Lucy Cavendish CollegeNatalie Abbott

Like a number of mature students at Cambridge, I don’t have A-Levels. Instead, at the age of 21, I undertook an ‘Access to Higher Education’ course at a local college. Upon researching potential universities, I discovered that the University of Cambridge accepts access courses and that the mature colleges in particular are passionate about them. I decided to apply, but it wasn’t the University and its grandeur, or even the course that appealed to me — it was the ability to become a member of a mature women’s college. From the moment I found the Lucy Cavendish website, I felt like I’d discovered an important secret that I wanted to keep safe. Everything I read appealed to me, but especially the idea of a small tight-knit community, almost like a sisterhood. I felt determined that this was the place that I was going to call home for the next few years, and after applying directly to Lucy, that’s exactly what I did.

From the moment I arrived at Lucy, it felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I loved the college atmosphere, and there really was something for everyone. I got involved with access events and the college SU, worked in the college bar, and DJed at some of the iconic Lucy bops. The makeup of the student body — with one SU rather than a J/MCR — made it easy to cross the divide between undergraduates and graduates and as a result, many of the great friends that I made were graduate students.

“I believed that Lucy had something special and I didn’t want that to disappear”

After an exciting first year however, things started to change. We were informed that the college was considering changing its entry criteria. I remember rumours flying around as to why this was being considered — the two main ones being a lack of funds and a lack of direct applications. The college held consultations about this prospect and opinions were mixed. These consultations felt like a formality for many, as it seemed the decision had already been made, but I didn’t want my college to change. I believed that Lucy had something special and I didn’t want that to disappear.

The announcement was made, and the official line was that Lucy was diversifying and widening participation for more people from under-represented backgrounds. For a long time, I was really upset by this decision. Not because of the focus on those from underrepresented backgrounds, but because this could still have been a focus within the parameters of the old entry criteria. I was extremely proud to work with the LGBTQ+ and Women’s Officers in my first year on a consultation about the transgender admissions policies at Lucy, and although it was a battle, it seemed like actual progress could be made — yet this seemed to fall to the wayside in light of the ‘big announcement’. Another demographic that could have been focused on were student parents. While I have been at Lucy, there have always been student parents, but the lack of student accommodation for anyone with a partner or children seemed short-sighted to me. The size of the change also made it quite scary. It would have been more comfortable to change to just a mature college, or just a women’s college, but it felt like a really big leap to make all in one go. However, the decision was made and a leap it was. The only solace I felt I had was that I would have graduated by the time the changes came into effect.

“I cannot say that I have fully accepted the changes at Lucy yet, but I am starting to come to terms with them”

As we all know, the pandemic turned university experiences upside down. This has meant that my final year, and Lucy’s final year as a mature women’s college, did not take place in person. When I found this out, it felt like an anti-climactic end to my time at Cambridge. However, this was not to be the end of my Lucy journey. I applied for an MPhil course at Cambridge for 2021 entry. I did not apply directly to Lucy this time, instead hoping to be accepted to a mature college and, eventually, I was. I started to envision myself as a member of another college. And then, one day in May, I received an email offering me a scholarship. However, there was one condition: this scholarship was specific to Lucy Cavendish and to accept it, I would have to change college — back to Lucy. After some consideration, and some contemplation about the future of Lucy, I decided to accept the opportunity.


Mountain View

You’re never too old for University

I cannot say that I have fully accepted the changes at Lucy yet, but I am starting to come to terms with them. The college seems to be working hard towards its goal of widening participation, with 60% of the incoming undergraduates coming from “backgrounds that are either disadvantaged or underrepresented at Cambridge”. Despite my feelings about the decisions that were made, there is no denying the benefits that already exist because of them. As time goes on, and I see these benefits in person, I am sure that it will be easier to accept the loss of what once was.

So here I am, ready to start again at Lucy Cavendish. It will be a fresh start with a few familiar faces, and as hard as it has been to mourn the mature women’s college, I am excited to be there for the start of something new.