There is no denying that this has been a challenging year for events. We are all dreaming about our pre-COVID social lives. Between endless Teams calls and government updates, they have become distant memories. However, we will not be defeated. Societies are hosting more events than ever, the Union remained a hub of socialising last semester, and there have never before been so many online events on our Facebook feeds. Tom Groves, Director of Events and Services for the Union, is the not-so-silent mastermind behind many of these events. We spoke with him about the year so far and his views on the coming semester.
Last semester saw massive changes for the Union events. There was a noticeable absence of Sinners, Bops and Fright Night. However, there were highlights. Mr Groves reminisces on the alternative Clan Warfare event, “I deliberately didn’t tell anyone what to expect (beyond mayonnaise), but everyone seemed to enjoy it.” In addition to this highlight, the COVID restrictions led to the founding of the Can Do initiative. This program of events featured cocktails in the Quad and the establishment of the tent on Lower College Lawn.
The Can Do initiative continues this semester, and Mr Groves described some of his plans (restrictions allowing) for new and alternative events. Exciting news for music lovers: Groves’ plans include non-acoustic music events on the FiEld. The newly named area behind the Union now has an event license and is bookable by societies. While the space is unavailable under current restrictions, it looks to be a fantastic venue for outdoor music events. The Piazza in front of the Union has also secured a license and will certainly be popular after lockdown.
There can be no doubt that Mr Groves has been productive in organising events, but he has also been busy working on other union projects. His weekly updates on Facebook were part of his campaign promises and always include his progress on the DoESfesto checklist. This list includes starting Free Fruit Fridays, tidying the societies’ cupboard, and rewriting part of the Union website. While none of the “Questionable ideas so The Saint has something to criticise ‘’ have yet been accomplished, it is nevertheless impressive that Mr Groves has completed 44 of the 170 tasks despite covid restrictions.
Mr Groves’s positivity about this semester’s events took a hit after the Scottish Government reintroduced national lockdown on the 5th of January. The Union has closed its doors for the foreseeable future and the darkened building looming over Market Street brought the reality of lockdown back into perspective after the short festive break. The Union building is symbolic, and its closure represents expectations this semester.
A key expectation is Raisin. A tradition like no other, Raisin is a rite of passage, and its absence was palpable at the beginning of Independent Learning Week in the autumn. While its delay was inevitable, some academic families remain hopeful. However, we must, yet again, brace ourselves for disappointment, with Mr Groves stating: “I believe the University will be making a decision next week,” but that he does not see Raisin going ahead. Despite its necessary in-person components, Mr Groves is looking into virtual alternatives. A disappointment for students, but not a surprise.
Events used to be a way of getting out of the library, hall, or flat, to see friends and meet new people. Our current reality of online lectures, readings, and events means that we stare at a screen for most of our day. Who can blame students for avoiding even more time watching people through laptops? However, Mr Groves is adamant that the online events this semester are not “a Teams meeting in disguise.” He urges us to “keep trying new events from different groups and go in without expectations.” Mr Groves has created a calendar on the Union website for students to find these new events. It is updated every day, so there is no reason to miss out if you are interested.
Mr Groves’s role this year has been far more frustrating than anyone could have anticipated. However, to give credit where credit is due, the union’s response to covid has undoubtedly benefited from his determination and creativity. As his New Year’s update puts it, “It’s not the job I signed up for, but it’s still a dream.” You can contact Mr Groves with event suggestions or questions at DoES@st-andrews.ac.uk. While we await the university’s decision about the rest of the semester, we can make the most of our time right now.