A volunteer's story: rowing crews and 'welcome dos' - Felicity Rutland

A volunteer's story: rowing crews and 'welcome dos' - Felicity Rutland

  • Felicity Rutland with the 2016 Lightweight squad

Felicity Rutland (née Oates, Girton 1968) shares the joy of opening up her home to Cambridge rowers.

Volunteering is an increasingly important part of our University’s life and future, and I would love other people to understand the significance of it, and how rewarding it is.

I will never forget the excitement and pride that I felt when I started at Girton in 1968, and I threw myself into life there with enthusiasm – perhaps rather too much as it nearly scuppered my degree! It was such a privilege to be there, and one that has stood me in great stead ever since. I made some lifelong friends, packed as much into every day as I could - principally hockey and music - and learnt how difficult it was to get the right balance between studying and everything else! I owe Cambridge a very great deal.


It has always been a hugely enjoyable part of my life to be involved with a number of activities connected to Cambridge, but I hadn’t thought of it as ‘volunteering’ until recently. I only realised quite how many diverse and rewarding Cambridge-related ventures I am involved with when writing my ‘story’. I am delighted to do so because volunteering is an increasingly important part of our University’s life and future, and I would love other people to understand the significance of it, and how rewarding it is. I have always felt that I was doing things because they were fun rather than because they were needed, and I have got just as much out of them personally as I have contributed, if not more!

M-oar daughters: being a landlady for Cambridge rowers

Who would have thought that being a 'landlady' for Cambridge rowing crews would become an important part of my life? For the first few years after I left Cambridge in 1971, such voluntary activities as I was involved with tended to revolve round the immediate community (which has been Henley-on-Thames, since marrying Jim in 1975) and then my young family. Although I did get involved with other things (and I have always worked full-time) my Cambridge connections were initially limited to being involved with the local group of Girtonians. That all changed in 1981 when I was asked by a friend whose daughter was in the crew if I could accommodate some rowers from Cambridge University Women's Boat Club (CUWBC) who were training for their race against Oxford in Henley.

My love for Cambridge and Jim’s love for rowing made this an impossible opportunity to turn down, and thus began one of the most important adventures of my life, as a landlady for CUWBC. For the last 35 years I have been immensely proud to have had dozens of committed and talented young Cambridge rowers staying with me, nine at a time, for an intense week of training (and eating!). This became so important to our family that the rest of the year revolved around this one week in March, and although I had a year off at one point, I had such withdrawal symptoms that I was mightily glad to resume a year later! Most of the girls were here for just one year but several for two, and a couple for three, and it has been fantastic to see some of them go on to such amazing success, including winning several Olympic medals.

I often feel that I acquired a large number of additional daughters, some of whom I still see regularly. Now that my own children have moved on I also have CUWBC staying during Henley Women's Regatta, and occasionally some of my ‘extra daughters’ stay for a few nights at other times as well. I was absolutely thrilled when the Blue Boat won the battle for parity with the men in 2014 and now races against Oxford on the Tideway, and although I had thought rather sadly that this meant the end of my landlady days, I was wrong, as the Lightweights – who still race in Henley – are now staying instead!

  • Girton College

The Oxfordshire Alumni Group

Alongside my role as a landlady, I have been helping run the Oxfordshire Alumni Group for the last 20 years. Alumni Groups exist all over the world, and following a massive recruitment campaign with the help of the alumni office, we now have nearly 600 members, of all ages, which makes us one of the largest Groups. We run a varied programme of lectures and outings, and I am currently in charge of organising and marketing these. We are enjoying considerable success at the moment with outings often oversubscribed and lectures – from some very eminent and usually Cambridge-connected speakers – well attended. The bonds between Cambridge alumni are very strong.

'Welcome to Cambridge' events

The ‘Welcome to Cambridge’ events held around the country in September each year are for the youngsters in the area who are about to take up places at Cambridge. This is a wonderfully important initiative for the local Alumni Groups organising them. Those who attend often don’t know anyone when they arrive but they go away having made friends, exchanged contact details and feeling much more confident about what’s ahead. The various Groups organise them differently (in a pub or community centre for example) and I see them as the most important thing that the local Alumni Groups do. We hold ours in a private house in Oxford. They are immensely rewarding and fun. Organising them (my job!) can be frustrating because potential students are at a stage in life when decisions are made at the last minute (and by social media) and the list of those attending fluctuates wildly, but those that attend are always so charming and grateful, and generally rather impressive, that all is forgiven! (Judging by those we meet now I can’t help feeling that I wouldn’t stand a chance of being accepted nowadays!)

The Volunteers Working Group

Just over a year ago I was invited to join the Volunteers Working Group. I loved the opportunity it gave me to have some input into such an important aspect of the University. The Group discussed and reviewed key areas of volunteering at Cambridge, and how the many people who would like to volunteer can be coordinated with the increasing number of University projects, events and organisations that need them. Volunteering is something I care passionately about and has enriched my life. Not only is it rewarding and fun, but it is also vitally important to the life of our University.

Felicity has a BA in Engineering. She attended Girton College.

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This article has been written by Felicity Rutland and the opinions expressed are those of the author.