When getting to this University, Wilf Vall expected solidarity among his Northern peers. Instead, he found a strange "one-upmanship of disadvantage"Louis Ashworth with permission for Varsity

Before Cambridge, I’d never really experienced much of the North-South divide. While I knew about it – we all knew the streets were paved of gold once you crossed the Humber, and every now and then Michael Gove would say some buzzwords about levelling up on the news – I hadn’t really lived it. Other than my Hertfordshire born cousins snickering at the way I say my a’s (the bastards), I didn’t perceive my northernness as anything other than normal.

Then, one sunny September morning, I took the long train ride down to the dreaded south: Cambridge. A world of opportunity and received pronunciation. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I made my way through the Georgian court that I was to call home, eagerly searching for the first of a long list of freshers icebreaker events. Here in a circle of awkward tension we all went around asking: so where are you from? Hackney, Kingston, Buckinghamshire, the list of London boroughs and home counties went on. All of a sudden I found myself scrambling, trying to find other northern voices.

Eventually I found them, and for a fleeting moment order was restored. I had people to complain with about how long it took to get here and the price of pints. Then something strange happened. Their expression of Northern Pride was not a love of chips and gravy, but a boast of how “awful” it is up there, and how southerners don’t get deprivation. Even when said southerners went to an underfunded state school, while the northerner who was claiming to have it tough, has a second home in Bordeaux. Yikes. This wasn’t regional solidarity, it was a strange and malicious attempt at justifying the enormous chip on their shoulder.

“The issue starts when people conflate “northern culture” with deprivation”

This sneering was not what I expected from the people of my homeland, and was also just downright weird. Acting like someone’s struggles pail in comparison to yours just because of where you live is odd enough, but dressing up the real life deprivation as a “northern aesthetic” is just classism.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still elated to meet someone I can complain about the price of a pint with, or bond over a shared hatred of Thatcher. The issue starts when people conflate “northern culture” with deprivation, and make out that their posh grammar school and massive house in the suburbs don’t count as privilege because they’re in the Wirral.

“There’s no denying that Cambridge has a North-South divide”

Admittedly, the general population of Cambridge don’t help in this; to the average land economist from Surrey, a dropped h is code for a pit row terrace and 100 hour shifts down’t mines. But by playing up and fetishising these stereotypes, northern students simply reinforce the regional differences they’re complaining about.


Mountain View

Thanks Debbie Prentice, but a trip to the North West isn't enough

There’s no denying that Cambridge has a North-South divide. The most recent Cambridge admissions report illustrates this; over half of Cambridge students come from the home counties and London, with only 1.9% coming from the North East. But the secret about the northerners in Cambridge is that a lot of them share one key thing with the majority of their peers: they’re really bloody posh. In a time that Cambridge is seeing its class divide widening, from the scrapping of state school targets in admissions to cuts to University hardship funds, trivialising these disadvantages by putting regional inequalities on some kind of a pedestal only adds to the problem.

To be clear, I love Cambridge’s northern community. Some of my favourite memories from first year were meeting up with fellow northerners to watch Newcastle pummelling PSG, or dressing up as Barry Chuckle for Northern Society’s Halloween pub crawl. But the kind of one-upmanship of disadvantage some northerners engage in just provides an obstacle to actually recognising the inequalities in Cambridge. There’s an echo of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshire Men to it, with some miners proudly recalling over exaggerated stories of the hardship and woe that comes with being from the north. The difference is that the sketch was meant to be a parody, whilst some of the Northern community in Cambridge seem to lean into it as reality.