How to set up a society at university

Students across the country joined some seriously niche university societies last month – from the Jane Austen society at Warwick to the live action role play society at Southampton Solent.

But what motivates students to start their own societies? And how do you do that anyway?

David Cowley, founder of the Live Action Role Play society at Southampton Solent University, advises: “Find some friends to support you.”

He says it was challenging to drum up interest in such a niche idea. “Think of it as a business,” he says, “but never stop it being fun.”

His latest project? He’s planning to set up a second society for live band performances.

It was while waiting for a train that the idea for a Non-League Football society was born. Joe Parton, a student at Oxford Brookes University, had spent the day wondering why so few people had turned up at a match he’d just enjoyed.

Parton used his student union to help him find members, and succeeded so well that his project has since been named the university’s best society for 2014.

“The most difficult thing was gaining initial numbers. But the first few students invited friends, flatmates and coursemates, and it grew organically,” says Parton.

Exercise need not involve team sports. “I noticed there was nothing for wider fitness – it was all rugby and football,” says Sean Rice, a third-year student at Swansea University, who recently launched the university’s Body Mass society. “So I decided to set up a gym soc for me and my friends.”

He says: “Start the process early – I couldn’t get on to the uni website in time to launch last year, so we coudn’t get going for several weeks.” Health and safety forms are an obstacle, so be prepared for paperwork, he adds.

Harry Potter fanatic Cory Faniel wanted to bring Muggle Quidditch to the University of St Andrews. “I created a Facebook page and sent a message through the university’s online noticeboard asking people to contact me if they were interested. I built Quidditch hoops, decided on some basic ground rules, took a deep breath and organised the first practice,” he says.

Reaching the target audience was tough, admits Faniel, “as was being taken seriously – but never give up. If you maintain a regular activity, people will come.”

To set up a team at your university, he recommends contacting Quidditch UK and teams in other student cities.

Others have been inspired by cultural icons to bring like-minded students together. Sandeep Purewal had the idea for a Jane Austen society before she’d even started her English literature course at the University of Warwick.

“A few of us started talking on a freshers Facebook page about how we love her – we met up, got on really well, and in June we became an official society,” she says.

Lee Dickson was inspired by his love of British TV to start a Doctor Who society. “The series is iconic, an international phenomenon and an historic institution – so when I arrived at Lancaster University, I was surprised a society didn’t exist!”

He says: “The 50th anniversary of the show was approaching and my uni was nearing it’s 50th year, so I developed a six-month plan to create a society for Whovians.”

But it’s not always plain sailing, says Dickson: “You have to recognise the power of networking. If you’re looking for sponsorship, attend events where there may be potential supporters and send emails to local businesses for help.”

And Purewal recommends spreading the word via social media to gauge interest before you begin: “Starting on Facebook helped us expand.”

Watching Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect inspired Jamie Steel, a student at Lancaster University, to set up an a cappella society last Christmas. “I’ve been singing for most of my life but never headed a choir or group of singers, so I was excited to create my own,” he says.

Fellow Lancaster student Liam Cottier has also been busy – setting up Assassins Guild so he can play mock assassination games with new friends. “Don’t be scared to put your ideas forward,” he says, “if there are others interested, it’s easy to get help.”

After setting up the Sketch Comedy society at the University of Sussex, graduate Alex Nash is confidently applying for jobs with an Edinburgh Fringe show under his belt. “I spent the first year of uni not being very active, then got to third year and thought ‘crap! I’ve got to do something’.

“I downloaded a form on the student union website and had to find at least three people. Then I filled in a risk assessment form, wrote a society constitution, got in touch with like-minded people and societies, and sent out an email to the English department to drum up interest,” says Nash.

His best tip is to be as inclusive as possible: “University is a lot like school, where year 11s don’t talk to year 12s. But when you set up a society, it’s a melting pot.

“Embrace meeting lots of people and share your ideas. Also, be on time – you’re the leader!”

(Source: TheGuardian)


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