We spoke to freps about this year’s freshers’ week

Throwback to when we thought freshers’ flu was our biggest worry

Freshers’ week (or more accurately, ‘freshers’ four days’ in the case of Cambridge) is always a tad strange: going from clubbing with strangers you met four hours previous, to spending what feels like hours shivering outside with them in 6am fire drills while also racing between bike safety talks and library inductions. But a global pandemic and the consequent social distancing guidelines have only made this strange week stranger, with college freps being forced to think on their feet to respond to the latest government and college guidelines. The Tab Cambridge spoke to a number of college freps about what this year’s fresher’s week is expected to look like (spoiler alert: it doesn’t include any planned shooting and hunting trips, despite this being granted an exemption from the new six-person rule.)

Colleges have been running pre-fresher events

A number of colleges have started freshers’ week early, with online calls to give freshers a chance to meet those outside of their household. Hannah Saint tells us that Churchill have been “running weekly September calls to enable our Freshers to meet, make friends, learn more about Churchill College and Cambridge, and be welcomed into the Churchill community!” 

Fresher’s four day is a thing of the past in some college

Daisy Thomas tell us how Robinson college have fiddled with timings so that their “Freshers Week is now becoming a Freshers’ Fortnight which is great as it gives more time but will be twice as exhausting for the volunteers!  

Freshers events include trips to the botanical gardens and matriculation picnics

Whilst trips to Dangerspoons and matriculation photos may be a thing of the past, college freps have been inventive with the events they’re running this year. Marquees appear to be becoming as commonplace as college puffer jackets, and Churchill and Downing are both planning outdoor movie nights, with Downing dividing their paddock into 2 metre circles to ensure social distancing. Robinson are attempting a “sort-of-outdoor-bop” and a “sort-of-publess-pub-crawl” (also known as a “walk” in some parts of the country). Meanwhile, Poppy Robinson tells us that at Selwyn they are currently planning to replace nights out at Cindies with trips to botanical gardens, Grantchester Meadows and coffee shops, subject to restrictions. Matriculation events are being reimagined, with ideas ranging from informal matriculation picnics, to a socially distanced photo (drone anyone?). A number of colleges have also been working to “create a starter pack for every household including best places to eat, activities , clubbing (when they open) so that [freshers] can explore the city by themselves too”. 

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At least this year’s freshers won’t have to listen to Dance Monkey every night out | Photo credits: Leila May Lawrence

What’s it been like being a frep

Leila May Lawrence, a head frep at Downing told the Tab Cambridge that “It’s been really fun, stressful, but ultimately rewarding. A lot of our initial ideas and plans were essentially thrown out of the window, as a result of this whole global pandemic. Alex and I have definitely had to put more hours into the planning process, writing risk assessments that have become a whole lot more risky, whilst also trying to brainstorm creative ideas for events that are actually legal. These *unprecedented* times have meant that the freshers have inevitably felt more anxious than usual and had more questions about college life so our frep team tried to manage this by holding two live Q&As on our Instagram page which seemed to go really well.”

Government guidelines have thrown (many) screws in the work

Speaking to different freps, there was definitely a consensus that changing government guidelines had made forward planning incredibly difficult. Daisy said “I’ve been organising Robinson Freshers’ Week and social distancing has just about scrapped every plan we had! We’ve had to sort the freshers into 5 different groups so we can still run events in-person because you can’t have over 30 people at an organised event. I guess it will mean the Freshers get to know their group really well, but it’s also such a shame.”

Hannah agreed “I think the most challenging aspect of Freshers’ Week is the changing Government rules and how adaptable we have to be. When changes are introduced, we review the regulations and ensure all our events follow these new rules. Safety is our highest priority. The whole process, and lockdown itself, has been a steep learning curve but it’s also encouraged us to be more creative with our event planning. 

Poppy agreed with the above sentiments, telling us of their difficulties trying to quickly rearrange plans whilst she was away with no WiFi, meaning that “freshers’ planning has invoked running up a hill in search of phone signal or in a pub car park (shout out to the Gower Inn for its amazing WiFi!)”

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If this photo was taken in September 2020 it would be against the law | photo credits: Hannah Saint

Protecting student welfare is everyone’s no.1 concern 

Leila told us “I think our biggest concern has been making sure that the freshers can still have fun whilst being safe. With lectures moving online and rules preventing much mixing beyond household groups, I think loneliness presents itself as a greater problem than usual. Alex and I want all the incoming freshers to feel happy and safe at Downing and have tried our best to organise safe, in-person events to help the freshers socialise with one another.” 

This is a sentiment echoed by Poppy: “One of our main issues is meeting new people if you are unhappy in your household, as I was last year. I even ended up walking around gyps trying to find people socialising (didn’t help that I’m in a really small subject as well). We both want to ensure that it doesn’t happen to any of these freshers this year and that they’re able transition into uni life as smoothly as possible.”

“What we’re most worried about is that Covid has provided a challenge to socialising more broadly, due to a lot of planning being focused around households. We’ve come up with lots of hopefully successful solutions such as a ‘joiners book’  which freshers can voluntarily fill in with their interests and contact details for other freshers to contact them. We’re also going to work with the JCR welfare team to create a form that people can fill in if they’re feeling unhappy so that we can work with them to ensure that they access support and networks to lots of people in freshers. Obviously there’s a lot riding on college families this year as well and so we’re matching on interests… We’ve also created a support network of people already in cam for the self-isolating international freshers.” 

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This could be you and your new household if the ballot works in your favour | Photo credits: Poppy Robinson

Freshers’ week may be a bit different this year, but there will always be people to turn to 

Regardless of the unfamiliarity of this year’s freshers’ week, talking to freps has made it clear that ultimately they have the welfare and safety of all students at the heart of every decision. When asked what advice they’d give to freshers, Hannah encouraged freshers to “throw yourself into every activity and know that if you have any worries, our JCR Committee members are always here for a chat and will have lots of good advice!” Similarly, Leila said “I want the freshers to know that even if things seem stressful and chaotic at first, they will find their people and place at Cambridge. When things get difficult, there are always people you can go to for help, and I especially want the Downing freshers to know that their frep team is there to help them during and beyond freshers week to help make them feel at ease and at home at both Downing and Cambridge.” Discussions of freshers’ weeks remained resoundingly positive, with Poppy expressing that they “can’t wait to meet all the freshers and welcome them to cam. Though we know that freshers’ week won’t look the same as other years, we want freshers to feel just as, if not more, welcomed into Selwyn.”

This year’s freshers’ week does have some added bonuses for freps!

Amongst all the chaos of social distancing guidelines, freps still have things to be happy about, with Daisy confessing that “to be honest the best bit is that we ‘aren’t allowed’ to help freshers carry bags into their rooms because of contamination so arrivals day just got 10x less tiring!”

So freshers, be prepared for a week of socially distanced picnics, publess crawls and carrying your own suitcases up two flights of stairs.