A society unlike any other – The Varsity

A society unlike any other – The Varsity

The founder brought a UK tradition to U of T. Credits: Maya Kamath-Patel. COURTESY OF MAYA KAMATH PATEL/VICTORIA POOL SOCIETY

How the casual social club turned into a student sensation

“It’s not about pool, it’s people wanting to go and have a good time and meet new people… it’s a social club with a backdrop of pool,” said Theo Sokol, president of the Victoria Pool Society (VPS). Sokol does not run your average university club; the VPS is quickly growing its numbers and is certainly carving out a unique and appealing niche — to the point that this purported pool society is looking to branch out into other sports and social activities.

It’s a simple premise — every month or so, students from across the university can sign up to play pool at the Annex Billiards Club on Bloor Street West, escape off campus, and meet new people. It’s a tried and tested means of bringing people together at universities around the world, but one that has been underutilized at U of T.

Originally from London, UK, Sokol told The Varsity: “English universities and the whole culture [there] is very different to what it is in Canada. It’s very relaxed, the societies are very easygoing… it’s all about creating a community.” 

The emphasis is very much on the social aspect of a society, with individuals coming together over any given activity rather than primarily focusing on the activity itself. “When I came to U of T, there was nothing like that. All the clubs are really cool, but they’re all on campus, they’re very focused on whatever the club is,” said Sokol. 

Originally set up after a few drinks by Sokol and some of his friends, the pool society was established last year as a small, low-key club where a few people would have fun over some casual pool games. However, just gaining funding for an off-campus activity, given that there are pool tables available at Victoria, was a struggle. “When we first got funding from Vic, they said to us, ‘Why do you need funding? There are pool tables at U of T,” Sokol recalled. “I was very blunt, I said, ‘That’s super uncool.’ We want people to go off-campus.”

But over the summer, the society “suddenly blew up.” The VPS Instagram account (@vicpoolsociety) grew its follower account tenfold, with demand for its monthly pool socials massively growing. “Everyone was seeing it on their social media, and now when we throw events [and] advertise them on social media, within a day, at least 100 people are signing up,” said Sokol. 

Such has been the growth in social media following and awareness that, as Sokol enthused, “I was at Gracey’s clubbing, and I was really chuffed when these two girls came up to me and went, ‘It’s you! You’re the guy from VPS. Everyone knows who you are.’ It was so weird.”

Currently at over 1,600 followers, Sokol predicts the VPS Instagram will exceed 2,000 in two weeks. He waxed lyrical about the society’s new graphic design and social media management team — Charles Akira, Maya Kamath-Patel and Magdalena Berton — that came in over the summer as well as about the nature of the interaction with followers. 

“It’s not just following, but our engagement rates are really, really high. I used to work for a boxing promotion company, and they specialized in events. I remember their engagement rates were five to seven per cent, which was really good. Our’s is 15 per cent — it’s social media gold.” He made an effort to point out that this growth has been organic, with no paid promotions or advertising.

The unexpected success of the VPS has led the group to consider branching into a wider array of extracurricular events. Sokol’s connection to boxing is one that the society is looking to expand upon. “One of the things I really want to do is promote a boxing event in Canada,” Sokol said. “In the UK, they have ‘student fight night.’ That’s never existed in Canada, nobody’s thought of it until now. How cool would it be — ‘VPS Box,’ the first student fight night in Canada. It’s really exciting and so different from everything else.”

Other events that the VPS is working on include a party in collaboration with the Kappa Alpha frat on December 1. He also made a cryptic allusion to a collaboration with a major brand sponsoring this event — “a really big firm, not the local convenience store” — and hopes to set up a monthly collaboration with a local nightclub.

The VPS began as an excuse to socialize over some pool, an excuse to take a mental and physical step away from the stresses of university with fellow students. Its casual but lively ambiance and novel approach to student life has seen it grow into one of the most in-demand and ambitious societies at U of T — one breaking the mould to bring people together in a refreshingly outward-facing, social fashion.


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