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For staff


Many new and existing members of staff will need to find a property before or during their time at Cambridge, and the University is dedicated to making it as hassle free as possible.

We set off from Lahore at nine in the morning, and by nine o’clock at night we were in the flat.

Ibraheem Hanneef

A mid-August afternoon at the University Accommodation Service and staff are coping admirably with a relentless stream of enquiries. No sooner has one call been answered than another takes its place. The front door is opening and closing pretty quickly, too, as students and staff-to-be come along to hear about potential properties.

Above the noise and bustle, Head of Service Nicky Blanning is trying to explain how she and her team can help newcomers and staff with a range of services – except the phone rings again, and she is off to advise someone about primary schools in Cambridge.

“August, September and October are our busiest months,” she explains on her return. “We are the first port of call for people looking for accommodation in Cambridge, and we will help any member of the University.”

Last year Nicky and her team helped more than 6,500 people and, while much of their work centres around finding appropriate properties for staff and students, she is keen to stress that they can help in other areas as well.

“We offer a whole relocation package. We help people find schools for their children and places to buy cars. We are concerned about the wider family, and link up with the Newcomers and Visiting Scholars to help newcomers, partners and their children settle in to University and city life.”

Cambridge, she admits, can be a difficult place to move to, with a wide range of professionals and employers placing demand on the city’s housing stock. Thankfully, the Accommodation Service, based on Tennis Court Road close to the junction with Lensfield Road, has a database of more than 2,500 places to live. This ranges from rooms with families, to five-bedroom houses.

One member of staff who benefited from the service’s help was Professor Paul Berkman, Head of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Programme at the Scott Polar Research Institute. He was on a train from St Petersburg to Moscow when he got an email saying that a house fitting his needs had been found in Girton.

“I arrived in September 2007, with my family following me a year later,” he says. “I had said to the Accommodation Service that I was looking for a large, furnished place for my wife, daughter and dog. I thought it was a tall order but they managed to find us a property: a two-storey house, with high hedges and four or five fruit trees on the lawn, and close to my daughter’s school.”

Professor Berkman, who came to Cambridge from the University of California, Santa Barbara, says dealing with the Accommodation Service was very pleasant. “They understand the needs of families,” he adds.

The University also owns and manages 360 properties – at West Cambridge, Madingley, Fen Causeway and George Nuttall Close. Priority for these is given to those who are new to Cambridge and the University – people like Ibraheem Hanneef, who moved to Cambridge from Lahore to study for a PhD in the Engineering Department.

He says the process of securing his accommodation from Pakistan was surprisingly straightforward. His supervisor at Cambridge put him in touch with the Accommodation Service, which recommended a property in George Nuttall Close, off Milton Road. A few emails later and his brother and sister in law, who were based in Liverpool at the time, came to view the property and gave it the thumbs up.

“On the day we travelled, everything went smoothly,” says Ibraheem. “We set off from Lahore at nine in the morning, and by nine o’clock at night we were in the flat.”

Ibraheem and his family value the quiet and friendly atmosphere of the flats. “There is a very nice community here. A lot of our neighbours are academics and we found it easy to settle in. The children all play together and it is very safe. There is also a custodian living nearby. If we contact him because something needs mending, he will be round in five minutes.”

He estimates that his rent is about £50 to £100 cheaper than comparable local properties that are advertised privately, and mentions that the ample parking facilities at George Nuttall Close are welcomed by those with families.

The University can also help those moving away from Cambridge – perhaps on a fixed contract or sabbatical. Those who own property and don’t want to sell can let their home through the Accommodation Service. This incurs a fee of 7.5 per cent of the property’s monthly rental income, but this is well below commercial market rates, and comes without any of the additional fees that many estate agents charge. The service’s website also lists details of moving sales and house swaps.

The service also works with a number of colleges to help them find tenants for their properties. “One college Bursar was pleasantly surprised when we filled a five-bedroom house in 24 hours,” says Nicky proudly. It is something they are keen to extend.

Back in the Accommodation Service’s reception area, there is no sign of the pace letting up, despite the working day coming to a close. It’s a sign of how challenging the business of relocating new members of the University is. And how important.

Professor Paul Berkman has now left the University.


31 January 2013