Bar for USP residents in danger of closing

Who wants to join Wijnand in saving the Cambridge bar?

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Students hanging out at the Cambridge bar. Photo courtesy of the bar's board

It seems an impossible task. The previous board installed a new board last March to bridge the period until September. Then September turned into October. But they cannot wait any longer: a decision must be made by October 31. Right now, there are only four people interested in joining the board but only one person who actually signed up to occupy one of the seven positions. The Cambridge bar has been having a hard time finding volunteers and board members since the introduction of the student loan system, in September 2015. Up until now, however, closing has never been on the table. 

Most of the people who attended the public meeting held earlier this week were former board members and current volunteers. Only a couple of people were interested in volunteering at the bar in the future. They all understand why it's been hard to find new people to join the board. The Cambridge bar has lost a bit of its prominence these past few years, mainly because it failed to find the right promotional channels, but also because the bar was closed during the pandemic. As a result, younger students are unfamiliar with it. A specific position in the board has been created to raise awareness about the bar among those living on campus, as well as other students, employees and guests of the Utrecht Science Park.

“It is important to create continuity”, a former board member remarks. This has been a pitfall in recent years as there have been board members who quit after six months and others who stayed on for several years by necessity. Many of the bar's guests are international students living in the high-rise building, who often don’t stay in the Netherlands long enough to join the board.

Even so, they think there should still be enough people interested. After all, many students are looking to do something else alongside their studies to gain some work experience and socialise — two things that a year at the Cambridge bar board can offer. The time investment varies per week but is usually between five and ten hours, which are spent attending meetings, cleaning up the bar, or tapping beer.

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Back to Wijnand, who is received with a round of applause at the meeting. He wants to be part of the board no matter what: “I have been coming to the Cambridge bar for a while, so it has a special place in my heart. The people who come here and work here are so much fun they instantly make you feel like you are part of the group.” He calls the bar a valuable place. “The atmosphere here is so much different than in other establishments. You can easily start conversations with people, which makes meeting new people a lot easier. The drinks are cheap and you can roll straight from the bar back home.”

The same atmosphere exists within the team of volunteers and the board. “It’s different, compared to a commercial company. The people here do the work because they care about the bar, not because they have to or because they want to make money.” Nevertheless, the board proposes board members get a small compensation, to be paid by volunteers by means of a fee. The responses during the meeting are mixed. One of the interested folks says: “I’d be happy to join the board for a year but I already have a job aside from my studies. If there was such a fee, I would be able to skip a shift at work to be here every now and again.”

Wijnand kind of fell into the work. “My housemates knew the bar already, they volunteered there. The first time I came here, they were remodelling the bar, so I spent the first few weeks working on DIY projects instead of tapping beer. Not without the occasional drinks sessions afterwards, of course!” People who are not as familiar with the bar are invited to join the board for a year too. Those interested in running a small business or looking to practice their social media skills are welcome to join too, as the ones who just want to socialise. Wijnand's best memory of the Cambridge bar was last June when the bar celebrated its lustrum. “It was really fun. I also learned a lot about how to work in a team and I got to know the members of the board better. My favourite activity was karaoke night, the bar was full to the rafters!”

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What will happen to the bar if a new board cannot be instated? The meeting left that question unanswered. Instead, the group preferred to talk about alternatives, such as having fewer members on the board or reducing the opening hours or looking for collaborations with student associations. Every alternative has more cons than pros. Fewer people on the board would mean more work for the ones who do join, which could lead to more strife and less fun. Extending the opening hours could be detrimental to the bar's recognition and the stride to regain the customers' trust. Establishing fixed contacts with student associations would be tricky because they are often liaised with other cafes already or have difficulties finding and replacing board members themselves.

Should the bar close, then its furniture will have to be divvied up. The bar itself is owned by the student housing provider SSH, which also owns the building. In any case, a jam-packed karaoke night is not expected to occur anytime soon. Whether the Cambridge bar will open its doors again is going to be announced on Tuesday, November 1.

Mocht de bar sluiten, dan zal alleen de inboedel verdeeld moeten worden. De bar zelf is eigendom van studentenhuisvester en eigenaar van het pand de SSH. Een bomvolle karaokeavond zal er in ieder geval even niet meer inzitten. Dinsdag moet het duidelijk zijn, of de Cambridgebar de deuren nog zal openen.

Fun facts about the Cambridge bar
The bar was inaugurated in 2000 on a much smaller scale
It is open from Monday to Thursday, from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am, and on Friday from 9:00 pm until midnight
Activities: karaoke, BBQ, potluck, Halloween fancy dress party
The bar can be rented before the official opening hours and on weekends, as long as you ask at least a month in advance
Everyone is welcome

Price list:
Beer - 0,25 liters: 1,70 euros; 0,5 liters: 3,30 euros; pitcher: 8,50 euros
Wine: 1,70 euros for a glass; 9 euros for a bottle.