Think you know what an event at Cambridge University would look like? We suggest you think again. Introducing Murray Edwards College; not your average Cambridge College.
Firstly it’s a college for women, set up in recognition of the fact that there is still much gender inequality facing women in the world today. And secondly it’s not all gothic architecture but instead it’s a modern brutalist design. Perfect if you’re looking for a venue that’s different from the rest and a great blank space venue.
We spoke to events manager, Freya Vaughan, to find out more about Murray Edwards College and also find out how she established herself with a career in the events industry.
What’s your background and how did you get into working in events?
I’ve known since school that I wanted to work in Marketing and Events. I had organised a number of events for school and college, including for my year group to go to Disneyland Paris. Although I got accepted to go to university, I realised it wasn’t for me and instead I chose to do my qualifications through the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Their ‘real-world’ approach suited me much better and I continued this up to a CIM Marketing Diploma level 6 qualification, while covering a maternity leave position at Murray Edwards College in the Events Department. Although I was offered an extension of that contract, I accepted a position at Clare College instead to get wider Events Coordinator experience. When Murray Edwards College invited me to apply for a newly created role, Marketing Officer in the Events Department, I was delighted to be successful. After five enjoyable years of running effective marketing campaigns and deputising for the Events Manager, when the Events Manager role became vacant I applied and after a rigorous interview process, was very pleased to be offered the job.
What makes a good event manager?
Clearly, organisational skills are crucial but I would also say attention to detail, the ability to stay calm under pressure and a positive, cheerful attitude to establish good working relationships with both your team and your clients.
What’s special about your where you work, Murray Edwards College
Murray Edwards College is part of the University of Cambridge and a College for women. There is still much gender inequality in the world and many women continue to experience environments, both in education and the workplace, where their voices are not recognised or heard. The fact this inequality is still felt by so many is why there is a need for a College that can focus specifically on women’s learning and preparation for work and life. The College helps women succeed in a variety of innovative, specific ways and this hugely positive ethos is why I am so proud to work at Murray Edwards and contribute to something I consider to be so important in today’s society.
Tell us about the design and some of the features of your venue
Murray Edwards College features modern, Grade II* listed buildings in the brutalism style. The main buildings were designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bonn – who were also behind the Barbican, London. Our crowning glory is the “Dome” Dining Hall. In normal times seating up to 270 guests, the domed ceiling opens up as guests walk in and provides real “wow factor”.
Murray Edwards College also houses the New Hall Art Collection. This collection of art by women is the second largest in the world and the largest in Europe. The collection extends throughout the College, including in our self-contained conference centres and in our en suite accommodation blocks. It really is superb being surrounded by inspirational art at work and we receive fantastic feedback from event organisers and delegates. We can offer tours with the curator as part of any event type, which really contributes to the delegate experience.
Do you have a favourite space?
The tranquil grounds include informal, beautiful gardens and unlike many Colleges we encourage students and visitors to “walk on the grass”. Students and staff often pick the fruit and herbs to use themselves and these are also used by the College kitchens wherever possible. We are even lucky enough to have a car park on site for members and visitors – incredibly useful for those attending events.
We have had some really fun al fresco events including inflatables, amazing lighting to enhance the buildings and gardens, great food, live music and dancing under the stars.
Tell us about a typical day in the events team
The Events team is currently me, two event coordinators and our AV technician. Usually we have an informal chat and coffee around the start of the day where we discuss priorities for the day or week ahead. Then it’s heads down into communications with clients, gathering event details, advising on availability, making suggestions and disseminating information internally and externally as needed. We work really closely with the Catering, Porters and Accommodation departments in particular and we take up any opportunity to stretch our legs and see our colleagues in person. The team are really into learning so we’ve often got training or webinars that we fit in around our other work, ensuring we are up to date with industry best practice and ready to make helpful suggestions to organisers.
What sort of events do you host?
We have significant expertise in delivering excellent meetings and conferences and as previously mentioned we can offer good quality en suite accommodation. Our gardens lend themselves particularly well to corporate and private celebrations for up to around 250 guests and we offer a variety of creative, menus featuring fresh seasonal ingredients that compliment any event perfectly. The Dome is a spectacular venue for Christmas parties and other large dinners but we do have intimate dining rooms as well for smaller numbers. Our team is also responsible for facilitating all of the internal events for College too, which are many and varied.
Do you have a favourite event you’ve working on?
I worked with the Chambers of Commerce Business Women’s Authentic Leadership Conference last year, which I really enjoyed because it aligned so well with the College ethos. The President of Murray Edwards, Dame Barbara Stocking gave a video introduction and we included information about the College’s research “Collaborating with Men” in the delegate packs. The event was well attended and all agreed a real success. The venue you choose for your event can really set the tone and this worked perfectly in that respect.
There were a number of events booked for 2020 which I was very much looking forward to working on but sadly they have had to postpone to 2021. This has been hard on all involved however, it’s great to have such a lot to look forward to!
What can people expect when they hire your venue?
A responsive, reliable, friendly team will be with you throughout your journey with us, from enquiry to invoice and beyond. Our goals include having great relationships with our clients, as this makes life more enjoyable for everyone and definitely helps everyone successfully meet their objectives. The team and I been working hard in the last 18 months to ensure we are equipped with advice and recommendations about all aspects of events so that we are able to support our clients as much as possible. Further to this, we have fantastic surroundings, facilities and services, ensuring everything is in place to deliver a great event.
Currently, we have the Covid-19 pandemic to consider and all of the teams at Murray Edwards College are working extremely hard to ensure we are doing, and will do, everything required of us (and more where we can) to deliver comfortable, safe events as and when we are able to reopen.
Do you have advice you would give to clients to help them plan their events?
Right at the start it’s important to identify the objectives of your event and communicate these clearly to the Events Team at the venue you are using. This is crucial and will be even more so as we go forward in light of the pandemic where we will all be asked to keep additional records, information for track and trace and suchlike.
Venues such as ours where many of the ‘comfort’ aspects are taken care of in-house reduces the need for additional communication to third parties, such as off-site AV technicians and caterers. Here, we are able to take all of that off their hands, leaving them free to develop other aspects of the event.
What do you enjoy about your job the most?
The people. Seeing event organisers feel successful and proud of their event. Watching my team learn new skills and feel accomplished and pleased with their work at the end of each day. Working with enthusiastic colleagues, suppliers and contacts to develop new projects.
In normal times I’d also say lunch! The staff here are fortunate to enjoy lunch in the Dome Dining Hall each day. There’s always so many delicious options and recently there’s been lots more vegan and vegetarian choices which even those ‘committed’ to meat are loving trying.