Emmanuel will host a number of freshers' activities outside in a marqueeAmy Lever

This week marks the beginning of an unprecedented Freshers’ Week for Cambridge’s incoming cohort. While Freshers’ Week is usually filled with club nights, bops, and formals, this year’s arrivals can expect pizza nights with their household, socially distanced scavenger hunts, and Zoom pub quizzes. However, despite the uncertainty awaiting this year’s freshers, colleges’ Freshers’ Representatives (FREPs) have committed to planning an eventful and welcoming timetable.

Initial plans changed to socially distanced fun

Grace Beckett, the Female FREP at Christ’s, told Varsity that no plans had been made for Freshers’ Week before the pandemic hit the UK in March. Having “made plans when the guidelines were much more lenient,” Beckett added that “when the ‘rule of six’ came in [...] we had to cancel or rethink a lot of the events we had already organised.”

Cancelled events included a socially-distanced silent disco and the college’s Freshers’ Fair moving “onto a virtual platform;” with new plans involving “chilling in the Fellows’ Garden, a dinner at Revs [Revolution] with the whole year but in their household bubbles [and] parties in staircases, [with] events mostly online”.

Abi Caple, Vice-President of Murray Edwards’ JCR also emphasised that many activities will be online: “We will still have events that are traditionally large group, such as a bar quiz and bingo, however these will all be done virtually” and “the Medwards Freshers’ Fair will be online.”

Varsity also spoke to Alex Mann, Vice-President of the JCR Committee at Corpus Christi, who stated that while “initial plans for Freshers’ week were to run as many in-person events as possible”, in light of recent guidelines, “a lot of stuff has gone online,” with “things such as consent workshops and anti-racism training [remaining] in-person but socially-distanced under ‘educational’ purposes.” He added that there will still be a “welcome event — much like a beer garden — on Courts.”

Having planned “classic fun activities” such as “clubbing, punting [and] ‘salsa and sangria’,” Suzi Pozniak, the Female FREP at St Catharine’s, said that “the rule of six obviously put a massive spanner in the works,” leading to the cancellation of “a lot of communal things allowing [the Freshers] to have fun.”

Re-organised and COVID-secure social activities will now include “scavenging hunts, delivering [the Freshers] Domino’s Pizza, going punting — basically things that can happen in groups of six, [and] unfortunately, no beer garden.”

Emmanuel’s FREPs have planned a timetable which includes a “beer garden on one night with a Footlights performance” and “an outdoor cinema night on the first night.”

Selwyn’s FREPs, Harry Mayne and Poppy Robinson, are committed to “doing as many open air events in the day as possible and using their Freshers’ Committee to run trips to the Botanical Gardens, Grantchester meadows and Cambridge coffee shops” while in the evenings they are “extending the college bar into a marquee on Old Court with themed events each evening.”

When asked about the impact of the new restrictions on freshers’ ability to make friends, the Selwyn FREPs were pessimistic: "the new 10pm rule might actually be quite unhelpful in student communities as it means people are more likely organise their own late night events which won’t have formal social distancing.”

Ensuring Covid-19 guidelines are followed

Students returning to Cambridge for the start of the academic year will have to follow both the government’s latest Covid-19 guidelines as well as individual colleges’ policies. Freshers arriving this week will be socialising largely within their households and will have to observe social distancing measures when interacting with the vast majority of their year.

Emmanuel has “quite easily” adapted their events “so that people don’t mingle beyond their own household.” For example, FREPs will encourage “people to bring their own food and drink to any events, rather than having the bar serve anything” and they will be “putting physical markers out on the grass so that it’s clear where people should keep to.”

While Selwyn’s “Freshers’ Committee are going to be on hand to make sure that freshers social distance at each event,” they are not planning to police freshers outside of events. Selwyn’s FREPs continued: “It’ll be important for older years to set the example but ultimately freshers have to take responsibility for their own distancing.”

Similarly, Murray Edwards’ Vice-President told Varsity that the college hasn’t specified that it is the JCR’s “responsibility to police the freshers;” while Corpus Christi’s JCR members “will not be required by the college to police social distancing and mixing of households.”

Prioritising of welfare

Selwyn FREPs are introducing a 'joiners book' to tackle student loneliness Poppy Robinson

Given the uncertain circumstances for this year’s freshers, welfare is a priority for all FREPs Varsity spoke to, with colleges ramping up their welfare provisions both during Freshers’ Week and throughout term.

The Christ’s FREPs have introduced additional welfare arrangements for any incoming freshers who may struggle with the anxiety-inducing climate of a Covid-secure Freshers’ Week by providing all freshers with “a pack explaining the mental health services [available] in Cambridge.”

Mann also informed Varsity that, to provide additional welfare arrangements for Corpus Christi’s incoming freshers, there will be a “higher number of welfare events in Freshers’ Week” which will be “continued throughout [Michaelmas] term.”

Pozniak highlighted that St Catharine’s JCR members have been running “a virtual Welfare Tea” during the pandemic, and that “the reaching out of Welfare Reps has been more signposted than in recent years."

Similarly, Emmanuel has better publicised the role of their welfare officers via the FREPs’ Instagram and the welfare officers will be present at events “so that people know there is somewhere to go” if they are struggling.

Selwyn’s FREPs shared their concerns about student loneliness, particularly “if freshers are unhappy with the people in their households.” They outlined solutions such as a ‘joiners book,’ where “freshers can voluntarily fill in with their interests and contact details for other freshers to contact them.” Selwyn’s FREPs have also created “a form that people can fill in if they’re feeling unhappy so that we can work with them to ensure that they access the right support and networks.”

Murray Edwards has increased their welfare budget so that “welfare provisions can be provided throughout the term, not just in freshers’ week and Week 5.”

Caple also highlighted an ongoing “considerable problem with the freshers’ accommodation:” the lack of access to communal spaces. With this year’s focus on socialising in college whenever possible, the college has remedied the issue by “introducing a coffee shop in the Dome (Murray Edwards cafeteria) outside of mealtimes so that students can take a break from studying or grab a coffee whilst staying inside the college.”

Being a Freshers’ Representative

Emmanuel FREPs have been forced to organise freshers' activities virtuallyRupert Varley

Regarding her personal experience as a Freshers’ Representative, Beckett described having to adapt to the changing nature of government and University guidelines as “frustrating and full of uncertainty.”

She continued that while her duties have been “stressful and overwhelming at times [...] I’ve learnt a lot, how to time manage and handle lots of different things at the same time as well as negotiating and calling up companies to ask for things, which before I would have been terrified to do! It’s all flowing into my development as an adult so it’ll have positive effects in the long run.”

Mann described his “frustrating” experience of organising Freshers’ Week with “plans cancelled and essentially starting from scratch.” He added that it has been “a lot more work than usual because normally you just follow previous years” but that Corpus “have been mostly onboard with [the JCR’s] plans.”

For Pozniak, the organisation of Freshers’ Week has been an “annoying” process of constant adaptation, but “while it has been really tough and frustrating at times [...] [the re-organised events mean] everybody is safe and that’s the most important thing.”

While Pozniak humorously revealed she had previously believed her duties as a Freshers’ Representative would include “copying the timetable from last year, calling up the punting company and having some chats with [the manager of] Cindies and it’d all be hunky dory,” she admitted that she “has probably got[ten] more out of it.”

FREPs’ communication with college

FREPs have been in constant communication with colleges, often having to change plans as soon as they have been finalised due to the alterations in government guidelines.

Beckett shared that college guidelines had led her and the Male Freshers’ Representative “to believe that freshers will be living in the same household and [that] most of their socialising will be done in that household.” She therefore expressed concern at information she received that revealed “that a couple of Freshers will be living in households with students in other years [and] there are households with only 1 or 2 freshers in them,” which could potentially hamper the accessibility of Freshers’ Week for some of Christs’ incoming students.


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Nonetheless, Beckett is “very happy with the job that [she] and the other Freshers’ Rep have done,” and said she was “excited to share the event with the Freshers.”

Pozniak commended St Catharine’s liaising as “really good and understanding in keeping [her] in the loop” with “lots of Zoom calls,” and highlighted that “we have to appreciate that as a college we can offer more activities than [...] at a big university.”

The Emmanuel FREPs felt that while “the college wasn’t great at communication at first” they have recently had “some really constructive meetings and they’re really aware of the need to balance physical and mental health.” The FREPs also detailed that the college has been “really trusting” of their risk assessments and has given them “a lot of confidence going forward.”