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The Value of Formal Dinner-By Louis McCaig-White

When I started at St. Anselm Hall in the autumn of 2018, I knew almost nothing of its numerous traditions and unique elements. Though initially sceptical of many of these, having never encountered anything of this kind during my school years. However, there was one that soon became an indispensable element of my week above all others: formal.

We live in an era when university halls are becoming increasingly fractured and commercial across the UK – a destructive fire spreading long before the accelerant of COVID-19 – with many halls scarcely being fit to bear the name of a ‘living community’. Formal helps St. Anselm Hall buck this trend and, in my view, stands alongside Chapel and the Cellar Club as one of the most crucial elements achieving that.

There are some obvious aspects that show the value of formal for students here and now: a full meal at the end of every day is something many incoming students struggle to find the time for atop what can quickly become an overwhelming work load for many. Poor eating habits are not to be overlooked and can have a major impact on student wellbeing. The definite knowledge that such a meal will be there at a set time and place five days a week is also a permanence and consistency that I personally found difficult to find at the start of my undergraduate degree. Inconsistent and spread-out lecture and seminar times across the week is a major change from the consistent – though undeniably at times grinding and monotonous – nature of secondary education. This unifying element extends to the structure of the hall also. It brings together all elements of the hall, undergraduates, staff, RESlife, the JCR, and the occasional guest from the university or elsewhere. This intermingling and physical presence helps break down the often impersonal, corporate, and bureaucratic feel the modern university can tend to evoke.

I first felt the major place formal held in my life in my second year, the same time I began to feel truly bedded into the hall. In my first semester I had a seminar on campus that ran from 5-6pm covering Early Medieval Europe. As winter came in and the days darker and colder, the warm glow of the common room’s lights, buffeted by the silhouettes of gown-clad Anselmians as I dashed back to be there in time always brought a smile to my face. I wasn’t coming back from a grey day on campus to sit in my room and eat whatever my tired hands could be bothered to muster, rather, I was returning to friends, a hot meal, lively conversation, and even a cup of tea should I be fast enough as the Anselmian host pressed through into the dining hall.

These elements I feel show that formal, as it has been in the past, must remain a central piece of life in St. Anselm Hall come its reopening next year.


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