St Edmund’s College has been a huge part of my family for almost twenty years. I fondly remember my first visit as a guest of my husband to be (Andy Harter, Fellow), and being seated with the then Dean, Dr Michael Robson, who some two years later was to officiate at our wedding. Andy and I were married in the College Chapel when it looked out over the orchard before the ‘Brian Heap’ building was built. The students presented us with a teddy bear named Edmund (of course!) wearing a college bow-tie who sat by the organ throughout the ceremony. Our two sons Raphael and Gabriel were later baptised in the Chapel (again with Edmund in attendance), so it is an extremely special place for us all.
It really is a great privilege to have been actively involved in College life throughout all of this time, and in so many different ways! I was one of the childcare and family officers for a few years, instigating the St Teddy’s Club and hosting a programme of events and parties for members of College with families. It has always been one of the strengths of the College that we have tried to make everyone welcome and valued, particularly overseas students. An altogether more adult activity has been the College May Ball, which I was also heavily involved with for quite some time. Like many such things, the ball had good years and less good years. I vividly remember one occasion when with a week to go, ticket sales were poor, the committee disintegrated and the event was in serious doubt. The May Ball President, Andy and I rolled our sleeves up and pulled it together, snatching triumph from disaster. It was so successful we even managed to put on dodgems for the first time along with a five course gala dinner! And on a more light-hearted note, I have been a regular in the Fellows Christmas Pantomime, and often have a hand in cobbling together the rather eclectic scripts. I’m pretty sure we are the only College in Cambridge where the Fellows are brave enough to put on such a show, which speaks volumes about the spirit of the place.
Eddies has unfailingly appreciated the value of sport as a healthy part of College life, an idea not always popular elsewhere in Collegiate Cambridge but now universally considered an important component of wellbeing. I have enjoyed supporting all kinds of College sports, but rowing has been a particular focus for quite a few years, and I have helped the Boat Club grow from a point not too long ago when we didn’t manage to get a women’s boat in the May Bumps, to last year when there were two for the very first time. It has been an enormous pleasure to contribute to the development efforts to provide our current pair of much loved boats, and great (and often painful!) fun to help by filling gaps in crews from time to time, both in races on the Cam and further afield. I was proud to row in our women’s best ever effort in WEHoRR, the largest race in the world for women. The less glamorous side is cycling the icy towpath at first light, with the Beast from the East for company!
Outside of College life, I have enjoyed a hugely rewarding and interesting career. I co-founded a Cambridge technology company in 2002, and brought sales, marketing and business development to an otherwise entirely geeky company of male engineers (it’s better now!). Instead of taking investment I pioneered what was, four years later, to become known as crowdfunding, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars of non-equity donations – our seed funding. The company has been remarkably successful, and we have won three Queen’s Awards for Enterprise along the way. We also won the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert prize, where I was only the second female winner since inception in 1963. The prize was presented by HRH Princess Anne, who I am delighted has recently been elected an Honorary Fellow of the College.
Both through the company and personally, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to have had the means to follow some philanthropic passions, including sponsorship of the arts in the wider Cambridge. For three years, I led the business consortium that bankrolls the Midsummer Common fireworks, so I also know the challenge of raising six figure sums! And when Andy was High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire in 2018/19, we embarked on a personal fundraising challenge to support a range of smaller local charities. We cycled, walked, ran, drove, boated and abseiled our way around the County, raising over £100,000 in the year.
I am a firm believer in service, whether to the College, or to charitable organisations or to civic life more generally. I am a trustee of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, founded as one of the very first hospices in the world specifically for children with end-of-life and life-limiting conditions. We have some terrific patrons, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge recently opened our new hospice just outside Norwich, and Ed Sheeran has been an outstanding ambassador. A little closer to home, I am a trustee of the Cambridge Arts Theatre, without doubt the best provincial theatre in the country (but I am biased!) and I have recently been appointed by the University Council as a trustee of the Storey’s Field Centre at Eddington.
I was greatly honoured in 2018 to receive a commission as a Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire. The Lord-Lieutenant is The Queen’s representative in the County who, subject to The Queen’s approval, appoints a number of deputies to advise and assist them. It is hugely varied work, from Royal visits, the honours system and officiating at Citizenship Ceremonies through to supporting the work of volunteers whether in charities, cadet forces or the magistracy. We also crop up in the University from time to time, especially the Honorary Degree Congregation in June! I am proud to be the first female holder of this Office at St Edmund’s and also only the third behind former VCs and Honorary Fellows; Lord Broers and Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.
But for all this hectic mix, College has been a constant in the Bacon/Harter family. I have kept in touch with generations of students, from those early days when we enthusiastically threw lively tutorial parties in the CR and at our home. It is always a delight to receive emails out of the blue from many of the amazing students that I have met through the wide range of activities it has been my pleasure to support, encourage and participate in … at the very special place that is Eddies.