Upon arrival in Cambridge, the group made their way to Fitzwilliam College, where they were met by the Chair of the judging panels, Vicki Wienand. Having coordinated the panels that decided upon the top prizes, it was a wonderful moment for Vicki to meet the young writers.
The group was then introduced to the Master of Fitzwilliam College, Nicola Padfield, who talked to the winners about the history of the University of Cambridge and her own personal involvement with the Commonwealth.
Following the discussion, the group made their way to the College café for a late-morning snack, and a chat with Dr Seán Lang, a historian currently exploring the history of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition. It was fascinating for the young writers to hear about the evolution of the contest, which first began in 1883.
Feeling refreshed, the group said their goodbyes to Dr Seán and headed to the river, for a traditional Cambridge activity – punting! Wrapped up against the cold, and with the sun shining overhead, the group learnt more about the university as the guide explained the history of its different colleges.
Having successfully made it back on to dry land, the group then made its way to Cambridge University Library, where they met with Rachel Rowe, the special collections librarian for South Asian and Commonwealth Studies.
Rachel took the young writers on a tour of the library, which included a visit to the tower where they could enjoy the view across the city. From the heights of the tower, to the depths of the basement, Rachel introduced the winners to the Royal Commonwealth Society archives, which have been housed at the library since 1993. Exploring the treasures of the archive, Raniya, Selina and Leah Annia were delighted to be shown some pictures of their home countries, Pakistan, Singapore and Canada, dating from the 19th century.
The Winners and Runners-up exploring the RCS archives
Read a short introduction to the Royal Commonweal Society Essay Competition archive, written by Rachel Rowe, by clicking here.
Emerging from the archives, there was time for the group to make a quick refreshment stop at the library café, before catching the train back to London, where the group would say their goodbyes and go their separate ways.
Following a week full of learning about different cultures, writing and the Commonwealth, it seemed appropriate that the week should end with a visit to the Society archives, where the winners could learn more about the Royal Commonwealth Society, the competition, and it’s evolution into the world’s oldest and largest school’s international writing competition.
For 131 years, the competition has provided a platform to young writers, like Raniya, Max, Selina and Leah-Annia, to have their voices heard. As they head back home, we hope that the message they take away will be about the strength of the written word, the importance of youth voice and shared cultures, and the value of the modern Commonwealth.
Finally, they may be heading back home, but we will be hearing from Raniya, Max, Selina and Leah-Annia about their personal experiences of the Commonwealth Essay Competition shortly. In the meantime, why not take a look The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2015, because next year it could be you!