During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Matt from ARDO spoke with Helen Beedham (1991) and you can read her story below. You can find more stories here.
Modern and Medieval Languages (1991)
Why did you want to study at Trinity?
I had a bit of an unusual route to Trinity – I was initially unsuccessful in applying to Cambridge. I applied to Magdalene to study French and Spanish, and I confess I probably hadn’t done sufficient research into the different Colleges, but for whatever reason I wasn’t successful on that occasion. That prompted me to do a lot more research, to go and speak to some of the Admissions Tutors and speak to other students, and I spoke with some students at Trinity and realised that Trinity would be a better fit. As Trinity is very strong on Mathematics and Science, as a linguist I thought it would be an interesting place, to be part of a bigger College. I applied a second time after spending a year in France in my Gap year, everything came together and I was delighted to be offered the place.
Where did you live whilst at Trinity?
In my first year, I had a wonderful room in Blue Boar Court which felt very sumptuous, and my second year I had a bedroom and a separate sitting room down the corridor in Bridge Street above the shops. My third year, I lived in Madrid and taught English at a state school there as part of my degree, and I returned to Trinity in fourth year and shared a set of rooms in New Court, which was fantastic.
What is your favourite part of Trinity?
One would be the College Library, I have such strong memories of working there, writing my essays, doing research, quietly seeing friends – I found it a very productive place to be. My other favourite place is the walk from underneath the Wren Library over the bridge and then around the Backs of Trinity. I have strong memories of that particularly when I was having to learn large numbers of quotes from various French and Spanish books in preparation for my exams and I used to write them on postcards and then walk round and round that route, memorising them on my own when no one was around.
What’s your favourite part of Cambridge, outside Trinity?
I would say my favourite part of Cambridge – or one that definitely lingers in my memory – is the University Library. I find it fascinating, and I remember squirrelling myself away up on whichever floor held my French and Spanish books that I would use, and sitting there by an open window on a sunny afternoon listening to the sounds of people playing sport outside. Just having the luxury of time to think in really tranquil surroundings – that was one of my favourite spots and it’s a place I’ve been back to as an alumna quite often, just to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy that time to myself to think and write again.
Do you have a favourite memory from College?
A very favourite memory of mine was being part of a small group of four or five people who were invited to do the annual wine count of the Trinity cellars. That was such a fantastic experience and my only disappointment was that I wasn’t sufficiently well-educated around wine to appreciate what I was counting! It was an amazing day to see a little bit of unseen Trinity and to see what was in the wine cellars. We were very kindly given a ‘bin end’ each to go home with, which was definitely a highlight of my experience!
What societies were you involved in?
I played tennis and netball for the College, and I was also on the May Ball Committee. I was the Secretary on the Committee, and it was really fantastic helping to organise that. Since leaving Trinity, I was Secretary for the Trinity Women’s Network, and was on that Committee for a few years helping to organise the events and encourage members to join.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before coming to Cambridge?
In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time taking advantage of all the culture that Cambridge has to offer on your doorstep. I was very involved in College life and had a wonderful social life there, but the thing that suffered was taking the time to go and enjoy all the galleries, theatres, all of that. I did relatively little of that and, as a grownup now, I berate myself for not having taken more advantage of having such richness within walking distance.
Have you had any role models, or people who have inspired you?
Not really when I was setting out, because I didn’t know other people going down the same route – I was initially in retail and then management consulting so I wouldn’t say somebody inspired me as I was setting out in my career. What has really inspired me through being part of the Trinity Women’s Network Committee was just meeting and hearing from other women who studied at Trinity at different times and from different subjects to me. Some people I’d only met since becoming an alumna, I found it so inspiring to hear how they’ve used their degrees, how they’ve progressed their work lives, and have also unexpectedly found things in common, mutual topics of interest. Even today I’m still occasionally bumping into someone through my business activities and discovering that we both went to Trinity and there’s a great deal of excitement and instant discussion about our respective experiences of College and our careers since then so it’s wonderful how it continues to be a fantastic way of making friendships.
What was your first job after Trinity?
My first role was at Harrods, I joined the management training scheme for graduates because I wanted specifically to get a good grounding in business and business management. They had a very highly regarded management trainee program, and I actually ended up coming off it within a few months. I had the opportunity to work with the Director of Operations and the Chairman on some projects which was a fantastic alternative and one I don’t regret, so that’s how I started my career. I spent two years in retail and then moved on from that industry.
What do you do now?
I now work for myself as an independent writer, speaker, and advisor to corporate firms on creating inclusive workplaces and enabling individuals to flourish in their professional careers. And that really builds on the last 25 years of my career – experience from Harrods in the early days, and then 15 years as a management consultant specialising in organisational change, and more recently as director of an award-winning diversity organisation City Parents growing a large professional network across the city.
Have you had any unexpected changes to your career path?
Yes I have, definitely – the first one was literally three months into my first job at Harrods. Out of the blue, I was asked to go and meet with the Chairman to effectively be interviewed to accompany the Chairman and a Director to Cuba on a buying research trip, to act as a translator because I spoke fluent Spanish. It took me about a minute to decide that would be a fantastic opportunity, so I did the trip and then subsequently ended up working for that Director of Operations. So my career very quickly took an unexpected turn and the work I did with that Director over the following 18 months really helped me understand better what I wanted to be doing next in my career, and got me into my next job in management consulting. Another turning point in my career was actually when I had taken a two-year career break when my daughter was born, living here rurally in Kent, and met another new mum in the next door village who also had a city background. We got talking and that was how I met the founder of City Parents, and I ended up working alongside her and running a business with her for six years.
What has been your proudest achievement?
To this day, one of my proudest achievements was getting into Trinity and studying at Cambridge and it still ranks in my top 5 achievements. Probably also in there, was achieving something I never thought I’d do – a couple of years ago, I ran and finished the London Marathon. It was an amazing experience and not one I ever plan to repeat!
Have you received any great advice over your career?
Yes, a very valuable piece of advice that a great friend gave me at a time in my career where things were quite hard was: work on your Plan A as determinedly and ambitiously as you can, but always have a really good Plan B because then if Plan A doesn’t happen the way you want it to happen, you have something else that you feel positive and excited about and you can see where it might lead. That has always held me in really good stead, particularly in difficult circumstances where it feels hard to see a positive way forward.
Have you used your degree since graduating?
Yes, I would say I used my languages a lot in probably the first 10 years or so – from interpreting for lead business directors at Harrods to, in my early consulting career, taking on some pan-European project roles where I had to contact and interview and conduct research with people across continental Europe in French and Spanish. That got me some really fantastic roles on really interesting projects. Since then I’ve probably used my languages less day to day in my work life. I did do some coaching, private tuition for GCSE and A Level students in French and Spanish, and I would say strangely, it’s also helped me grow new friendships here in the middle of the countryside – meeting other people who are French and Spanish and having the chance to keep my languages up.
What advice would you give to current students at Trinity?
I would say just make the most of your time there because it flies by, and I certainly found I missed it once it had ended! Talk, listen and connect with as many people and as wide a variety of people as you can because now really is your chance to start building your own professional network. There’s such a rich variety of relationships you can start to build now that will serve you in wonderful stead and that you can continue to access through alumni activities and networks once you leave Trinity, but I would just say network and get to know as many different people as you can.
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at email@example.com