Skip to main content Skip to footer
Post header Skip post header

Johnian magazine issue 46, autumn 2020

Message from the Master

Written by Heather Hancock (1984)

2 min read

Formally admitted as the 45th Master of St John’s on 1 October 2020, Heather Hancock is confident in the resilience of the Johnian community and enthusiastic about the College’s future.

I’m writing this message to Johnians across the world from the Master’s Study in the fabulous Lodge, as dusk falls and the Chapel tower glows pink in last of the evening sunlight. Just like every other evening since I moved back to Cambridge this September, I feel lucky to be here. I think we have all known that feeling in St John’s.

Heather is the first ever female Master of the college since its founding in 1511. Photography: Geoff Robinson.

As I prepared to become Master, many friends and colleagues observed that ‘it won’t be what you were expecting’. They meant that it was unfortunate to be starting this new role amid a crisis, when COVID-19 is putting limitations on all our lives. But I’ve decided that getting started during a crisis has the stand-out benefit of getting me right up to speed with St John’s in 2020, rather than in the mid-1980s. And my experience has been exactly what any Johnian would expect: I have had the warmest of welcomes back from Fellows, staff, students and alumni.

The College has been superbly led by Tim Whitmarsh as Vice-Master in the last year, in challenging circumstances, and there has been an outstanding effort to have St John’s firing on all cylinders for the start of this Michaelmas term. This has resulted in us sustaining our excellent teaching and learning, keeping this face-to-face wherever we can, as well as creating innovative ways to enable the all-important wider life of the College.

Of course, this term isn’t the same as last year or a decade ago or fifty years ago, and none of us like being forced to make these adjustments. I particularly admire the imagination involved, and the commitment to new approaches being different but not second best. For instance, in the first week of term we held several Matriculation Compline Services in Chapel. Starting at 10pm, these provided a beautiful and uplifting welcome for Freshers, and every safe seat was taken.

As I have walked around the College in these first weeks, relaxing in its beauty and green spaces, I’ve had my Proustian moments. The mist rising from the river and drifting over the Paddocks. Mown grass and autumn leaves mixed in with the Bin Brook’s distinctive aroma. Echoing footsteps in the New Court cloisters.

I particularly admire the imagination involved, and the commitment to new approaches being different but not second best.

Most of all, I have appreciated our students arriving and returning. No face mask can muffle their happy and excited voices, and social distancing measures haven’t thwarted their positivity and the mutual support they show each other. Undoubtedly, this year will provide special bonds between everyone who experiences it in College.

We are doing all we can to make it easy for everyone in St John’s to have a safe and successful term. We cannot predict the course of events or control them, but we can choose how we respond. The whole College community – in Cambridge, in the UK and around the world – has already risen splendidly to the challenges of COVID-19. There’s nothing lucky about that. We are Johnians.

Watch Heather’s address to the College community on 1 October.

Skip Author

Written by

Heather matriculated at St John’s in 1984 and read Geography/Land Economy. Following senior positions in the public sector and at Deloitte LLP, she chaired the Food Standards Agency. Heather was made an Honorary Fellow of St John’s in 2018 and became the College’s 45th Master in 2020.

Johnian Hub