Champagne Society ball cancelled for third time after 2016 drugs and sex scandal

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The Durham University Champagne Society summer ball, which was this year organised jointly with Durham Gin society, has been cancelled for a third time, the Society has said. This means that has not been able to hold a ball for four years. 

The Gin and Champagne ball was due to take place on June 25th at Beamish Hall, near Stanley. However, Beamish Hall made the decision not to host the Champagne Society, stating that the event can go ahead as a Gin Society ball “with no association to the Champagne Society”. Palatinate understands that Gin Society has opted to cancel the ball altogether.

The Champagne Society, which was established in 2011, made national headlines in 2016 when it was investigated after concerns were raised about students taking drugs, openly having sex and jumping naked into a pond during a summer ball which took place at Hardwick Hall Hotel, near Sedgefield, and was attended by 1,300 people.

The Society was briefly placed on probation by Durham Students’ Union (DSU) in 2016 after its Chief Executive was asked by the University to investigate the events of the ball “on the basis of the potentially life-threatening combination of excessive alcohol and students entering the water at Hardwick Hall.” It continues to operate as a DSU-affiliated society, however.

“It is gutting that our society, with a new executive committee and members, should still be subjected to false assumptions based on events from five years ago.”

Durham University Champagne Society

In a post on Facebook, Durham University Champagne Society described the decision by Beamish Hall as “gutting”.

The group said: “Our chosen venue, Beamish Hall, has decided to withdraw their initial agreement to host our ball. Their reason is because they do not want to associate themselves with our society.

“It is gutting that our society, with a new executive committee and members, should still be subjected to false assumptions based on events from five years ago.

“Despite our efforts and planning these past few months, we’ve been let down. We understand the disappointment and frustration this has caused amongst you as we feel very much the same.

“Looking to the future we hope to overturn the criticism we face and are determined to amend relations with Beamish Hall and other venues in Durham. In terms of small scale events we are hoping to host a champagne tasting this term to celebrate 10 years of Durham Champagne Society.

“We are truly sorry that this has happened and can only promise that we will do everything in our power to host a Champagne Ball once more.” 

The Champagne Society posted a screenshot of an email allegedly from Beamish Hall, in which they defended their decision, saying: “We would be more than happy to engage in conversations with the Champagne Society and other organisations about any further that they may wish to hold at Beamish Hall, however this is part of a much larger conversation that needs to happen and will include various organisations that we simply will not be able to coordinate in the time scale prior to the event on the 25th June.”

Despite claims of an “initial agreement” by Durham University Champagne Society that the Hall would host the Gin and Champagne ball, Beamish Hall told Palatinate that “the event was still at enquiry stage” and “no contractual agreement or money had been exchanged” between it and the societies. 

Beamish Hall also told Palatinate that their decision not to host events for the Champagne Society is “not recent, it is something the company decided on a number of years ago.” However, they reiterated that “we have not cancelled the event, that was the Gin Society’s decision.

“Unfortunately, reviewing Champagne Society’s current position/situation wouldn’t have been achievable in the timescale we were working with as we have just re-opened and consultations would have been required with Police, Licensing etc. to progress forward.”

When asked by Palatinate what the “initial agreement” with Beamish Hall entailed, Champagne Society said: “We had a working agreement with them to organise the ball. We had met to discuss the venue and they were happy to proceed and were aware that it would be with Champagne Society.

“However, after asking to receive the contract they became hesitant. And that’s when they took the decision to ask Gin society to drop Champagne society. However, Gin Society decided against this opting rather to not have the ball.”

The Champagne Society summer ball has been cancelled for four years running. It was cancelled in 2018 and replaced by a “tasting master class”. The summer ball was cancelled again in 2019 due to police concerns, after it was jointly organised by the Champagne Society and Durham University Polo Club. The Society was unable to hold a ball in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

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