A day in the life of a Senior Porter

Whether helping an injured punter or responding to the wide range of queries from students and visitors to the College, there is never a dull moment for Trinity’s Porters. Senior Porter Kevin Atkins describes a ‘typical’ day at work.

During my shift I am responsible for the smooth running of the College and managing any incidents – from responding to student queries and dealing with an unhappy tourist who expected to see private areas of the College, to administering first aid for simple and serious ailments.

Atkins with visitors
Mr Atkins with visitors

I manage a team of Gate Porters (a role I occupied previously) and Assistant Porters, and we have a set daily routine of patrolling the grounds, fire alarm testing and gate security. Of course that is not all…

Being a Senior Porter is a great job that comes with a lot of satisfaction. I especially enjoy the interaction with students and guests I have met. Although the structure of my day is often the same I am constantly surprised by the variety of incidents, questions and people I deal with. For example, recently a gentleman came into the Porters Lodge asking to book into his room for a conference – at Jesus College! He had assumed Trinity’s Porters Lodge was the only one in Cambridge…

On another day I carried out the handover with the previous shift and checked the diary to ensure I was aware of any events so I could plan my day and allocate manpower accordingly. A few hours into the shift I received a radio message from one of the Gate Porters about a young lady from Asia. She had had disembarked from a commercial punt to seek help. As she spoke only a little English, finding out what had happened was difficult but the Gate Porter told me that the gentleman punting the party had lost his balance and ended up falling half in and half out of the punt, crushing the young lady in the process.

Due to the difficulty in communication she was unable to explain to the emergency services where she was and what had happened. While the incident did not take place on College grounds, or in a Trinity punt, we do have a duty of care and my team of Porters ensured she was kept comfortable and safe while I ordered a taxi to take her to Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

I’ve been at Trinity College for six and half years now. I spent four years as a Gate Porter, doing security patrols and dealing with any fire alarms and first aid – plus anything else that came up during the day. Prior to Cambridge I was a Leading Operator Mechanic in the Royal Navy for 10 years. My duties varied from piloting the ship and small jet boats to using sonar to find submarines and sometimes the fast attack vessels that pirates use to move drugs and other contraband.

On becoming Senior Porter at Trinity I had to complete several courses in management, health and safety, and security. The Security Industry Authority’s four-day course involved learning how and what to look out for – including unusual behaviour and suspicious packages – as well as how to resolve any tricky situations.

Out of term time the College is a much quieter place but the student hustle and bustle is replaced by the events we host and tourists who visit – Trinity can attract more than 2,000 visitors on a summer’s day. Balancing visitors’ needs with the safety and security of members of College is a key part of our job.

Atkins in Porters' Lodge
In the Porters Lodge

When the new students arrive in October it is a very busy time. They want to know many different things and for some it is their first time living away from home. My favourite query from a new student was a request for a ‘new internet’ as the College’s provision was apparently not fast enough. Another student emailed to ask if it was possible to adjust the volume of the smoke alarms as he had been woken by alarms activated by another student’s night-time cooking.

The three most common questions from tourists revolve around one of Trinity’s most famous figures. Where is Newton’s apple tree? Where did Newton live? Can I see his room? When we point out the tree we are often greeted with smiles. I think people have a preconception of a massive tree under which Newton sat when he was struck by the apple. Although our tree is apparently descended from the original, it is not much smaller than that at Newton’s family home, Woolsthorpe Manor.

I finish my day by logging the patrols and doors locked by the Gate Porters and preparing my handover for the oncoming Senior Porter. Then it’s the journey home – if the weather is fine, by motorbike – to my wife and fantastic eight-year-old son, Tommy, who shares my love of rock music.


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