There are hundreds of clubs and societies in Cambridge which promote various sports, hobbies, subjects and issues of interest to students. Pretty much every taste and interest is catered for. Some organisations are university-wide, but there are also many college-based groups and teams.
Participation in sporting activity is very common in Cambridge, thanks in part to the excellent facilities that many of the colleges offer. Playing for your college team, or rowing in a college boat, is one of the few occasions when your affiliation actually matters. For college rowers, ‘bumps’ races, which happen twice a year, see boats from each college lining up on the river a few meters apart and setting off together. The object of the race is to catch (and literally ‘bump’) the boat in front of yours, after which time you retire from the race. Those boats who bump on all four days of the competition win ‘blades’. For other sports, winning the collegiate knock out cup (known as ‘cuppers’) is the ultimate achievement.
Most captains will be glad to hear from a new recruit, no matter how bad you are (in the bottom divisions, standards can be very poor). On the other hand, top college teams compete quite seriously. Your college will probably have an event in Freshers’ Week where you will be able to sign up for anything that interests you.
More committed sportsmen and sportswomen will probably want to compete at the University level. In popular sports, competition for places can be tough and you might have to be selected at pre-season trials before you can join the club. Listings of University sports clubs and contact details can be found on the University Sport website. The highlight of the season for University clubs is the annual ‘Varsity’ match against Oxford. Those students who are selected to compete in this fixture are awarded a ‘blue’ – an honour that will earn you the idolisation of some. If you are representing the university, you may be entitled to a grant to help meet equipment, competition or training costs; your club will be able to tell you more.
Many less common sports are not played at the college level. In this case, university teams tend to be less selective and you should be able to join without attaining a phenomenal standard. The CUSU Societies’ Directory provides another list of University Sports Clubs. In addition to student sport, town clubs are an option; some postgrads prefer this as you get to meet ‘normal’ people who live in the real world, outside of the University bubble.
As with most facilities, sports provision varies greatly between colleges. Typically, you’ll have free access to football, rugby, hockey, cricket, and netball pitches, squash and tennis courts, and a gym. In some cases, more might be on offer; check with your MCR. In addition, central and civic facilities are available. University teams sometimes have their own grounds which may be available to other students. Fenners’ gym on Gresham Road is also part of the University and offers cheap membership for all students. Renovated in 1999, it is very popular and often busy. Late closing and early opening means that the well-organised can avoid the crowds.
The city’s leisure complex is known as Kelsey Kerridge and contains sports halls, a gym, cricket nets, a climbing wall and various other facilities, including a swimming pool. Up-to-date prices and opening times can be found on their website.
Other Societies and Interest Groups
Non-sporting clubs can also be found at both University and college level. You don’t necessarily need to be a member the college in which a society is based to join it. You will be able to find out about what is on offer in your college from your MCR, or at your college ‘Fresher’s Squash’ during Fresher’s week.
Many societies ‘register’ with the University, which allows them to apply for funding, and ensure a certain amount financial oversight. The University maintains a list of registered socieities. The CUSU Societies’ Directory should be more complete, as it lists non-registered societies too. There is also a huge Freshers’ Fair every October, where many societies have stands where you can subscribe to their email lists and meet current members.
There are several societies which are particularly aimed at graduate students:
Cambridge Graduate Orchestra
A classical music group aimed at grads, mature students and other like-minded instrumentalists.
Cambridge Graduates’ Dining Society
An opportunity to meet new people and dine at other colleges.
Christmas College, Cambridge
Not a new college, and not specifically a grad society, but it organises events over the Christmas period when there’s little else going on.