Features sub editor Olly catches up with The Pirate Society to find out how they became Sussex Uni’s Best New Society 2020.
Words by Olly Williams
The earliest documented instance of piracy was in the 14th century BC, when the ‘Sea Peoples’, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. It took Sussex University about another 3,500 years to catch up on the trend, but better late than never we now have our own Pirate Society. After a great year of making waves and being a sort of piracy the SU can endorse, this eccentric crew pulled into port just in time to claim the 2019-2020 ‘Best New Society’ award.
I found myself a part of this story after encountering the surreal spectacle that is The Pirate Society, at Fresher’s fair. It’s been an absolute joy to be emerge myself in the lawless chaos of the pirate spirit reimaged for the 21st century campus. I caught up with my crewmates, Captain Rhys and Quartermaster Ben, to find out what it’s really been like to steer the ship.
What gave you the idea of starting/joining a Pirate Society?
Captain Rhys: It’s difficult to pin down exactly why I started it. It came to me randomly whilst I was watching Netflix. I was planning a pirate birthday pub crawl and just kind of realised suddenly that this could be a cool society. Also just really wanted to dress as a pirate as much as possible.
Quartermaster Ben: I’d never joined a society before when Rhys asked me to join. Pirates seemed like as good an idea as any. It’s right up my alley, dressing up and acting like kids. It didn’t matter if it went anywhere, it just seemed like a laugh.
What’s are people’s initial expectations of the society?
Captain Rhys: From what I’ve seen, people don’t really know what to expect! The main question I always get is “so what do you actually do at pirate society?”. There’s definitely a perceived image of hyper masculinity or Pirates of the Caribbean-esque campiness but it can honestly be whatever. The most liberating thing about it is that you can do such random things since you essentially have a theme rather than a specific activity or cause.
What’s it actually like onboard?
Captain Rhys: We definitely try to be as authentically representative of who we are as the individuals running it as possible. We try to create both a progressive and inclusive environment. Both I (The Captain) and Olly (First Mate) are Non-Binary so this helps with being inclusive towards other LGBTQ+ people. There are always areas to improve like doing more work to be anti-racist and support Black Lives Matter in a more direct way but also having a frank discussion about the colonial impacts of 17th/18th century European pirates rather than just talking about the romanticised version so often portrayed.
Quartermaster Ben: It showed me just how little organisation things can run on, saying that, my job consisted entirely of deciding when it was time to tweet on the society twitter. Every time Baseball season rolled around, #pirates was flooded with nothing but baseball content, so thanks Pittsburgh Pirates.
What’s been your favourite event?
Captain Rhys: My favourite event was the first pub crawl, Pirate Pub Crawl I: The First of Many. It was the first time I’d ever run a pirate event (second time id run a society event in general) and didn’t expect it to go so well. It was all so new and so many people came! (Like 60!!) It really meant so much to me because most of the people came just to support me and the quirky idea I came up with. It was honestly the perfect event and it was so much fun! I remember having both the fortune of War and tempest, whacking on some pirate bangers and it was just beautiful. Was also the first time I went to CHALK which was indeed the first of many!
Quartermaster Ben: I think probably the 2nd Pub Crawl. By that time, we’d had a few events and it felt like we’d built up a little family. I was sceptical that anyone would want to dress up as a pirate and come to events, so It was nice to start seeing the same faces all having fun.
How did it feel to win Best New Society?
Captain Rhys: I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that we managed to get to the top three let alone win it. The fact that the little idea I had in my living room took on a life of its own and became a campus wide name still baffles me today. I’m so thankful to the people who came to the events, who were so down for some silly fun, and I’m just really happy that it’s actually a real thing. It’s always so freeing just dressing up and doing fun silly things that you don’t get to do normally.
As we continue into the strange and uncharted waters of the COVID 19 pandemic, one thing can be said for certain: pirates are back in fashion and here to stay.
You can find the Pirate Society on Instagram: @sussexpirates, on Facebook as The Pirate Society or on Twitter @sussexpirates.