The controversial private members’ club may not be able to re-open in the 2020/21 academic year amid “new and significant challenges to [its] financial health” N Chadwick

The University Pitt Club (UPC) has written an email to alumni asking for £50,000 in donations in order to survive severe financial hurdles in the wake of Covid-19.

The elite club, which boasts alumni along the likes of Prince Charles, Eddie Redmayne, and John Cleese, has recommended a minimum donation of £100 per person in its ‘Pitt Club 200th Anniversary Campaign Emergency Cash Appeal’. 

The UPC - where members meet to “eat and drink in pleasant surroundings” - currently occupies the first floor of the clubhouse at 7a Jesus Lane, having leased its ground floor to Pizza Express since 1997. However, as a result of Pizza Express’ Company Voluntary Arrangement, which may lead to the closure of 15% of its UK branches and loss of 1,100 jobs, the loss of rental income has left the UPC facing financial crisis.

“We have received no rental income for nine months, which is unrecoverable, and Pizza Express’s proposed launch of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) looks to deprive the Club of at least 65% of its expected income for the next 3 years,” wrote the UPC’s senior trustee, George Greenberry, in the email.

The message continued: “The Club’s spirit is still marked by the same characteristics of friendship, eccentricity and above all, good fun, which you will remember from your time in Cambridge. However, in order for that spirit to endure and flourish for future generations, the Club now needs your help.”

Originally founded in 1835 as a dining club in honour of William Pitt the Younger, the Pembroke student and former Tory UK Prime Minister (1783-1801, 1804-06), and to “uphold the political principles for which he stood”, the Pitt Club has experienced its fair share of turmoil in the past.

For instance, it was forced to renovate the entirety of the clubhouse after a fire in 1907, and found its existence threatened in World War I as many Cambridge men left the University to join the forces. In 2017, a referendum to admit women into the club was passed, after a ‘trial period’ permitting them access to the daily lunches, provoking controversy.


Mountain View

“What school did you go to?” – Why we need to change the way we discuss pre-university education

“In short,” the email added, “the survival of the club in its present form is at risk”, with the UPC unable to re-open in the coming academic year without sufficient donations.

Speaking to The Guardian, Andrew Roberts, historian, broadcaster, and alumnus of the club, said: “I haven’t known a time when it [the club] hasn’t been in severe financial difficulties,” he said. “Precariousness goes with the territory.” 

It seems that relief will be on the horizon, however, as another message sent from the club a day after the original email reported “a high number of simultaneous requests to access the donation page [causing] the club website to overload and crash”.

The club’s committee declined to comment when contacted by Varsity: “As the Pitt Club is a private members’ club, we will not discuss internal club affairs.”