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Cambridge City Council

Charities and University of Cambridge college heads meet for inaugural partnership talks

25 March 2024

The heads of14 Cambridge colleges came together with 20 local charities for a first-of-a-kind meeting organised jointly by Jesus College, Cambridge and Cambridge City Council at the Guildhall (on Tuesday 19 March), aimed at sharing experiences and working better together for the benefit of all across the city.

Four women standing in front of the Guildhall
Left to right: Nicky Shepard, CEO of Abbey People, Cllr Jenny Gawthrope Wood, Mayor of Cambridge, Sonita Alleyne OBE, Master of Jesus College, and Sarah Crick, CEO of The Red Hen Project.

The Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Jenny Gawthrope Wood, said: “My theme for my mayoral year has been building bridges in our community. We have huge divides in our city, and it’s really important to us to do what we can to support genuine partnerships in Cambridge to create thriving, empowered communities.

“We want to support and expand partnerships, and celebrate the benefits that they bring to all parties - such as through the partnership work that’s already going between Jesus College and local charities the Red Hen Project and Abbey People, which we’ve heard about today.”

Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College, explained the college recently established a community committee and has been working successfully with two charities on a sustained basis – The Red Hen Project and Abbey People.

Ms Alleyne described the college’s relationship with both charities as a friendship with the key ingredient being “listening to each other”. Support provided by the college includes, but is not limited to, facilitating volunteering opportunities for its students, academics and staff and opening its grounds and spaces to the charities for various uses.

Nicky Shepard of Abbey People, which supports residents in Abbey ward, told the meeting: “Our partnership with Jesus College feels like a very real way to start building links and trust between some of the most economically-challenged people of Cambridge, and one of the oldest colleges in the university. It feels as if a page is turning, and the truly wonderful thing is that we are turning it together.”

Sarah Crick of The Red Hen Project which supports primary-school aged children and their families in Cambridge, said: “There is a history of town and gown being exclusive, separate and largely unaware of the other’s existence. However, with Jesus College we have established a strong, mutually-beneficial and affectionate relationship.”

Ms Alleyne added: “The colleges engaging with the charitable sector in Cambridge is not a new thing; there is a rich history of instances that show how this city knits together and intersects. The question is how can we be better and what does better look like?

“I’d like to thank the city council for helping to convene this event and providing the council chamber as the setting to begin our discussions. It was wonderful to see so many organisations come together united by care, compassion, and a desire to do good for civil society.”

This was the first in a series of events to bring the leaders of Cambridge’s colleges and charities together in this way, with future events still to be planned. Register to hear about any future events by emailing