“I’m here to talk to you about The Fellowship of St Andrews. My first question is: what actually is that?”
I’m sitting around a table in Bibi’s Café with Charlotte Jiang, Hannah Galatoire and Joel Moore, long-standing members of The Fellowship, and they smile at the question. Clearly aware that, for some such as myself, The Fellowship is shrouded behind curtains of ignorance and perhaps even mystery, Miss Jiang proudly provides me with the information I have come for:
“We are a social enterprise working on improving Town and Gown relations within St Andrews. We felt like there has always been this gap between the way in which the two communities intersect, so we try and organise a lot of events that try and bring the two together like beach clean-ups, partnerships with schools, and volunteering with charities.”
Interested, I press her further for an idea of the way the enterprise works. “We have thirteen Fellows (whom the Facebook page describes as social entrepreneurs), the First Fellow is myself and the Second Fellow is Hannah Galatoire.
We have a charities secretary and how it’s organised is each fellow is responsible for their own project. They’ll propose an idea, so, for example, one of our Fellows Stephen proposed the idea of a dodgeball tournament. We’ll vote on the idea, and then we usually assign a few fellows that will work with the suggestor to make this idea come together, and we have a marketing team as well. So, it’s very much that we don’t have a schedule and no particular number of events that have to happen every year. It’s just what we achieve and obviously everything goes to charity.”
Though I had not previously heard of The Fellowship, the enterprise is, in fact, a long-running one. Established, according to Mr Moore, in 2012, the group split from the Kate Kennedy Club over disagreements over equality among members. “If you really look at it,” Mr Moore said, “it split off from the Kate Kennedy Club because they didn’t want to admit women – which this group very much does and is a lot more equal than that.”
The group were “extremely keen” to leave that aspect of their history behind them. Indeed, Miss Jiang continued to say that the group was “changing that part of the image and working more on the less pretentious side of what is unfortunately a St Andrews culture, and then working on the people and the volunteering aspect.”
A recent attempt to do just that and promote a more benevolent image has resulted in a mandatory volunteering hour for Fellows that Miss Galatoire hopes will have “small scale impacts”. She believes that the hour’s volunteering has “been a real game-changer because it means that we’ve been able to build partnerships with local charities.”
Local charities are not, however, the only bodies that the group deals with. Mr Moore told me that they interact closely with BID, the St Andrews businesses group, because “they’re really keen to promote the town”, as well as community council and “any town group that pops up.” The town is at the forefront of all The Fellowship does, and in that regard one of the biggest challenges the group undertakes is St Andrews Day.
The day, which celebrates the Scottish patron saint’s festival and is the national day of Scotland, has, Mr Moore said, “been growing so much every year.” He claimed that this year’s event was a runaway success. “I’ve been in this group for three St Andrews Days in my time and I think this was the best one that we had. The first one was a bit smaller; it’s been growing so much every year. At first it was just the ceilidh, then we added on the market. Now it’s really grown into something that a lot of people go to. And every time when you see a few thousand people come to your event it’s an incredible thing to look out at a crowd and think ‘we organised this.’”
Of course, funding these community events is expensive. The St Andrews Day ceilidh is paid for entirely by The Fellowship. Fundraising events are therefore necessary, and are carried out as a series of, for example, club nights. Mr Moore explained this in more detail, saying that “some events we do we won’t say that ‘this is going to charity’, because we need to raise funds for ourselves so we can keep doing charitable events. We’ve done a few, like the Vic on May Dip event that has happened the past two years. That was really for fundraising.”
The trio couldn’t underplay the importance of these community events. Mr Moore tells me that he felt “Town and Gown relations have always been strained”, and that, because the idea of a St Andrews community differs between students and townsfolk, it was important “trying to reconcile the differences and trying to find a cohesive whole.” Miss Jiang continued by suggesting that “there was a lot of, not ignorance, but students are ignorant to the town.” She highlighted the importance of the town and university’s relationship, saying that “the university needs to show appreciation for what the town gives us.”
It is this feeling of responsibility that drives The Fellowship’s work with local charities such as Storehouse, Dundee Dragons and British Heart Foundation. Their work with BHF will involve a speed-dating, post-Valentine’s Day fundraiser for the charity’s Mending Broken Hearts appeal, and further along the pipeline is an idea for a project they are naming The Fellowship Award, which will “give notice and prominence to members of the community whether they be a student or a local”, and will involve a ball of some kind.
It was clear that the current team of fellows were an extremely motivated bunch. When I asked Miss Jiang to identify a vision for the future of The Fellowship, she said that she wanted the enterprise “to grow and have more of a presence in the community and the student body. I would like for there to be more long-lasting permanent partnerships and in a place where we don’t rely on the main Fellows to put up projects and we might have a volunteering base.”
Additional visions came about as a result of problems that The Fellowship had experienced, and it was evident that the enterprise’s course had not run up to now without difficulty. Miss Jiang informed me, frankly, that the group had been through a “rough patch” where they “weren’t sure whether [the group’s members’] views were aligning”, as well as leaving behind them “a bad year for finances.” When pressed, I was assured these problems, arising from people aspiring to “a great name” more than anything, and innocent administrative difficulties had been overcome. The solution, Miss Jiang said, was “being very smart chasing people up for money”, but that the best medicine was hiring enthusiastic personnel.
With that in mind, all three Fellows pressed on me the news that they were to open applications for positions as Fellows “later on this semester.” Mr Moore eagerly told me that the undesirable pecuniary situation had been left behind through the hiring of “savvy” Fellows, as finances were balanced through “running all these different events and club nights.”
Passion was therefore, understandably, high up the list of all three’s perfect candidate. Miss Jiang said that in her experience, “those who have shown us in the interview that they genuinely care and want to make a contribution always end up putting in and getting out so much more.” And, due to the group’s unaffiliated status, Fellows were able to have a lot of freedom with the events they put on, which Mr Moore expressed was “the best thing” about the position.
The Fellowship are anxious for applicants. Last year was a self-professed poor year for recruitment, and with many fourth years moving on, and Miss Jiang stepping down from her role as First Fellow, there seems to be no better time to apply. The team put the low application numbers down to students not knowing about The Fellowship, or indeed even a Fellow. When I suggested that perhaps the name Fellowship sounded particularly like a cult, they all grimaced simultaneously.
The name seemed a source of contention. Mr Moore explained the history of it. “Originally when we split off from the Kate Kennedy Club it was called The Fellowship, because the guy who named it thought that was a good name,” he said, “then it morphed into The Fellowship of St Andrews and stuck. It’s not because we are a cult!” Whilst the Fellows admitted that some might be put off by a name that some could see as not embodying what the enterprise does, they also admitted that members get very attached to it, and that it was easier just to “convince people that it isn’t cult-y.”
Changing others’ perspective of The Fellowship was a running theme throughout the conversation. I became convinced, however, that the Fellowship was a great source for good and undeniably a positive thing to be involved in. Fellows, I was told, “genuinely look forward to the meetings every week”, make a close-knit group of friends, and, above all, are given the means of giving back to the community that supports them. All three emphasised this fact, with First Fellow Miss Jiang entreating people to “feel encouraged to apply and understand that we’re not a cult, we do have good intentions, and we are doing good work.”