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Written by:
Paul Holland
02 Dec 2022

Elaine Fox-Teece celebrates 20 years working at Trinity Hall today (2 December).

During her time here she’s seen many changes: from staircases and doors painted so colourfully it made the College look like a children’s TV programme, to bedders taking their coffee breaks “under the stairs” like a scene from Harry Potter.

Born and bred in Cambridge Elaine knows the city and the College better than most. She came to the College in 2002 after spending 15 years at her previous job as a care home assistant manager.

“That was a tough job and I wanted something that I could turn up for, work hard at and then go home and relax.”

“I feel so lucky: Trinity Hall is friendly and it makes you feel really welcome.”

Elaine started off as a bed-maker, spending six months in the College’s old properties in Mill Road and Emery Street.

She then became a housekeeper on Central Site in Trinity Lane. “It was difficult at first, but I came to love it. I like being around the younger people. It makes me feel young and the years have just flown past.

“You get to really like the students you are around every day. Some of them have left still looking very young and then, returning as alumni, they’ve brought their children and it’s absolutely lovely to see who they have become.”

Now the head of Central Site Housekeeping she line-manages the bedmakers and house porters and is also responsible for the boathouse a mile or so away opposite Midsummer Common.

She enjoys checking that standards are being upheld and admits to running her fingers over the top of shelves to check for dust. “We try and be the best we can,” she says with pride but adds that, “because no-one is perfect and we all make mistakes I sometimes say ‘this looks lovely, but…’. I love the to work alongside the team, so if we are short-staffed, I’ll very happily jump in.”

Brought up in the Mill Road area, then Arbury, Elaine now lives in Chesterton after spending 15 years living on a narrowboat. She loves to clean and remodel the house on days off. “Sometimes I’ll move the whole room around and my son will wonder why everything is in a different place from the last time he visited.”

During her time the city and College have changed a lot she said: “When I was a little girl Rag Week was really big and my grandmother would take me into town and give me lots of pennies to give to the students who would do all sorts of funny things to get the money from you.”

Trinity Hall has also changed: “Bedders were allowed to choose the colour they would like to have their staircases painted and we had every colour you could think of: yellow, blue, green, and even pink. The student bedroom doors were painted to the colour chosen by the bedder, walls in corridors were painted halfway up with the same colour; if we could open all the doors to the staircases at once it would look like the children’s TV series Balamory where all the houses were painted different colours.”

It’s not all been easy said Elaine: the Pandemic threw up a host of challenges.

“It was hard: we couldn’t see what we were fighting and it was the most difficult time I’ve had in my 20 years here.”

But the team adapted their work to help reduce risk for everyone across the College: cleaning door handles and other areas where people came into contact with surfaces multiple times a day. And wearing face shields all the time.

Elaine has no problem identifying the best thing about her past 20 year: “I’ve met some really nice people and had a lot of fun and real laughs: the housekeeping team are a great team.

Elaine’s place in College history was celebrated in the THWomen40 project in 2016 which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first female undergraduates and Fellows being welcomed to the College.

“It was a lot of fun having my picture taken for that and it is good to feel part of the College’s history like that.”

Other notable changes Elaine has seen:

  • “Avery Court contained a building that housed the Boat Club with one room inside for the Club Captain’s use.”
  • “Where the JCR and Aula Bar are used to be an underground bike store and where we kept our cleaning products and equipment.”
  • “Bedders as they were called, now Housekeeping Assistants, were allowed to have their coffee breaks on their staircases, so you would find them sitting in their cleaning cupboards under the stairs like Harry Potter. That’s if you were lucky enough to have a cleaning cupboard under the stairs, if not they would be sitting in the corridor perched on a stool with the coffee mug nestled in their laps or on the floor beside them.”
  • “Smoking was allowed outside anywhere in college.”
  • “The Market Square used to have an old gentleman who’d sit on the fountain and sing and of course there was Snowy Farr with his mice and other animals!”
  • “The old department stores like Eden Lilley which was where TK Maxx is now, and buses used to travel through the town centre past where Next is now on Sidney Street.”