150 quid to have a good time”, so that everyone can celebrate the end of exams without excluding the people on bursaries.

The goal of inclusivity thus lies at the very heart of the Reclamation Ball. Cobbold tells me that it is not just Cambridge students but students from Anglia Ruskin as well who are on the committee and invited to attend the ball. The committee – and the Just Love Cambridge community as a whole – aims to create a welcoming environment for everyone regardless of which university, class or church they happen to belong to. Anyone who has felt excluded by the elitism of Cambridge is welcome to find a home in Just Love. Cobbold tells me that Just Love is about returning to the Bible and addressing the issues the Bible clearly tells us we should be doing: Just Love is not just about one church, but about putting aside differences to invite anyone who cares about social justice to join in the cause.


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Mountain View

The exclusivity of May Balls is more than a student issue

At this point, it should go without saying that the elitism associated with Cambridge is one that needs to be seriously reckoned with. Amid debates about the exclusivity of May Balls, be it for working class students or for the wider Cambridge community, as well as the discomfort felt by both Christians and non-Christians over the privileged dominance and positionality of Christianity in Cambridge, the Reclamation Ball offers a refreshing and perhaps even radical reimagining of what it means to reclaim the Cambridge experience into one that is ethical, sustainable and accessible.

Reclamation Ball will be held from 20-21 June, 8pm-2am, at St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church. More updates and information on the ball can be found on their Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/401168870679637/

 

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