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A Day in the Life of the Housekeeper

Caroline Adams has been working at Pembroke for nearly 20 years. As the Housekeeper, she and her team are responsible for the cleaning and upkeep of rooms both within College and in the hostels around Cambridge. She talked us through her typical day.

8am: Start work. The first thing I do is check my emails. My iPad is linked to my email account so sometimes I check emails in the evenings as well. I find out if people are off sick, or on holiday, or if any of the students or Fellows have queries about anything. We do try to be proactive about preventing problems, but a lot of our work is reacting to what people tell us.

Linen Room 1

A typical day in the Linen Room

Most of the bedders come here to sign in first thing in the morning, apart from those who are working at the Grantchester Meadows hostel or further away. Maureen (the Assistant Housekeeper) starts at 6.30 in the morning, while Eileen (the Deputy Housekeeper) and Kevin (the Senior Supervisor) both start at around 7. The bedders work in teams, with each team responsible for a few staircases or a hostel. The old system used to allocate one bedder to each staircase, which made it difficult to cover for people who were off sick or away. It also made the work more hectic: when Maureen first started, she had three hours in the morning to clean all the rooms on F Staircase. It’s much more relaxed now and we can accommodate sick days and holidays much more easily by moving people around between the teams when necessary.

Linen Room 2

10.30: From about 10.30 to 10.50 the bedders have their break, where we provide tea and coffee in the Hall and people can have a smoke. We have 45 staff in the Housekeeping department but only three of us are full-time; the bedders work usually from about 8 until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. We have a rota for cleaning at weekends, and some people start about 7.30 to clean the offices before the other staff come in.

After reading through my emails, my next task is to respond to them. We get all sorts of questions and requests, so this can be very varied. I love the job, because you never know what you’re going to be doing on any given day. Recently we’ve been having a problem with moths in some of the bedrooms – it’s been happening more and more recently, not just at Pembroke but in several other Colleges as well. The moths tend to multiply in the empty rooms over the winter while students are on holiday, and the conditions have been ideal for them this year, so when we came back after Christmas there were lots of cases to deal with. We get the professionals in and they use a water-based spray on the carpets, which is non-harmful to humans. This involves moving everything off the floor, and sometimes there’s an awful lot of stuff on those floors, so we’ve been contacting students to let them know which days this is happening. Other things I’ve been sorting out recently include problems with mattresses, microwaves, curtains… all sorts of things.

Linen Room 4

Communication is important for us. The students receive so many emails all the time, and I do understand that it can be difficult and sometimes things get missed. The hostel keepers are often very helpful – we keep in touch with them by email and through the Tutorial Office, and they can communicate any important messages to the students in their hostel.

12.30: Lunch – usually just half an hour while I read the newspaper. My days tend to be very busy so it’s nice to have some quiet time.

Aside from organising the cleaning, I’m responsible for dealing with accommodation enquiries from Old Members, Fellows, University Departments and Academic Visitors, which takes a good deal of my time. I use a rooms booking database for all College accommodation, including flats and houses (separate from the student rooms database, which is managed by the Rooms Tutor). I allocate rooms for all out-of-term use – for International Programmes students and all other events, such as College Year Dinners, conferences, interviewees, open days and so on.

Linen Room Caroline's Office

Caroline’s office

We have a lot of contact with Maintenance, to keep an eye on the upkeep of kitchens and bathrooms throughout College, and we work closely with HR. Eileen has to keep careful records of the bedders’ holidays and their time off in lieu. She also deals with ordering furniture, electrical equipment, linen, laundry… The laundry is collected and returned twice a week by a contractor. And we take deliveries of cleaning supplies and loo roll every week. Do you know how much we spend annually on loo roll? It’s £4500 for the hostels and another £4500 for within the College. So £9000 a year on loo roll!

I also do a lot of work with the City Council, mostly to do with recycling. We’ve had to deal with flooding a few times, in the hostels and in Foundress Court basement. Once there was a fire in one of the hostels, and we had to have the whole place cleaned out. So it really is varied – you end up dealing with all sorts of different things! But it’s a rewarding job, and I’m always proud that the bedders contribute so much to College life. They play an unofficial role in the pastoral side of life here for students, and it’s especially nice for them to know their work is appreciated by the students and by the College. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes!

4pm: Home time!

What does a bedder do every day? Find out in ‘A Day in the Life of a Bedder’ here.

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