Emily Fish discusses the sense of safety she feels in Cambridge, having grown up in the unpredictable metropolis of Manchester.
Growing up in Manchester, there is a part of yourself that is constantly switched on to fight or flight. There is something inherently discomforting about a city that is populated by some 2.55 million people, in which you are only a single figure. When I am in its city centre, stumbling down the street with my friends at 3am, or walking to the bus stop alone at night after closing the shop, I become acutely aware of that fact.
It’s not necessarily that I don’t feel safe there – Manchester is my favourite place in the world, and there’s nothing that could discourage me from professing my love for it to anyone that will listen. With its rich cultural history, celebration of diversity, and, let’s be honest, some absolutely cracking music, Manchester is the country’s hub of all the things that I hold dearest. It’s home.
But it is also capable of making me feel as though I need some permanent form of protection. There was at least one incident when my college in Rusholme was put into lockdown because a stabbing had taken place just outside of its gates. The evening news is always littered with bits and pieces about various crimes that have taken place across the city. Bus drivers have often told me to “stay safe” as I get off to walk home at night.
Coming to Cambridge, then, was a bit of a shock to the system. We joke about the bubble – and indeed it has its faults – but when I wander home from Cindies alone at 2am, whistling and clutching my cheesy chips, I am grateful for the sense of safety that I am endowed with. It would be ignorant to suggest that Cambridge doesn’t have its dangers. Of course there is crime here, as there is everywhere in the world – yet as soon as I’m within the college parameters, I can be sure that the risks that will meet me are comparatively minimal.
Perhaps a part of it is the topography of Pembroke: the college grounds feel like a well-kept communal back garden and the hall feels like an (admittedly rather grandiose) dining room; the JP is somewhat like a living room, and the tiny, tiny gyp in P staircase is reminiscent of my similarly tiny kitchen in Manchester. Home, for most, is an intrinsically safe space, and when the walls of your university home encompass four courts, the feeling of homely safety is inevitably extended.
The college’s physical manifestations are only one factor in the sense of security that blankets me during term time. Its human components are even more vital. As I stroll through college, to Trough, to check my pidge, or even (God forbid) to lectures, I am welcomed by smiling faces and warm greetings as opposed to the mass of indistinct and fleeting identities that flicker past me when I walk down Market Street. From the people that serve our food, to the porters, to the maintenance men, each person contributes to the overwhelming sense of community that immediately eradicated all the vulnerability I felt when I arrived at university. More than any, Jan, the college nurse, has helped me through imposter syndrome, pneumonia, and even five hours in A&E after post-prelims celebrations left me with a concussion. And I know that there are plenty of others who can vouch that the support she offers goes above and beyond what you might expect from her.
It is probably true that not everyone shares this feeling of safety that Pembroke provides for me – everyone’s circumstances are different. But, coming from a city that can often be formidable and reductive, Pembroke’s cosiness is something that I am frequently grateful for.
Emily Fish is first year English student and part of the Pembroke Street editorial team.