Review: Conscious Ball

Missing Mayweek? Matt Gutteridge takes us on an adventure to the inaugural Oxbridge mental health charity ball
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Matt Gutteridge

The money raised from the ball will go to seven different mental health charitiesConscious Ball

As Michaelmas term draws to an end, the heady days of May Week can seem a long way away. Partially, this is why balls at this time of year feel that extra bit special – you don’t feel like you’ve earned them quite as much as a decadent May Ball after a long term of exams. Conscious, the Oxbridge mental health charity ball, struck all the right notes in aid of some fantastic causes.

Spirited away to the Tewin Bury Farm Hotel, about halfway between Oxford and Cambridge, guests were greeted with a strong range of food options. Some of these will be familiar to regular Cambridge ballgoers – Anna Mae’s Mac & Cheese provided hearty portions much needed on such a cold night, while Urban Shed served delicious paninis from their trademark retro ambulance. The committee had also done a commendable job of ensuring that all dietary requirements were catered for – of all the food stands, only Bill or Beak’s, whose chicken and duck burgers were my foodie highlight, were not serving vegetarian options, while multiple vendors were serving vegan and gluten-free options too. Queues for food were initially long, but almost immediately died down, allowing guests to enjoy maximum ball-time without endlessly waiting in line.

“A touching tribute to Rahoul Biswas-Hawkes, a friend of event organisers Kam Sohi and Diluxshan Sriharan, who took his own life during his first year of university, brought home amid the revelry the message that Conscious was founded to spread”

The fantastic food options were backed up by the drink offerings. La Raza’s cocktails and mocktails impressed, as did a huge vat of mulled wine, even if, ironically, you did have to venture into the coldest corner of the fairground themed garden to reach its warm embrace. But, as elsewhere, Conscious did best when it kept things simple – gin and tonics which kept flowing when other options ran out, and buckets of VKs strategically placed around the venue were what really fuelled the party. Water was helpfully provided at the night drew to a close, and many could be seen clinging onto their bottles on the bus ride home.

Four musical stages was an ambitious undertaking, and, particularly on the two outdoor stages, it often felt that the music was ambient rather than attention grabbing. This is not to criticise the acts themselves, who were universally strong, but with so much choice, quality performers often didn’t draw a large audience. Similarly, the main stage, featuring headliner Oscar #WorldPeace, found itself overshadowed by the more attractive Neon Barn venue, where DJ sets by performers such as Weaver Bros. and Manara drew by far the largest crowds of the night.

Queuing for the ballConscious Ball

The most major criticism that could be levelled against Conscious is that a confusingly large amount of the ball was outside for an event taking place in mid-November. This often meant that people were reluctant to show off their dinner jackets and ball gowns, opting instead for thick coats to counteract the icy temperatures. It is also true that there were some teething problems - late coaches meant that some guests were an hour late in arriving, and a lack of microphones meant that the Impronauts, part of an extensive lineup of comedy and spoken word acts, had their hour-long set cut to around ten minutes. But these technical hitches can be forgiven – the Conscious committee’s handling of what must have been a huge logistical challenge was admirable, and where issues did arise, it never affected the guests’ enjoyment of the evening.


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Nor should it be forgotten that this ball has done a great deal of good for raising awareness of issues surrounding mental health. A touching tribute to Rahoul Biswas-Hawkes, a friend of event organisers Kam Sohi and Diluxshan Sriharan, who took his own life during his first year of university, brought home amid the revelry the message that Conscious was founded to spread. 70% of money raised from the ball will be divided between mental health charities Mind and Rethink, while the remainder will be split between five more charities: Student Minds, Lifecraft Cambridge, Nightline Association, SANE, and Response.

The first Conscious Ball was a great success, offering wide variety for a reasonable price, in aid of a worthy cause - what more could you want from a ball? What little there was to improve can easily be put down to the difficulty of organising an event completely from scratch, and there is no doubt that Conscious Ball has established its place in the crowded schedule of Oxbridge balls