Cellars being student-run is what makes it great.Maia Livne with permission for Varsity

Picture this: it’s a Thursday or Friday night. Bored by the monotony of the library and tired of staring absent-mindedly at your laptop screen, you pack up and head to Old Court – towards the chapel, specifically – but the chapel is not what you’re here for. You enter a side door and follow a narrow staircase down to another door, a glass door – it really looks like it should be a push, but you know that it’s a pull. You’re met with the smiles of the bartenders; your friend is on shift tonight. The sound of music, just a bit too loud, fills the room to its arched brick ceilings, always a reflection of whoever is working. The somehow both sweet and acrid taste of Clare lager tingles on your tongue, and in you go. Tattered but absurdly comfortable sofas, cluttered sound equipment, and an uneven and mysteriously sticky pool table: you are in Clare Cellars, and life is good.

Cellars is one of the most popular college bars in Cambridge. Universally loved for events like Clare Jazz and Queer Night, it is a social space of central importance, for both the Clare community and for the University as a whole. It is also, for now, one of the only entirely student-run college bars left.

“Cellars being student-run is at the heart of its tradition and culture”

It functions clearly and transparently: there’s a bar president, who until this year was chosen by the outgoing president (now, they also have to be approved unanimously by college management) who oversees the running of the bar, and a committee of Clare students: shift-manager, treasurer, stock, bookings, maintenance, and events – and then, of course, there are the bar workers. Shifts are organised on a flexible basis, which provides students with the opportunity to earn some extra cash without jeopardising their studies. This philosophy trickles down, cultivating one of the most relaxed and friendly bar atmospheres in Cambridge.

Despite the success of this tried-and-true model, the committee were recently informed by the College, with no forewarning, that they have begun interviewing candidates for a “newly created role”: an external bar supervisor, “with the main responsibility of running the College Student Bar.” The successful applicant would “manage the student Bar Workers, be in charge of the rotas, ordering of stock and manage the Bar and JCR Events bookings” – in other words, a job description which outlines exactly what the existing bar committee already does, and very successfully at that.

“A fundamental lack of respect by the college towards its student workers”

This announcement has understandably sparked outrage from Clare’s student body and alumni. Cellars being student-run is at the heart of its tradition, culture, and appeal to prospective students: simply put, it’s what makes it great. A survey of current students and Clare alumni compiled by the Bar Committee revealed widespread disapproval of the decision, with many seeing it as evidence of the colleges fundamental lack of respect for its student workers. Others felt patronised and expressly uncomfortable at the prospect of having an external person supervising them on shifts. “I feel deeply saddened that college does not value its students enough to trust them and allow them agency in their own college,” expressed one bar worker. “Who is the bar for, if not for its students?”

Clare College administrators appear to view students working in the bar as a hobby or an extracurricular activity. This is completely out of touch: as enjoyable and fulfilling as bar work is, it is also a much-needed source of income for many, even more so in light of the current cost of living crisis. The unnecessary hiring of a bar supervisor should be seen for what it is: the first step in the killing of Clare Cellars, which jeopardises its role as a safe and inclusive social space as much as it threatens the financial security and livelihood of its student workers.


Mountain View

Leader: student spaces are under threat from colleges – we must defend them

The motive for this callous decision is no mystery: a former bar president stated that they were, upon being appointed, “charged with the task of making the Bar as profitable as possible”. Well, it’s not for anyone at all it would seem, but rather for the financial benefit of the College. Unsurprisingly, it seems student workers were not good enough at prioritising the College’s financial interests above the needs of other students.

Clare’s college administrators are not the first to sacrifice character and affordability to maximise profits. King’s and Selwyn are among the latest victims of this trend, with the former’s bar now colloquially referred to as the “Premier Inn Bar”, fit for conference attendees and wealthy donors with overpriced drinks to boot. Making profit the sole purpose of a student bar – especially Cellars which, crucially, also serves as the College JCR – goes against everything colleges should seek to nurture and protect. This is a university, after all, not a business.