In 2004 the SU, along with other student bodies, rallied together to protect the Architecture triposVarsity archives

Amid the current crisis of confidence in Cambridge’s SU, I entered the Varsity archives to read about historic and successful protest movements led by our Students’ Union, back when it was known as CUSU. There are many forgotten episodes in the university’s recent history, but one in particular stands out. In it, we see many parallels with the Cambridge of today, along with a few familiar faces.

The Cambridge of twenty years ago saw students, led by one Wes Streeting, engage in a hard-fought but ultimately successful campaign to prevent the closure of the Architecture Department. Three major student bodies (Varsity, ARCSOC and CUSU) came together to stave off the loss of Cambridge’s creative core; this was a powerful, though not unprecedented, act of defiance among Cambridge students being led by their SU.

Before becoming Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting was 'Mr CUSU'Varsity archives

The ‘Hands Off Architecture’ movement began after the School of Arts and Humanities proposed to shut the Architecture Department down, following failed attempts to restructure and downsize. Recently elected CUSU President Wes Streeting and ARCSOC president Luke McLaren “joined forces” to protest the planned closure. A mass march from Scroope Terrace to Senate House on Monday 29th November 2004 was planned in response. The University, in collaboration with the Cambridgeshire constabulary, blocked the students’ access to Senate House; the march, nevertheless, went on. After receiving national coverage, and attracting support from famous alumni like Griff Rhys Jones, the University conceded to the movement’s demands a few months later.


Mountain View

Vintage Varsity: Click here to graduate

‘Hands off Architecture’ declared victory on the front page of Varsity’s January 2005 print edition. The fight was over, and the students had won. Almost two decades on, the Architectural Department itself is now expanding to include a new four-year Design Tripos. Wes Streeting has since gone on to do bigger (though not necessarily better) things. It seems, then, that our SU is the only character in this story to have fallen by the wayside. The success of the ‘Hands Off Architecture’ campaign should remind us that, far from being an inept or lacklustre body, the Cambridge SU was once a force to be reckoned with.