Downing College

Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

Downing is a medium sized college next to the Downing site, in the centre of Cambridge. It has over 600 students, around 400 of them undergraduates. It is a large college, benefitting from large and spacious gardens, with a paddock perfect for playing sport and relaxing. Downing is home to a tight-knit community of students from all backgrounds studying a whole range of different subjects, supported by a supportive and welcoming team of porters and staff. We hope you enjoy reading about our beautiful college and hope to see you soon!

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Downing CollegeCredit: Cambridge University

Key facts

  • Distance to Sports Pitch
    Downing College Sports Ground is about 1 mile
  • Gym
    Yes. Induction fee & yearly fee of £23.
  • Music Practice Rooms
    Yes, plus practice venues for Chapel choir and Music Society.
  • Prayer spaces
    Anyone is welcome to pray in Downing’s Chapel.
  • Special Diets Main Meal
    Vegetarian: Yes, at least one hot vegetarian meal every day. Also vegetarian options at formal hall. Vegan: Currently trialing vegan meals at dinner once a week. Hot dishes and sides are available, jacket potatoes, a salad bar and sandwiches.
  • Special Diets Main Meal
    You can always ask staff if you have allergies/requirements. You can specify most requirements when you book a formal hall ticket online.
  • Theatre space
    Howard Theatre and several other spaces can be booked out.

What is your favourite thing about Downing?

Rachel, Downing, Geography, 2nd year
Geography, 2nd year

Downing benefits from a huge, open layout, unlike most other colleges that are made up of smaller courts. This gives Downing a lovely open feeling and is perfect for photo opportunities! You can’t walk on most of the grass (like most other colleges!), but Downing benefits from having the Paddock, a large piece of grass. This also means that there’s a lot of space to meet up with friends and run some great events, from sport matches to garden parties to the biannual May Ball.

Downing also has a student body that is just the right size – with about 130 people in the year, it may seem like a lot of people to get to know, but the people doing your subject and the people you live with soon become your closest friends. Communal time, such as going to eat at hall and working in the Butterfield Café, mean that you bump into familiar faces all the time.

Describe your College’s atmosphere

Rachel, Downing, Geography, 2nd year
Geography, 2nd year

It’s quite easy to just walk past Downing – it’s not very obvious from the street, tucked between all the restaurants and shops on Regent Street! But once you walk into the college, its unassuming gates lead to a huge expanse of space, with student accommodation, teaching rooms, our library, café and dining hall, as well as our theatre, art gallery and gym, all unfold before your eyes. Most people are surprised by how big the college is, especially since you wouldn’t guess from the road.

The college community is what makes Downing so special. Right from the first day of freshers’ week, you are introduced to so many people and have to chance to make new friends and chat to people from all years and subjects. Your college parents (two students in the year above who help you settle in) will probably be your first contact in college, and will help you get to know lots of people. From then on, all students, no matter their year, subject or accommodation benefit from the close-knit community at Downing.

What is the accommodation like?

Rachel, Downing, Geography, 2nd year
Geography, 2nd year

Accommodation at Downing has a reputation for being amazing! For first years, you’ll be asked to indicate what price band room you want, and will be allocated a room that way. There are 4 accommodation blocks and 1 staircase in college only for freshers, which is a great way to get to know everyone. Lots of first year rooms have double beds and ensuites(!!!)

Second and third year accommodation are allocated by a random ballot, which you can enter as a group of friends. You pick your room (either a room in college staircases, or a room in one of the houses on Lensfield Road) according to your order in the ballot. The ballot order is reversed for third year, so if you were last in the ballot (like me…) in second year, you still get a good pick!

How good is the food?

Rachel, Downing, Geography, 2nd year
Geography, 2nd year

Food at Downing is a highlight! Lots of people go to Hall to eat (people call it ‘slops’, but this is definitely not a reflection of the quality of the food!), which is a great time to catch up with people over lunch or dinner. Hall does lunch and dinner every weekday, with hot food and a salad bar always available. At the weekends, brunch and dinner are served. At each meal, there is always a vegetarian option available, and sometimes vegan options. The Butterfield Cafe in college serves food for breakfast (croissants, bacon rolls etc.), and also does sandwiches, baguettes, paninis and salads throughout the day. Formal hall (optional) runs 3 times a week, where students and fellows are served a 3 course meal, can bring wine and wearing formal dress and gowns is compulsory. Vegetarian, vegan and nearly all other dietary requirements are always catered for. Formal hall is is a great way to wind down or celebrate someone’s birthday!

College provides lots of food, but there is also the option to cook in your accommodation. Most fresher accommodation have well-equipped kitchens, with hobs, ovens and fridge-freezers. Some of the larger accommodation blocks, as well as the houses on Lensfield Road for second and third years, have large dining tables and much bigger kitchens - perfect for eating together with your housemates.

What about entertainment and extra-curricular activities?

Rachel, Downing, Geography, 2nd year
Geography, 2nd year

No matter what you’re into, or your level, there’ll be something for you at Downing! (And if you think there’s something missing, you can always make your own!)

Downing has a reputation for being good at sports, with strong teams in nearly every sport. A classic Cambridge sport to get involved in is rowing, but there’s everything else from football to frisbee to get involved with.

Besides sport, there’s plenty to keep you occupied with music, drama and talks. Most subjects have their own society, and hold regular talks which are open to everyone, no matter your subject!

The JCR ents team always try and make sure there’s something to look forward to each term with a big ‘ent’ for the whole JCR - basically a big party, also known as bops at other colleges. They are usually themed - DowFest (festival theme complete with ice cream!) and Arabian Nights saw the whole college come together.

What welfare support is there?

Rachel, Downing, Geography, 2nd year
Geography, 2nd year

Welfare is an important part of Downing life – everyone might need support now and then. There are 2 welfare officers (male and female) on the JCR Committee, whose job it is to be there for anyone who might need another student to talk to, or want advice on where else to go with a problem. Be it academic or pastoral, the welfare officers are always there with a listening ear. They are also in charge of organising whole-college welfare events, like bringing in puppies in exam term and posting goody bags of sweets to everyone’s pigeon holes halfway through each term! College staff are also on hand – the College nurse is available for drop-in sessions, and your Director of Studies and Tutor are also other people you can approach for support. And, of course, look out for your friends!

What about your College would you change?

Rachel, Downing, Geography, 2nd year
Geography, 2nd year

As good as some of the accommodation is, some of it really needs updating (there is an acute lack of tables and chairs in most kitchens!) College are refurbishing lots of the houses, but some staircases need some modernising and a bit of TLC.

Sometimes it’s quite hard to make changes to things in college. The JCR always try to respond to student’s concerns, and things have changed - we can now buy formal tickets online, for example, but it is still quite a long process! It would be good to be able to get more students’ views heard, and to make changes quicker.

What has been going on at Downing College?

- Recent Events -

Festival of New Writing

Every year, over three evenings, the Downing Dramatic Society hosts a series of one-act plays written by Cambridge students, to be performed in front of an audience including industry professionals.

Halfway Hall

Most of the second years at Downing celebrated being halfway through their degrees with a drinks reception, year group photo, a speech by the Master and formal meal.

Opening of the Heong Gallery

Downing opened the Heong Gallery this year, a new art gallery that is free to all and is a wonderful cultural addition to both the college and Cambridge.

College Gallery

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