St Benet’s Hall is a unique Oxford college experience that is one of the best places to study at the university.The main difference of St. Benet’s is the importance placed on community with every member looking out for their peers. In this respect, St Benet’s is both traditional and modern, using the history of the benedictine order’s emphasis on family, and updating it to the diverse and secular student body. The closeness and friendliness that St Benet’s Hall prides itself on is something which cannot be experienced in many other, larger colleges. Especially during the pandemic, St.Benets hall and its JCR has remained in close contact with students even when barriers have made it impossible for all to be physically present in Oxford.
The formals are a fitting example of the community. Whereas in other colleges there is a High Table for the Master and Fellows, there is purposefully no such difference in the refectory (dining hall) of St.Benet’s. Every member of the college sits at the main table next to undergraduates, postgraduates, tutors and the religious community.This even took place during the UK lockdowns, where the kitchen and dining room remained open via the use of screens and social distancing measures. Despite the lack of guests, St Benets was one of the few colleges to maintain some degree of normalcy at meal times by these actions. Hopefully soon, we will return back to pre-pandemic, which was one of the best aspects about pre-pandemic meals.
St Benet’s excels academically especially in Humanities subjects but increasingly in other disciplines . All students are supported by the excellent tutors in the Hall, many of whom are leaders in their fields, who are invested in making sure that each student has the best learning experience possible, and are present in both the academic and pastoral spheres of the university experience. St Benet’s participates in the Opportunities Oxford scheme; a supportive and bridging programme for offer holders. The aim with academia, like most other aspects of uni life, is to provide support that produces better outcomes. This is borne out by high percentages of firsts relative to our size.
The JCR, unlike other colleges is a joint common room where undergrad and grad students alike interact and are an important part of the Hall. The JCR also ensures that extracurriculars such as sports and drama, are well catered for at St Benet’s. Our Boat Club is a well-established in Oxford College Rowing and continues to achieve success in Christ Church, Torpids and Summer VIIIs regattas. This year, the men's boat achieved the impressive feat of blades and jumping up the ranks 9 places; a feat only bettered by 5 other boats since torpids began. Other sports teams include football, mixed hockey, a rugby 7s team, and a netball team. The JCR also provides financial support to our university athletes, and we have the highest percentage of blues out of all colleges.
Drama and art are also key aspects of the Hall’s life. Every summer, the JCR puts on a Garden Play open to friends and invited guests, and a famous talent show known as the ‘Smoker’. The St Benet’s choir sings regularly at college events such as Guest Nights and music is an appreciated part of college life. Student journalism has also been a big success at St. Benet’s with a number of the members being section editors at the major student news paper. One of our students, Natasha Tan, was the editor in chief of the Oxford student for Trinity term 2021 which shows how Benets outpunches its size. These activities foster a sense of belonging and community unique to our Hall.
Several social events are hosted by the JCR throughout the year. There is a termly JCR Party; an event open to the members of the Hall and their guests, where they can enjoy food, drinks and music, and unlike in many other colleges is entirely free. The newly established JCR Bar, open after formals, provides cheap drinks and a great place of congregation, relaxing and interacting.
It is an incredibly exciting time to be part of the JCR, as the Hall is experiencing dynamic changes. The increasing of the number of students with different backgrounds means that the JCR is adapting and transforming with the Hall. The acquisition of Norham Gardens in 2015 has opened up more opportunities for us to host bigger events and utilise the space in new ways. Moreover, St. Benet’s hall is one of the best places to do in-person events given our small size, and hard-working JCR. This has already enabled us to retain a sense of community in these strange times which will only be strengthened once normalcy returns . Our sense of community is indiscriminate, and we are able to successfully cater for undergraduates, graduates, and Visiting Academics alike. The JCR is embracing these changes whilst continuing to uphold and triumph the important values which make the St Benet’s experience the most unique in Oxford.
If you are interested in St Benet’s, or would like further information about the Hall, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Dominic Enright, JCR President, TT21