College families

College families

  • College families
    Seb Shuttleworth and Jess Lister

Image by Anna Huix

Every year, second and third years volunteer to play mum and dad to unsuspecting freshers. This is the story of Jess Lister and Seb Shuttleworth’s Emmanuel family.

Going to Cambridge is intimidating for anyone, but my College family made it a very easy transition.

Many potential pitfalls await the unwary Cambridge fresher, not least the conundrum of bread roll ownership at formal dinners.

“I remember being very confused as to which one was mine – left or right?” says third-year historian Jess Lister. “And not being sure which cutlery to use. Your College family helps with these little stresses.”

Lister is College mother at Emmanuel, along with College father, third-year medic, Richard Johnson. Every year, pairs of third-years across the University volunteer to be College parents – forming a College family. It’s a long-standing tradition, but one that isn’t immune to change: at Emmanuel this year, pairs of same-sex parents were given families.

Families are given their children’s contact details before they start and are encouraged to get in touch. “We set up a Facebook group to get in touch, and told them things we wished we’d known when we were starting,” says Lister. “Mine were: don’t panic about buying tickets for things before you arrive, and if you’ve got a bike, bring it!” In the first week, parents help newbies move into their rooms, and take them for lunch, and on a tour of the College. They’re there to answer any questions, whether that’s the best place for lunch or how to go about getting the right gown for matriculation.

First-year English student Seb Shuttleworth is one of Lister’s ‘children’. “When I arrived, Jess helped me move in and gave me a quick tour,” he says. “She was very good at giving me a general feel for the place in the first week. Going to Cambridge is intimidating for anyone, but my College family made it a very easy transition.”

The family has met up two or three times since, but there’s no pressure to be best friends. The system works because it’s not overbearing, says Lister. “My own College parents were such a help when I started. Our role is pretty important in the first few days. But by the end of the first week, our children found their feet – though, of course, we’re always there to point them in the right direction.”

Article by Lucy Jolin.

This article first appeared in CAM - the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, edition 80. Find out how to receive CAM.