Cambridge is a unique institution. Partly because of its collegiate system, rarely seen in the UK, and partly because it is steeped in tradition. But that long and rich history doesn’t mean the University of Cambridge isn’t investing in the future, as delegates on a recent TUCO study tour discovered.

St Johns Hall

The University of Cambridge will always be a fascinating institution to people in the UK and all over the world. Highly engaged TUCO members, the university opened its doors to delegates of the TUCO Academy recently for a three-day immersive tour to highlight how the university utilises its alumni and to unveil its ambitious plans for the future.

Delegates on the St John’s College, Cambridge: The Economics of Running a World Class University Study Tour on 10-12 July 2018, were a mix of those from universities across the UK, but also a number of catering staff working in other colleges within the University of Cambridge. Even for them there was plenty to discover from the very city they work in. “It explained the nuances of the Oxbridge Collegiate system” said Robert Carke, Head of Catering and Events at Fitzwilliam College, one of the more modern Cambridge colleges.

Led by Bill Brogan, catering and conference manager at St John’s College, the study tour incorporated presentations, campus tours and, of course, plenty of opportunities to experience the catering, and not just from St John’s kitchens.

cambridge halls

Day one: 10th July

The first impression of all who come to St John’s College is its size (it is one of the largest Cambridge colleges) and its beauty. Founded in 1511, the architecture of St John’s dominates the area and is particularly astounding when viewed from the river (notably the Bridge of Signs).

So, it would be remiss to not take in a tour of the grounds. Delegates were given a tour of the College, including the hall, which dates from 1528, and the more modern Buttery.

Following a TUCO Regional Meeting, afternoon presentations were given by Kelly Vickers, managing director of Meet Cambridge, and on the Master Planners for St John’s College, by domestic bursar Helen Murley.

Delegates were treated to tea and Chelsea Buns – a Cambridge institution – at Fitzbillies, followed by a tour of the Quayside. For the evening, dinner was held at Christ’s College, hosted by catering manager Kevin Keohane, to show attendees the differences between the colleges.

bridge of sighs

Day two, 11th July

Following breakfast in the Buttery, the main catering facility at St John’s, the morning of the second day of the Study Tour was focussed on alumni relations and how universities can make use of these valuable ambassadors of their institution.

Bruce Mortimer, head of alumni and supporter relations, presented to delegates on University of Cambridge alumni and fundraising through their support, followed by Susannah Rose, head of alumni relations at St John’s College, on maintaining alumni relations at the College.

The group were then taken to the West Cambridge Site, a huge development that will ensure the long-term growth of the University of Cambridge. Building is ongoing, although a number of colleges have a base there and many students now live there too.

The university’s vision for West Cambridge is for a world-class, well connected, research and development environment that benefits Cambridge, the region and the UK. It will provide facilities that help the university to retain its globally competitive position by continuing to attract and retain the world’s best academics and researchers, as well as one that supports entrepreneurship and collaboration with industry.

Delegates were given access to the site, with an introduction by Tom Watson, head of business services, and lunch in the West Café. "The tour of the West Cambridge site, where a lot of the University departments are moving to along with a large number of students, had a lot of interest and the talk there was brilliant” said Bill.

Robert added: “The tour around the new development at North West Cambridge was very interesting and informative. It showed the university’s vision for the future and how it is likely to change.

The afternoon was then dedicated to the city itself, with a food tour of Cambridge by the Cambridge Food Tour Company, led by Gerla De Boer, including a street food market and a taster of 3D printed food at Dovetail.

This was followed by gin tasting at Cambridge Distillery, which makes its own gin, including gin for St John’s College.

Back to the college and delegates were given the opportunity to discuss further how to manage student and alumni catering and events, before dinner was held in the Wordsworth Room at St John’s College, an intimate formal venue where guests could experience St John’s catering at its best.

“The dinners at Christ’s College and St John’s were both excellent and really showed off Cambridge college catering,” noted Robert.

cambridge uni

Day three, 12th July

The third day of the Study tour was an early start at the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce for an overview of Cambridge, followed by a discussion with Helen Hermes from Cambridge Bid and its impact on Cambridge.

Delegates were then treated to artisan cheese tasting at Cambridge Cheese Shop before taking in a tour of the Judge Business School and a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum, the art and antiquities museum of the University of Cambridge, which marked the end of the Study Tour.

“It was a great Study Tour, I have no college background and am new to Hughes Hall, Cambridge,” said Nuran Akdemir, Conference and Events Manager. “I started my role in May and I was struggling with many issues, things that were everyday issues for others. The study tour was very useful for me in terms of meeting other conference managers and sharing the same issues that everyone faces, as well as visiting all of the sites around Cambridge.”

"Meeting and sharing experiences with fellow Hospitality staff from other universities was very interesting which lead to the reception and dinners also being enjoyable."

– Delegate from University of Reading

"Meeting our counterparts from Cambridge and the TUCO associates. Absolute pleasure to spend a couple of days in their company."

- Delegate from Trinity College, Cambridge

"The hospitality and attention to detail from Bill of St John's College was amazing. I felt like we were given an insight into the running of the catering at a world class venue that many would love to behold. It was very insightful to learn how the college, university and city work together to cope with the demands in a highly competitive environment. There was also some delicious food and drink along the way!"

- Delegate from University of Reading

"It was great to see how other colleges handle problems and issues; [and] also see their facilities."

- Delegate from Hughes Hall, Cambridge