AROUND 25 STUDENTS took part in RAG’s first ever “Firewalk” event on Thursday evening, clambering over six metres of fire to raise money for charity.
RAG described the event, which took place on Bonn Square, as “mentally demanding and spiritually awakening”, but as organisers found out, coordinating the event has been equally mentally demanding.
Plagued with difficulties since its conception, organisers had to battle with resistance from Oxford Council, health and safety hazards, insurance issues, and a lukewarm reception from Oxford students.
William Tilston, the event organiser, admitted to Cherwell, “It has not been the simplest thing in the world to organise. The event is taking place on Council land so seeking Council permission for it has been an eye-opening journey into the world of admin and forms.”
The need to submit a detailed six-page application for the event, risk assessments, insurance certificates and an in-depth site plan of the area took the organising team by surprise.
However, getting Council permission was only one of the difficulties facing the organisers — with the event initially struggling to attract interest, organisers were forced to halve the overall fundraising target from £10,000 to £5,000.
Tilston told Cherwell, “I can confirm that the fundraising target was indeed halved, through a series of connected reasons. The original event leader for the “Firewalk” unfortunately pulled out over the summer, and I filled in the vacancy. However, this reshuffle sadly left us behind what would have been the ideal schedule, and subsequently our ability to publicise the event was also pushed back; understandably, the council does not allow publicity for an event that it has not yet approved.”
He added, “All things considered, I would say that this slightly late publicity push did lead to a lower than expected turnout in participants.”
Responding to queries about their expected turnout, Tilston explained, “Certainly with its established events, such as Jailbreak and the RAG Ball, it is far easier to calculate an ‘expected turnout’, but with new events, especially potentially intimidating ones such as the “Firewalk”, this is far harder. Furthermore, it is easier to scale back grand plans but from RAG’s point of view, to under-commit to and limit an event that turned out to have a really popular uptake would be a massive shame.”
There were suggestions that due to low turnout, the RAG com- mittee themselves were forced to sign up, but Tilston insisted that such accusations were “unfair”. He explained, “A quarter of particiants have some affiliation with RAG, but I’m not sure it is controversial that some people who give up their free time in Oxford to organise charitable events are participating themselves in a charitable event! There was a suggestion to some of the committee, who were interested in the event but thought they might have to act as stewards, to participate instead, but not so much as a fundraising measure as a means of publicity.
“It turns out it is rather hard to plug a firewalk and say it is safe when you yourself are not doing it, and so the move was an effective tool to increase numbers more than simply a mat- ter of fundraising.”
One student who decided not to get involved with the project told Cherwell, “It’s not surprising really they’ve had no interest — you have to raise £125 to get involved, and that’s a pretty big barrier to entry.”
Another anonymous student complained, “Organisers have been a bit complacent — they’ve told us to raise money from our JCRs when they don’t seem to realise we’ve got limit- ed resources.” The event’s website states, “Most college JCRs/MCRs have money set aside just for charity events. Just raise a JCR motion and it’s likely to be accepted.”
Immediately prior to the event, 25 participants had signed up with the total raised standing at just over £3,500 – £1,500 short of the reduced total target. With donations remaining open for another month, the total money raised will be split equally between RAG’s four charities this year: Oxford Homeless Pathways, KEEN Oxford, Against Malaria Foundation and 28 Too Many.
Tilston added, “I am incredibly thankful to our fundraisers for their guts in signing up and for all their hard work in raising money!”