Student activists made speeches outside Old SchoolsNoella Chye

“Cambridge divest from fossil fuels” was spray painted onto the cream-coloured walls of Old Schools this afternoon as pro-divestment campaigners embarked on what could be the final week of a years-long fight for the University to divest its endowment from fossil fuel company shareholdings.

Around 30 campaigners from the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society ran across Senate House lawn shortly after 2pm, and painted messages and symbols, including flowers and hearts, onto the building in bright hues using chalk spray. 

A spokesperson for the Zero Carbon Society said, “We’re happy to wash this chalk off ourselves when the University stops investing in this destructive industry.”

Activists entered Senate House lawn this afternoonNoella Chye/Anna Jennings

During the demonstration, a University security guard approached the Old Schools building to photograph the activists and their graffiti. Moments after campaigners left, just 15 minutes after they arrived, a group of University officials was seen photographing the walls and huddling around them.

Exactly one week from today, the University Council – the University’s central governing body – is set to make a historic decision about whether to fully divest from its indirect investments in fossil fuels. A rally outside Senate House, where Council members will meet, is already planned for the 21st May, the day when the final decision is likely to be made.

The Council will make its decision based on a report produced by the University of Cambridge Divestment Working Group. The working group was established in May last year to recommend whether the University should divest, and their report was presented to Council members last month.

University security guards were present at Senate House immediately following the action, but did not interact with the studentsNoella Chye

A spokesperson for the University said, “We are aware of a protest outside Old Schools this afternoon. It lasted around 20 minutes and all participants have now dispersed. Some damage was caused to the front of the building.”

A leaked copy of an earlier draft of the report revealed that the group had recommended a position of only partial divestment, causing one student representative to the working group, Alice Guillaume, to resign in protest.

The Council’s first meeting on the final working group report – which took place last month – was met with a crowd of around 40 campaigners outside Storey’s Field Centre in north-west Cambridge, chanting and distributing print-outs of national press coverage of the University’s imminent decision.


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Zero Carbon’s activities are often characterised by its signature colour, bright orange, regularly seen in the form of coloured flare bombs and painted across banners carried during marches. Recent Zero Carbon protests have included their largest march to date in March, and the group’s barricade of the University finance offices in April.

Tomorrow evening, campaigners will gather alongside Cambridge staff and students at Mill Lane for an open meeting with the vice-chancellor – the second of two open meetings organised in response to last term’s five-day student occupation of the Old Schools building, the University’s central administrative site. The meeting will see the vice-chancellor revisit the question of divestment, which turned out to be the most heated point of the first open meeting in which he refused to offer a clear stance on divestment, both personally and for the University.