All packed up and nowhere to go

Tamara Young 10 October 2007

Freshers at one of Cambridge’s wealthiest colleges met with an unwelcome surprise when they turned up for their first day at university – to be told they could not move in.

Scores of newcomers to St John’s College had to stand for hours in the corridors outside their rooms with their parents while they waited for summer conference guests to clear out.

It later emerged the college had made an administrative howler by asking the guests to vacate the rooms at precisely the same time that freshers were instructed to arrive.

And only after the last stragglers had left – and once the college’s bedders had cleaned the rooms – could the unfortunate students finally make themselves at home.

Despite attempts by college student union officers to make the homeless hordes as comfortable as possible, the mix-up soured the atmosphere on what should have been an exciting first day for the new arrivals.

St John’s student union president Martin Kent admitted the mistake was “massively embarrassing” and said: “Many parents were unhappy about leaving their children in a place where they can’t even get their own room.

“It was completely unacceptable that the first impression for a fresher is that they don’t have anywhere to stay in the college they’ve worked so hard – and for so long – to get to.”

Meanwhile at Christ’s College another paperwork cock-up meant second-year Theologian Charlotte Trace found herself with no room at all.

After turning up to the porters’ lodge to collect her key she discovered the room she had won in last year’s ballot had been given to someone else. And sure enough when she looked at the college’s official room list she was nowhere to be found .

She was put up in a box room usually given to guests and was forced to leave her belongings with friends who were fortunate enough not to suffer the same fate.

The matter was only resolved after accommodation staff returned from their weekend and were forced to play a game of musical rooms – shifting other students around until Trace was restored to her rightful place.

She said: “I literally had to live in someone else’s room. If I’d been a fresher, it would have been so awful. The college staff told me it was the first time this had happened in 29 years. Lucky me.”

Tamara Young