Grad Ball 2015: Q&A with David Mendoza-Wolfson


There has been much discussion on the Grad Ball this year, mostly centering on the organisation of it. To respond to the many questions about the controversies associated with the upcoming event, Union President David Mendoza-Wolfson, answered questions in the Bridge yesterday afternoon.

He was first asked to comment on the negative reaction to the event:

He denied there was an entirely negative reaction as the Union has received formal responses in favour and many people have come forward stating that they had missed payment and still wanted to come along as opposed to withdrawing altogether.

Next he was tasked that the majority of students think that £78,000 on acts which few students seem enthused about is a waste. The event has a school disco feel about it which is not what the majority of students want from their Grad Ball.

In response, he stated that great effort has already been made to ensure that there are good drink deals and deals with local restaurants for people to eat out at. However, he was shocked and bemused by the large number of people looking forward to B*Witched. He totally agreed there was some resentment but he didn’t think that many people will be dissatisfied with the event as every year people worry beforehand yet give fantastic feedback afterwards.

“We always make sure we have a wide range of music at our events and many people are excited with Labrinth.”

Next he was tasked with the decision to add S Club to the line-up given their perceived poor performance at the Freshers’ Ball. Had they been invited back or had they been told they needed to make amends?

David disputed this and cited a video showing people trying to get into the Bridge at Freshers’ Ball to see S Club. He didn’t think that S Club’s behaviour was appropriate and “we’ve already made clear that was not acceptable”. However, he commented that to him “many acts from our youth seem cheesy these days” and S Club was no exception to many people.

Next: Will there be a Grad Ball committee next year?

He replied that “absolutely there would be” and that he intended to bring a policy to the final Union Council of the year stating that there should always be a committee. He thought that it was important that it has a wide range of students there but he doesn’t want to prescribe a membership at this point. In these plans he wants to include as many normal students as possible rather than just those already engaged with SUSU.

Next: What about surveys to the students before and after the event?

He replied that surveys are normally done but as SUSU put out 92 surveys last year, they wanted to reduce it. Also, the same people were responding to these and he wanted it to be more representative of the whole union rather than just those already engaged. There is going to be one put out after the event and definitely the survey will include those who did not go along asking why they didn’t.

Asked the all important question about the number of tickets sold so far, David replied that about 1,400 yet they had been aiming for 2,200. He said that:

“Had every ticket been sold then SUSU would have had a surplus but that was never the main reason for running an event. The Union is much more than just the events and any surplus would go back to student groups so it would never be about making more money as a priority.”

However, he confirmed what many suspected: that the event would be running at a loss.

Next: Who gets complimentary tickets?

David replied that to say thank you SUSU hold a reception before the Ball for Student Leaders, Trustees, Union Councillors and some staff and that this was funded from a seperate budget. In reality, most staff go home after the reception is over but this does not affect the price in any way.

Next: When was the price of the tickets decided?

David replied that the price was decided a long time ago. First it was decided what would be spent, then the price was set accordingly. A lot of speculative bids were made but acts are limited simply by the fact that it would be festival season, so some acts are already taken. Last year, SUSU was running at a big surplus so the price was reduced. The ball has been run at Oceana for a number of years and it’s been £49 for as long as it’s been held there. The price is significantly better than the £70 it cost six years ago. Southampton Common was considered but there are different difficulties with hosting an outside event such as electricity and toilets. He also confirmed that drink prices would be the same or lower than a normal Oceana night.

Other options have been mentioned on the Facebook Open Ideas and Discussion group such as a sit-down dinner. Could this be better value?

He replied that this used to happen years ago at the Guildhall but due to the capacity this had to happen over two nights but there were lots of complaints about the quality of the food and the price people wanted to pay. In 2011, SUSU decided to scrap the dining option as a result of student feedback. Although, it now looks like this might be reversed. Given that many want to spend a night with their friends, splitting over two nights would be a bad option. Furthermore, he stated SUSU were limited severely by the size of venues in the city capable of hosting that many people. He also confirmed a cruise ship was looked into without success. Oceana is a venue that can fit the number of people.

Has using the Union as a venue been considered?

David replied that about 2,000 people could fit into the Union and Garden Court, which is why Freshers’ Ball is hosted there. However, the only real space available for a DJ set is Garden Court which is not easy to book. He stated that the possibility of refurbishing the Cube at the same time as the new seats for the Cinema and a stage was a possibility.

Next: Has SUSU ever considered having the money for one big act and using student talent for the other events?

David confirmed that student acts were happening and that this year there had been one big act that they wanted but unfortunately had kept them waiting for too long. The danger of having one big act, he reflected, is that it can multiply the student dissatisfaction if they don’t like them. He stated:

“What SUSU do different from other Unions is that we don’t book big names and get them to do DJ sets – SUSU asks them to perform live acts which is more expensive.”

Regarding the theme, David was then asked if it was poorly conceived given the oldest performing bands are from 1997 when the theme features music as early as the 1960s. He replied that many of the older acts have disbanded, hence the tribute acts.

Next: Given that the event is currently running at a loss is it possible or financially viable to drop the price so that more people could come along and afford to do it?

He replied that this is really difficult to do after people have already bought tickets. He believed that the split payments were very important but he did wonder if the price was really a problem. He also stated that it was more difficult as SUSU has had a much more difficult financial year, partly because of a cut to the block grant received as a result of the University’s under-recruitment. Furthermore this meant fewer students could use SUSU’s venues and outlets. The Union doesn’t want to finish in a defecit and it’s a habit he does not want to break as it means investments in facilities – such as the Bridge’s rebuild – can happen.

Next: Which acts was David Mendoza-Wolfson looking forward to personally, and did he think they were all good?

He replied he was most looking forward to Labrinth but there was a wide range of good artists. He also mentioned how he saw S Club when he was younger and enjoyed them then.

Next: How can decorations cost £6,000?!

His reply: Easily! He confirmed there would be no gold painted acrobats but that decor in general is very expensive with things such as tablecloths and drapes being examples of the things that are suspiciously expensive.

Finally, he was asked about the fairground and the car park hire costs.

He confirmed that the Fairground and photo booths are going to be at the ball and would be free to use. The £5,000 to hire the car park is needed to house this and goes to the owners of Leisureworld and not Oceana. The figure also included licensing costs to the council and confirmed that the hire of Oceana is free.

With the questions over, David thanked everyone and stated once again his belief that the event would be “really good”.

After reading the Grad Ball Q&A, what are you thoughts on David Mendoza- Wolfson’s response?


History student and passionate writer about everything connected to Southampton and its rich tapestry of stories and history. Due to an unfortunate case of graduation, this writer is no longer active.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    Absolutely ridiculous. If they were insistent on putting in such a shoddy level of effort they could have organised a grad-only bloc party at a fraction of the cost and left the organisation to clubs who know what they’re doing. There’s already two cheaper, student run events which have been executed much better. At this point I would rather attempt a mass boycott and waste my fifty quid just to get back at them.

  2. avatar

    “The danger of having one big act, he reflected, is that it can multiply the student dissatisfaction if they don’t like them.” – Spot on – which is precisely why having more than half of the price per ticket going to Labyrinth was a moronic idea.

    For anyone who isn’t really that fused about Labyrinth (which I’m willing to bet covers the majority of students), the majority of their money has been completely wasted.

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