Fantastic Bries & Where to Find Them

By Thomas Hodgson, AKA Thodge

One thing had been troubling me for a while in my time as SJCR (St John’s Common Room) Treasurer. We spent far more money on sports than we did on societies. If only there was something we could do to boost society expenditure.

It was on a walk to Finchale Priory that the idea for Cheese Soc was born. “What if the SJCR bought cheese, and gave it out to the members for free?” Free cheese for all. A beautiful vision, and one which would endure throughout the society’s life. Henry, Andrew, Chris, Abi, Esther and I discussed the idea on our walk, and settled on making a society for cheese, led by a Cheese Board, and headed up by a Big Cheese. I made a post in my fresher’s group to test the waters and it got lots of likes, so I was assured that the demand was there. The people wanted the cheese. They just needed me to bring it to them.

Cheese soc walk

But this walk happened post-exams in my first year, and we didn’t have any JCR meetings left until my second year. Cheese Soc would have to wait, as we needed to ratify the society and get funding. And so Cheese Soc remained an idea over summer, dormant, but not forgotten. Like a piece of cheese that you’re saving for later at the back of the fridge.

Second year arrived, and it was time to form the society and get some funding. Thankfully the common room treasurer at the time (me) was also keen for Cheese Soc to come into being, and so funding shouldn’t be too hard to secure. First though, we needed a motion to create the society, which I prepared for the first meeting of term.

However, there was a catch. Ruth (Vice President) and Dan (Treasurer), my two “known” cheese board members at the time, were watching a play on the night of the meeting, and the rest of the JCR exec insisted that I couldn’t propose it myself because it wouldn’t look very impartial. And thus it fell to Zoe Cranmer to propose the motion that would birth the society.

The mood in the room was tense. The motions section of the meeting was drawing to a close, with Cheese Soc being the final motion before hustings for MCR VP. You could’ve cut the tension in the room with a cheese knife.

Zoe boldly proclaimed the greatness of cheese to the baying crowds while I watched on with great trepidation. The crowds were not sated by Zoe’s husting, and began to bombard her with queries. “Will you comply with health and safety procedures?” asked one person. “How cheesy would you say the society will be?” asked another. “How will you purchase the cheese?” “Where will you source it from?” The relentless questioning continued relentlessly.

Nevertheless, Zoe trooped through boldly, and the motion was carried on a victorious AYE. Cheese Soc was born.

Following the meeting, many more people realised the greatness of cheese and its namesake society, and opted to join the board. We gained Andrew (Publicity), Nicola (Social sec) and Priya (Cracker consultant (we consulted her about crackers, she didn’t talk to crackers (If she did, she’d be the one who was crackers))) and we were set to go. We held our first (and, as it conspired, only) cheese board meeting in person, which occurred in the Bowes room a few days after the SJCR meeting. We got our plans in place, and were ready to meet, but for one issue; we didn’t have any money to buy cheese with. We would have to return to the SJCR.

Once again, I wrote a motion that I didn’t propose, but this time Dan Foggin wasn’t watching a play, so was able to give the motion. We requested a mere £80 for our first meeting. Dan spoke well, but Sophie Nicholls repeatedly questioned the need for that level of money. “Market cheese is expensive” she said, “and you’ll be buying loads of cheese”. “Do you need that much money?”

“Yes” replied Dan, which was exactly what I was thinking at the time.

But Sophie’s final question was notably odd. “What will you do with leftover cheese?” she asked. I was confused by this; why would there ever be cheese left over?

Fighting through the opposing forces once again, Cheese Soc struck itself its second AYE. With the society ratified and funding secured, we were ready for our first meeting.

The society met for the first time on 23rd November, which is famously known for being the day directly before the 24th November. The board took our first trip together to the covered market, buying Black Bomber, Northumberland Nettle, Camenbert Rustique and Blue Stilton. We wrote funky little cards with the names of the cheeses and a couple of details about them. It was looking pretty funky. We were ready for the students now, but were the students ready for cheese?

They were! Crowds came pouring through the door! I then told them to stop pouring through the door and to queue nicely instead, and soon there was a queue out the door (which admittedly only required about 10 people, as the room wasn’t very long, but it still felt impressive). We got over 50 people throughout the course of the night, and they valiantly worked together to devour all of the cheese. I victoriously sent pictures of the empty cheese packets to Sophie Nicholls, asking what we should do with the leftover cheese. She replied “top effort”, but I could tell it was killing her inside.

From this point, Cheese Soc rolled on as gloriously as a wheel of cheese rolling down a hill. The benevolent SJCR Treasurer (still me) generously gave us an annual budget of, like, £250, so we were set for the year. We held another meeting in each Epiphany and Easter terms, electing a new Cheese Board in the latter.

Cheese Soc played a key role in the fresher’s video that year, with a half-minute long speech from me forming the crux of the video. They also gave me some cheese to eat while talking about the society, so it was a massive win on all fronts really. Free cheese remained the key principal of Cheese Soc.

Cheese Soc proved hugely popular in our first year at the fresher’s Sports & Societies fair (probably because we were giving out free cheese). The numbers on our Facebook group swelled, but it was growing clear that 1 meeting a term was not enough to sustain the cheese lust consuming our members. We would need to push for a budget increase. Sadly I was no longer SJCR treasurer, and so could not grant this budget myself; this fell to Fraser Arnold.

Thankfully Frarnold and I were on good terms. I thought this meant we could get loads of money, so I asked for £500 a year in the hope of moving up to 2 meetings a term. This was sadly rejected, and we ended up settling on £380 (2 meetings for every term except Easter, as that was exam term, plus a bit for the fair). And thus Cheese Soc received a poisoned chalice, in a way. Yes, we were getting more meetings each year, but our per-meeting budget had dropped from £80 to £70. The crowds at Cheese Soc could get pretty ravenous; would £70 of cheese be enough to sustain them?

No, it turned out, and in Cheese Soc’s biggest tragedy since Sophie Nicholls’ questioning, we ran out of cheese less than half an hour into the first meeting. People kept arriving at the door, seeking cheese. “Where is the cheese, Thodge?” they would ask me. I was forced to answer, despondently “we’re ran out”. This wasn’t how it was meant to be, Cheese Soc was meant to provide free cheese to all. How could we provide free cheese to all if we ran out of cheese?

I therefore adopted my new budgeting tactic of “buy more cheese and don’t worry about the budget”, which seemed to work out fine as by the end of the year, we had somehow underspent enough to not be at risk of a budget cut.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Cheese Soc was about to enter a time of great change, and I was about to make a decision that would greatly change the future of the society in ways which I still don’t fully understand; I was about to step down as Big Cheese.

It was coming up to time to elect a new Cheese Board and, while I was still set to be a student for another year, I had begun to look to the long-term future of the society. It had ran well for the past two years, but if the society had never known leadership besides mine, how would it cope when I suddenly disappeared? I didn’t want to graduate just after stepping down as Big Cheese, and so instead, I decided that the society should have a new Big Cheese for the upcoming year, to give time to iron out the handover.

George would be that new Big Cheese, with a Board consisting of Laura (Secrebrie), Fergus (Treas-gruyere) and Victoria (Hallouminations officer). George and I took a cheese buying trip together where I believed that I explained the key principles of the society (free cheese for all), but while the first meeting featured a good spread of cheese including baked cheese goodies (Laura Baker lived up to her name), publicity faltered somewhat. I hadn’t properly explained the importance of publicity and getting mentioned in Comms emails (as it had been somewhat of a given for me last year, given I was also Comms) and turnout was sadly low. Cheese was left over. Somewhere far away in Wales, I could hear Sophie Nicholls laughing at me. Would this be the end of the society?

No! Cheese Soc rallied, with plenty of Facebook spam for the future meetings. Baked goodies continued, and I had enough time observing the society to be able to understand what needed to be written into a handover type document. Hopefully, by stepping aside and letting someone else take up the mantle of Big Cheese, I had secured the future of the society.

Cheese Soc lives on to this day, with Peter as the newest Big Cheese. I got a society award for my work with Cheese Soc, which I feel is my biggest victory from my time as a student. There are still roles open on the Cheese Board for this year, so if you’re fond of cheese yourself, feel free to try and join on.

Cheese Soc shall endure. “Free cheese for all” shall endure. Cheese nostra Victoria.

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