Here’s everything that happened in Cambridge in 2020

I literally cannot believe this was all this year

We’ve done it lads…

We are *so* close to finishing 2020, and what a year it’s been! Who would’ve thought the words “crimson”, “panopto” or “global gloom” would have come to mean so much to us just 366 days ago? Or the fact that Pret, the Mainsbury’s queue and King’s lawn would become the centre of all social interaction. Back then, “zoom” was just a synonym of how you’d race to get to your 9am lecture and you’d barely heard the name “Toope”, let alone wait with anticipation to open his daily emails. 

Whilst it may feel that the C word (C who must not be named!) has taken up every news piece throughout the year (can you believe we started the year in such blissful ignorance of what awaits us?), all around it’s been a wild year for news. We’ve rounded up  the wildest, coolest and most heart-breaking (RIP our beloved Cindies) news stories from Cambridge in 2020 – and only three of them are related to coronavirus!

XR activists dug up Trinity’s front lawn

Remember when XR dug up the front lawn of Trinity College? Yes, that really happened this year! Back in February, XR activists dug up Trinity’s lawn, causing damage later valued at £4,365, in protest of their ties with fossil fuel industries and plans to sell farmland on Innocence Farm in Suffolk to create a lorry park (the scheme was however rejected). Activists then dumped the soil in Barclays bank on St Andrew’s Street.

Trinity responded by calling police to the scene, and even St John’s got in on the action, going into lockdown by shutting its gates and requiring university cards for entry – it doesn’t take an English student to note the foreshadowing here.

XR activists dug up Trinity’s front lawn to protest their ties to the fossil fuel industry. Photo credits: Extinction Rebellion Cambridge

So what’s happened since? Well, after the event seven activists were held in custody, three of whom were arrested – two being charged with suspicion of obstructing a police order. A number of other activists were also identified and charged

On the day of the court hearing in August, XR activists returned to Trinity College where they continued to campaign against the college’s investments in fossil fuel companies. At this point, Trinity had not yet reseeded their lawn, instead opting to strip it bare in the aftermath of the damage, and XR activists offered wildflower seeds to Trinity College porters. Trinity replanted the lawn back in October. 

 Students climb Clare College to fly LGBT+ flag

During LGBT+ History month, Clare students, Freddy Legg and Oli Cope, climbed onto the roof of Clare College and flew the LGBT+ flag for the first time. This came after the Colllege refusing to fly the flag, despite numerous student requests over the years.

The College had, at the time, justified their refusal to fly the flag on a lack of personnel to raise the flag, there being other ways to celebrate and because they generally do not ‘do’ flags. In protest, Freddy and Oli took matters into their own hands, sneaking into college and scaling the tiled roof to exhibit the flag. After noticing, the Porters took the flag down, before securely re-attaching the flag properly.

When Clare refused to fly the flag, two third years took the matter into their own hands. Photo Credits: Freddy Legg

We caught up with Freddy, who is now a “sad grad”  (their words not ours!) to hear more about their actions. After expressing shock that, “God was that this year??”, they told The Tab Cambridge: “We were definitely glad to see that Clare decided to let the flag fly for the few days left of the month then, and that they have initially promised to fly the flag again next February. In April, College Council formally approved the flag to be re-flown in February, so we are certainly hoping that they do so.

“Especially after what has been a particularly trying term for many LGBT+, but especially trans students in Clare, we really think that it is the absolute least College could do to show their support of their LGBT+ members – although of course we would hope they do much more than simply fly a flag and show they are actually committed to the safety and security of their students at all times. We look forward to (regulations permitting) coming back to Cambridge (now that we are sad grads :((( ) and seeing the rainbow flying above every college, but most of all Clare, in 2021.”

Mainsbury’s hit by stock-pilers

A quick throwback to when people heard the word “coronavirus” and instantly thought *must stock-pile toilet paper* (because apparently Covid also results in serious bowel movements!) Back in February, whilst I was worrying about how to fill out my RAG Blind Date form to sound funny but not too try-hard, apparently the rest of Cambridge was worrying about where their next squirt of anti-bacterial protection was coming from. 

Who could’ve predicted that hand sanitiser would be this year’s most wanted item? Photo credits: Max Leadbetter

Staff at Mainsbury’s reported shortages of hand sanitiser, hand wash, toilet paper, bleach and anti-bacterial spray due to panic-buying: One staff member told The Cambridge Tab at the time, “all the hand sanitiser is completely gone, just out of everywhere, out of stock.” 

Personally, I’m not too sure what this was all about: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone older than about 25 in Mainsbury’s and were Cambridge students aware we were already halfway through an eight week term? I don’t know who needed to hear this but you really didn’t need to purchase 32 rolls of toilet paper hun! 

Students occupy Old Schools in solidarity with striking staff

Whilst parts of Cambridge were panic-buying loo roll, other groups in Cambridge had bigger worries on their mind, namely union recognition, fair pay, job security and decreased workloads for staff. These concerns led to “hundreds of students”, including societies Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) and Cambridge Marx Soc, occupying Old Schools, the main administration site for the university, in solidarity with striking university workers, for 11 days. 

Students set up an unofficial college, Solidarity College, which had a broader ents programme than most colleges, boasting everything from formals and ceilidhs to yoga and football on senate lawn, as well as a range of discussion and reading groups. 

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Solcol Matriculation photo (colourised, 2020) Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot

The occupation ended after 11 days, following a University Court order and increasing Covid fears. The university conceded to one of the key demands of the occupation, to invite Cambridge UCU to submit a formal claim for trade union recognition. A spokesperson from CDE said: “The clear lesson from the strikes is that when students and workers stand together, we can win.”

Since then, Solidarity College has continued online to “fight for our goals for a liberatory education that is free and accessible for all.” They have continued to hold “regular discussion groups around topics relevant to both critical theory and contemporary politics”, with the occasional powerpoint party thrown in. They plan to keep fighting in 2021 for a fairer university, against the marketisation of education. 

Girton spring ball

By this point, Covid fears were quickly spreading throughout Cambridge, with a number of relatively small-scale events, such as bops at Queen’s and Pembroke and Varsity football, being cancelled in light of the rise in Covid cases nationally. Yet, on the same day as the controversial Cheltenham horse racing festival, Girton’s spring ball went ahead, gathering 900 guests.

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The final pre-Covid Cambridge ball. Photo Credits: Harriet Wadey

The committee made the final decision not to cancel the night before, asking any ticket-holders with flu-like symptoms not to attend and offering a full refund to people who were unable or uncomfortable with attending. The event, on the 13th March, was just 10 days before the national lockdown. 

Harriet Wadey, a second year Girton student and attendee, told The Tab Cambridge: “I really enjoyed the Girton Spring Ball! It was one of the highlights of my first year, and I made some great memories. I definitely felt safe at the event, and there were plenty of staff making sure safety procedures were being followed.”

ACS viral TikTok

Whilst we were all spending hours learning (and failing to learn) TikTok dances in the hope of getting more than three likes, this year’s ACS Committee made it look easy, going viral for their hilarious “Meet the Committee” TikTok, receiving over 135,000 views and 8,000 likes on Twitter alone.

The Committee’s publicity officer, Voké Ogueh, told The Tab Cambridge at the time: “We thought that posting a TikTok like this would be the perfect way to introduce ourselves and our roles whilst putting a fun spin on it”, with each committee member picking a meme to recreate. The Committee have kept up their TikTok content since, posting a series of moving back to uni TikToks back in October. 

Joke Facebook event “Storm Sidge, Toope can’t stop us all” causes concern amongst university staff

In May, Cambridge made national headlines after the university became the first in the country to make the decision to move lectures online for the 2020-2021 academic year.

One student responded to this announcement by creating a Facebook event “Storm Sidge, Toope can’t stop us all”, a spin-off of the popular Area 51 meme.

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These days you have to book a slot a week in advance to storm sidge. Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot

Unfortunately, the humour went over the top of University management, who allegedly became quite concerned about the threat of an actual storming. A disclaimer had to be added to the event’s description that “due to rumours of interest from the Uni or lawyers (wish I was joking) I can confirm this is a joke based on a popular meme (see “Storm Area 51”) and that no actual storming is planned or condoned.”

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The youth of today and their meme culture. Photo credits: Author’s own screenshot

The event organiser, Joel, told The Cambridge Tab at the time: “I can’t offer details (I was told not to) but a disclaimer had to be issued due to suggestions that those of a different generation less au fait with the meme were becoming concerned there would genuinely be some kind of actual rampage”, following the event gaining over 140 responses by students.

Reported supernatural experiences at Emma

Following this, Cambridge experienced a relatively calm summer. However, as term started and students began to return to Cam everything kicked off again, starting with rumours of a potential haunting at one Cambridge college.

Louis, a student from Emmanuel, tweeted that despite being the only student to have moved back into his accommodation block, a Georgian terrace house in Park Terrace on college grounds, he had heard footsteps around the accommodation at night.

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Tfw a ghost is the only person who has been in your room all term x Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot of Louis’ tweet

Louis did some digging, and found that a Cambridgeshire Live article from 2019 had reported that Emma residents had reported “the stamping footsteps of a suicide victim” throughout College for many years. He also told The Tab Cambridge: “My friend has heard these footsteps by the chapel at 2am on the way back from the Library.” 

However, when we caught up with Louis to see if he had experienced any more supernatural occurrences, he admitted that he later found out that it was a fellow living on his staircase. Nonetheless, he told us: “I’m sticking to my story that the vibe was way off there.” 

Cambridge University commits to full divestment by 2030

October began on an optimistic note, as the University of Cambridge announced plans to fully divest from fossil fuels by 2030. At the time, the university had £3.5 billion in direct and indirect investments with fossil fuel companies, having close relations with businesses such as BP, who in 2000 donated £22 million to the university to fund the BP Institute.

The announcement followed years of campaigning, from both Cambridge Zero Carbon and Cambridge XR. A spokesperson from Zero Carbon told The Tab Cambridge the campaign had “met weekly, held rallies, organised direct actions, help educational events, coordinated press campaigns and lobbied decision makers”, for five years beforehand to pressure the university to divest. The university’s commitment represents one of the largest pledges to divest from a Higher Education Institution.

Zero Carbon have been campaigning for divestment for five years. Photo Credits: Zero Carbon Cambridge

Zero Carbon at the time described the announcement as a “historic victory for the divestment movement”, and told The Tab Cambridge this victory “belongs to every single person – students, workers, community members and supporters across the globe – who supported the campaign.” 

Their work is not yet over, with a spokesperson for Zero Carbon telling The Tab Cambridge “divestment from fossil fuels was only ever the beginning.” They point to a number of other ways in which the university has links with the fossil fuel industry, and claims “whilst [the university] continues to take research funding, extends invitations to careers fairs and names buildings after [fossil fuel companies], the University remains in the oily clutches of this dirty industry. We will keep fighting until Cambridge University ends all ties with fossil fuel industries.”

Cindies closes its doors after 40 years 

November brought news of a second national lockdown, and if you thought things couldn’t get worse, you were in for a nasty surprise. When Cindies closed its door on the 4th November, the night before the UK went into a lockdown, little did we know they were not to open again. It was the stuff of nightmares: Cindies was closing for good.

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RIP Cindies: gone but never forgotten. Photo Credits: Jimmy Shixin Yu

This follows approval by the council of plans to build a new hotel in Cambridge’s Lion Yard, where a night club has been for the last 40 years. Original plans incorporated a nightclub as part of the developments, however in a statement Cindies said: “Despite our best efforts, the landlord has failed to accommodate a workable space fit for a nightclub to operate in, contradicting the council’s planning approval.”

Cambridge students responded in the only way they know how: by taking to Camfess. Believe us they were not happy: 

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Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Photo credits: Author’s own screenshot

The only question that remains is who will replace Wednesday Cindies in post-Covid times? The fresher staple of Sunday Life? A sweaty Friday Fez? A rogue Thursday Lola’s? A wildcard from Revs? Let us know your predictions…

University Library reports Charles Darwin’s notebooks stolen after 20 years

And finally, as if 2020 couldn’t get weirder, in late October the University Library reported two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks stolen and they went missing – wait for it – 20 years ago!

Staff had previously assumed that the notebooks, likely worth millions of pounds, had been mis-shelved. However after searching 210km worth of shelving multiple times, the library accepted defeat and reported them stolen to Cambridgeshire police.

The notebooks contain Darwin’s seminal 1837 sketch entitled The Tree of Life (Image credit: SWNS)

The university has launched an online appeal and urges anyone with information to come forward, saying: “Someone, somewhere, may have knowledge or insight that can help us return these notebooks to their proper place at the heart of the UK’s cultural and scientific heritage.”

Anyone who has any information on the missing notebooks is invited to contact the Cambridge University Library via email at [email protected].  

So that’s our 2020 news round-up complete! Congrats for making it a) through this article and b) through the weirdest, most stressful, and for many people, incredibly difficult year. We’re sending lots of love from The Tab Cambridge that your holidays consist of low tiers and minimal tears, and that 2021 brings more happy, wholesome and hopeful news all-around!

Feature Image credits: Ella Fogg and Author’s own screenshots

Trinity College, XR Cambridge, Clare College, and the University have been contacted for comment.