Joseph Vambe was one of the first two students to recieve the Cambridge scholarship when it began in 2018Raph_PH / Wikimedia commons

Cambridge is home to many secret societies, most of them drinking clubs occupied by curtain-donning men called Hugo, admitted on the basis of the school badge that sits on their LinkedIn profile. One, more exclusive than the rest, meets once a year in a marquee with Stormzy. These students are gathered not because of their school, but through their successful applications to one of the most famous scholarships in the world. This is the group of past and present Stormzy scholars.

The Stormzy scholarship financially supports a group of black and mixed heritage Cambridge students through university. When the scheme started in 2018, there were only two scholarships awarded by Stormzy’s charitable organisation, the #Merky Foundation. Soon Stormzy funded another ten. In July 2023, HSBC pledged a further £2 million, allowing the scheme to be expanded to 22 places this coming year.

“You just know you are surrounded by the best of the best”

One of the first two students to receive the scholarship in 2019 was Joseph Vambe. Having had the offer hanging over him since January, he confessed that A-Level results day was “not even a celebration,” but “just relief”. Receiving the grades he needed in his Politics, Economics and Religious Studies A-Levels to meet his UCAS offer, Joseph was granted a place to study HSPS at King’s College, Cambridge.

Overjoyed, his Politics teacher approached him with an idea that would change his life. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this Stormzy scholarship for black kids that have been accepted into Cambridge – I think you should apply.” After sending off his personal statement in August, it was only a matter of weeks before Joseph got a phone call.

Telling me about getting that phone call, which confirmed that he had just become one of the first ever Stormzy scholars, Joseph admitted his first response was pure excitement: “I just started jumping on my bed like a little kid.” Only a month after he had broken the news to his family and friends, and merely weeks before matriculation, Joseph met Stormzy for the first time.

Being awarded the scholarship helped to chase away feelings of imposter syndrome in his early days at Cambridge. Describing arriving at the University, Joseph suddenly felt as though he was “hit with all these talented people,” all seeming like they knew each other: “You just know you are surrounded by the best of the best.” For Joseph, the scholarship was more than just the financial benefit – “it was that kind of self-confidence of, ‘no, you’re supposed to be here.’”

Today, Joseph is a Labour Councillor for Southwark Council in London, alongside working for various charities such as global poverty organisation Christian Aid. The opportunity to stand for local election came up while he was completing his Master’s in Politics, which he started immediately after completing his undergraduate degree. “I always knew, coming to Cambridge, that the route I wanted to get involved in was politics.”

“He honestly just wants to know about your story of coming to Cambridge. He has an innate passion for education”

Despite feeling pressure to join The Union, Cambridge University Labour Club or King’s Politics, Joseph was far more interested in playing college football. This provided him with some of his fondest memories of his time as an undergrad: “Our football matches against John’s were some of the most toxic, aggressive football matches I have ever been a part of.”

The connection between the scholars and Stormzy is more than just financial. Once a year, Stormzy comes to visit Cambridge to meet the students. At first, Joseph admitted, meeting the musician could be quite intimidating, simply “because he is quite tall and huge”. But the nerves quickly subside, and friendly chat commences. “He honestly just wants to know about your story of coming to Cambridge” Joseph says. “He has an innate passion for education, because he loves English.”

Yet Stormzy’s impact has reached far beyond just the foundation’s scholars: the so-called ‘Stormzy effect’ has seen Cambridge applications from black students increase by 131% since the scheme was set up.

Having met Stormzy a series of times, either at Cambridge or during interviews given to the national press about the scholarship, Joseph says he’s got to know the artist fairly well. “If we were walking on the street in a random location, he wouldn’t walk past me without saying ‘Oh Joseph, how you doing? ’, which is amazing.”

“We have an anonymous group – it’s not named Stormzy scholars”

To avoid unwanted attention, the Stormzy scholars are told to be discrete during their time at Cambridge, so Joseph cautiously waited a few months before telling his close university friends about being a recipient of the foundation’s funding. Surprisingly, by the end of his four years, still only around ten people knew. He still stayed in touch with the other students on the scholarship however, occasionally meeting them for a meal or bumping into them on a night out.

This subtlety even extends to the name of the group chat, which includes all current and former participants on the programme. “We have an anonymous group – it’s not named Stormzy scholars,” Joseph chuckles. Thankfully, he reassures me that my attempts to interview current recipients of the fund had not been nefarious enough to make it onto the chat.


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Stormzy’s visits to Cambridge to meet the scholars are similarly kept strictly under wraps. His visit earlier this term was only revealed by the University weeks after it happened. His drop-ins are arranged solely through the University and the relevant colleges, only noticed by the rare observant student. Joseph tells me how, on one occasion when the get-together was held in Trinity, “students were just walking past [him].”

Given the scheme is expanding, maintaining the same level of discretion might prove a challenge in the future. By 2026, there will be 81 Stormzy scholars, with the next round of applicants set to be confirmed this August. Joseph’s message to anyone thinking of applying? “If you have had a hard upbringing or a difficult upbringing, Stormzy is telling you, ‘I’m going to look after you so you can focus on your studies.’”