Lydia Devonport

By Matthew Moss 4min read

Lydia studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Homerton - one of only two students in her year - and went on to be HUS President 2019-20.  She spoke to us about how she came to Homerton, and her reflections now on her time here.

I first wanted to go to Cambridge when I was eight years old.  I was in the back seat of the car, and heard something on the radio about this prestigious and special place called Cambridge. I asked my mum about it and she said “oh no, only really really clever people go there”.  Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I decided then and there at the age of eight that I would be one of those people. Nobody else in my family was particularly academically minded - not my mum, not my siblings. I was born in Burnley and grew up in Thornton-Cleveleys, a small town near Blackpool, and all through school I hardly knew anybody who had been to university.  But looking back it seems like all the decisions that I took in life after the age of eight were designed to get me closer to Cambridge. I cried on results day when I got my offer from Homerton.

But Cambridge was absolutely not what I expected, having wanted to get there for so long.  I’d thought that the main value would be learning my subject, but it turns out that the main value was to learn so much about who I was – sometimes through really hard times.  It was a very intense journey of self-discovery, and I can’t imagine going on that journey anywhere other than at Homerton.

The connection with Homerton has never left me. I feel tied to the place in ways I still don’t understand. I keep thinking back to try to understand what makes the College connection so powerful. I still check up on Homerton in The Tab, and I still sort of feel I know what’s going on in College. I still feel part of the furniture.

I guess a lot of that comes from the extra experience of being HUS President.  It was a totally different experience to being a student. I feel I got to peek behind the curtain and see how the cogs of the machine all work together. It’s a much bigger picture than you’re aware of as a student. I found the workings of the institution really fascinating.

I was pooled to Homerton. Homerton wasn’t what I thought I wanted from university – I applied to a tiny and ancient College, and ended up at the biggest and newest. But I’m so, so glad I did.   I was blown away by the openness and forward thinking that were on display here compared to other places I’d seen. Geoff Ward, the Principal, was openness personified: on the first day, he gave a speech to mums and dads that I still remember.  And from that point on, working as a student and on the HUS with the Porters, the Tutorial Office, the Development Office – I could see how everyone was bought into the mission of supporting the students in the best way they could.

And there was a desire to do well by future students as well as current students:  a commitment to the generations to come that was surprising.  I particularly remember the open voting on the design for the new dining hall (which I haven’t seen yet!).  I remember thinking that the design process engaged lots of students, even though we all knew we wouldn’t be here when it finally opened.

Lydia at BA graduation, with Emma Themba, HUS Office Manager

The last half of my presidency of HUS was absorbed by the looming crisis of COVID-19. There were lots of meetings, and I remember thinking at the time that it was a historic moment, even though it was for all the worst reasons. I remember thinking that when people look back in the archives, they’ll see that I was present and that my opinions mattered, as we worked out together how to configure the workings of the College to meet the threat.

So when I left, it was into a pandemic world. The jobs market was weird. I really wanted to stay in Cambridge, but thought I might have to go home instead.  In the end, I found various ways of staying in Cambridge: I worked in Wetherspoons, then as a porter at Newnham and Clare Hall, and recently in administration at Clare Hall. I now work at David Lloyd leisure in Cambridge. But I’ve been restricted in what I can do by Long Covid, which has affected me in strange and humbling ways. I don’t know what my next move is going to be, and the uncertainty feels sort of like the moment of graduation all over again, but I do know that what I’ve learnt at Homerton - about my course, and about myself - will stay with me always.