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From Cambridge to the World

In Yorkshire and Macedonia, in New York and Mongolia, alumni volunteers are critical to the work done by University groups across the globe.

  • Words
    Sarah Woodward
  • Illustration
    Hanna Melin
- 4 minute read

Next time you attend or read about an alumni event, give a thought to those who made it happen. Cambridge alumni benefit from the furthest-reaching alumni network of any university in the world, with more than 420 groups organised by geography and common interests. But behind the scenes hundreds of volunteers help to run these societies – and set up new ones. Mat Maddocks (Jesus 1996), Emma Woollcott (Jesus 1998) and Steven Friel (Jesus 1996), this year formed Cambridge Alumni LGBT+. Maddocks says: “We are all active in the workplace on LGBT+ issues and it came up in conversation – why is there not a society for members of the LGBT+ alumni community? So we set one up.”

The aim is to provide support to the wider LGBT+ community as well as bring alumni together. “We hope the Cambridge LGBT+ group will attract people working across a wide range of industries and services, giving us a powerful voice.” The society plans to hold informative and educational events as well as social ones, to highlight issues such as the high proportion of students who return to the closet on reaching the workplace, and the provision of healthcare in the workplace for trans people. Maddocks is keen to invite all interested alumni to get in touch, whether or not they are a member of the LGBT+ community. “We welcome all allies, with Cambridge our common point of connection,” he says.

Our door is open to help students who want to apply to Oxbridge, whether that is advice on funding and scholarships, queries on the application process, or how to prepare for interview

As to the longest-standing alumni group, the Cambridge Society of York, founded in 1939, lays claim to that title. The Society celebrated its 80th birthday this spring at a commemorative dinner, with Archbishop John Sentamu (Selwyn 1974) saying grace. Honorary Secretary Rachael Mather (Queens’ 1990) is delighted by the high attendance at such events but is keen to send out a message for help: “We need people to attend the meetings, but also to do the legwork!” Volunteers may find themselves singing On Ilkla Moor Baht ’at at the Society’s annual Yorkshire Day outing, but they will also have the opportunity to join with the Cambridge Society of North and West Yorkshire in hosting an annual freshers’ event for local students about to go to Cambridge. “The University publicises the event to local schools and colleges and we usually get about 15 students. It means they already know someone when they get to Cambridge,” she says.

Indeed, as we all remember, those first few days can be daunting – particularly if, like Boshko Stankovski (St Edmund’s 2008), your arrival at Cambridge coincides with your first ever visit to the UK. “I had a million questions and I really wished there was someone to tell me what to expect. Better still, I would have loved to have been in touch with graduates before I arrived.” A decade ago Stankovski was instrumental in setting up the Oxford and Cambridge Society of North Macedonia, of which he is President. “We started on Facebook and grew quickly via word of mouth. Our door is open to help students who want to apply to Oxbridge, whether it is advice on funding and scholarships, queries on the application process, or how to prepare for interview.” The Society also provides a link for academics coming to work or study in North Macedonia and, as a registered NGO, is involved in efforts to improve local higher education and attract skilled employees to the country.

Many of the introductions come through the University, and Stankovski has a simple message for fellow alumni: “If you want to volunteer, get in touch with the alumni office. “Our experience has been extremely positive. Not only did we receive help with data protection for mailing lists, we get feedback, ideas and advice.”

Find out more about volunteering with a group or starting a new one. 

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