The Death of Societies?

We all know the scene: you’re whittling away the week with work and then society night (or nights, in some cases) rolls around. You’re excited: you get to see your friends and discuss common interests! You get to catch up with other people and watch great films or take part in game nights! Suddenly, as the year continues, the attendance numbers fizzle out to almost nothing and you find yourself still enjoying the socials, but in a much smaller crowd. Is this the time to announce the death of societies?

For this article, I explored the Hobbies and Interests societies over the year, namely Sci fi Society, Marvel and DC Society, and Soapbox Society.

Although all the mentioned societies seemingly had an increase in membership numbers at the beginning of the year, now, as we approach the end of the year, the numbers have declined dramatically for socials. Gone are the days of organising large numbered socials, and they welcome the smaller, cosier socials as the year has gone on. In some cases, such as sci fi society, socials cater to a mere handful of members and involves them choosing what to watch on Netflix for the evening. What is normally seen as a regular student’s night in has been expanded into a typical Sci Fi Society night, and you begin to wonder whether being a committee member is worth it in the end.

To try and shed some light on the ever-growing situation, I created a group chat with the Presidents of the previously mentioned societies as well as previous Hobbies and Interests rep, Heather Dimmer. After a quick initial question of asking what’s happened over the year, it was Heather who came up with the observation saying it’s just the natural cycle of societies. Although there is a definite lack of integration at the beginning of the year due to Freshers being the new members against the regulars from the previous years, the balance changes as the year goes on, mainly due to the old regulars having to commit more time to coursework instead of socialising. This would seem logical, particularly through personal experience as third year tends to take its toll on your extra-curricular life whereas in first year you’re simply finding the balance between your social life and your work life.

However, in some cases, as Michael Fraser, President of Sci Fi Society argues, it’s due to some dominating personalities that can appear intimidating to the bright-eyed, bushy tailed Fresher’s. In order for a society to be successful all year round, they must be friendly and all-inclusive from day one. This would mean having to become louder than the ‘big’ people in societies, and effectively drowning them out to bring others in. But wouldn’t this mean that the society itself becomes intimidating to Freshers, and produce the opposite of its intended effect?

Sometimes committees can find themselves too busy with the ever-approaching deadlines and have to fight their own coursework to be able to keep the society alive. This was particularly seen last year (I was guilty of this, too) when committee members would sit at the back of the room during a film social and type their essays whilst members watched the screen. The film ends, the laptops close and a short discussion ensues before the next film. The Marvel and DC Society however, decided to capitalise on these occasions. ‘Revision Socials’ were created, and members were encouraged to study together, no matter the subject. After all, it’s better to study together than alone, right?

This doesn’t solve the final problem, however. Heather comments on the fact that she’s simply ‘grown out’ of societies, and it’s a question that spun around the chat for a while. Is it possible to grow out of a society? Surely there is no age limit to a society, since all activities are inclusive?

Do we suddenly wake up one day and think that we’re simply too grown up to attend a society? The answer is up to you, but university is a time of transition for most. It’s the time between college and the adult world, and the place where we tend to find ourselves. Where home was once found in a weekly social, it’s now found in a small group of friends having a film night. When life was all about midnight screenings to the latest Star Wars or Marvel movie, it’s now about all-nighters in the library. Either way, although societies are dying for the year, they are granted a new lease of life by September when the cycle begins again. Maybe we should embrace this cycle and simply enjoy the ride and the friends we made on the way. After all, we tend to only go to university once, and whilst societies seemed like a good place to start, maybe there’s other adventures calling to us?

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