This week Simon Smith, Conference and Events Manager, is celebrating forty years at Jesus College. We caught up with Simon to hear about his career and memories as one of our longest-serving members of staff.
Simon, you started working here at Jesus back in October 1980, at the tender age of 15. What was your first College role?
Along with two of my friends from school, I was employed as a ’high table boy’.
My main role was preparing the dining hall for service and then serving Senior Common Room (SCR) dinner, and covering the many functions that went on in College. However, I also remember the hours and hours we spent polishing the College silver, which was used much more regularly back then. For example sconce cups were in use on a daily basis, and I seem to recall that some of the Fellowship had their own tankards that they insisted on using at dinner.
And what were your initial impressions of the College?
Although I had visited several of the larger Oxford College grounds as a child, I had never really seen behind the front door, and so it was quite an eye opener when my first job was actually working in an Elizabethan dining hall. I was also pleasantly surprised that although the surroundings were so grand, the students were really approachable and (for the most part) friendly.
You became a full-time member of staff when you were 16 and have had several roles in College.
Yes. When I first started, I was mostly involved with the SCR. When I went full-time, I was more involved with the student side of things, both in Hall and also in Housekeeping. I had a spell in the Kitchen, then the Lodge, and finally back into catering as Hall Manager, a role that I fulfilled for 20 years. When College decided to look at expanding the Conference side of things, I jumped at the chance to be involved and I became Conference and Events Manager in 2008. Now, due to the current Covid-19 situation, the commercial business is on hold, so I’m back helping out in a number of other roles related to student safety.
You must have some amazing memories of the past 40 years?
From the early days, I have so many happy memories of playing in the 2nd Eleven College football team, and the staff Aunt Sally team, the staff darts team and the annual staff outings. I was also fortunate to meet some very inspiring people, such as Nelson Mandela and Sir David Attenborough, as well as a number of royal family members that visited to open something or other. I must say though that my best memory was meeting my now wife, Juliet, when she started work here in 1987 as second Chef.
As the Conference & Events Manager, do you have a favourite event that you’ve organised?
We have had so many great events in College that it really is difficult to choose a favourite. I get great enjoyment from booking in a new summer school or conference, from replying to a tentative enquiry to then working with the group when they’re here in College and finally, receiving payment of the invoice!
Bed and breakfast has become really popular, and I love the way that the visiting guests are always wowed by their surroundings when they arrive at the Lodge, excitedly taking pictures of the quadrangles as they walk though. I also love seeing the Old Members returning to College, possibly twenty years on from when I last saw them, and catching up on their latest news. It really is amazing how everyone remembers their three or four years spent in College with great fondness and in great detail.
And I guess 2020 will be memorable because of the pandemic. Have you missed the opportunity to welcome people to College over the past few months?
It has been a really difficult time for quite a few departments in College, and not being able to welcome back the regular groups from the States, China or closer to home is really strange as the organisers of these groups become like colleagues during the summer. To see Broad Street completely devoid of any people for nearly three months was quite eerie, and to have the students back in residence is really nice, although if Oxford becomes ‘party central’, we may all change our opinion!
Next year we celebrate our 450th anniversary and it’s a chance to look back but also look forward, to the future of Jesus College in the 21st Century. What most excites you about the future of the College?
I think the opening of the Northgate building will certainly change the dynamics in College, offering some fantastic facilities for the next generation of students. I also know from experience that the Ship Street Centre had a positive impact on the event opportunities that we were able to offer, both internally and commercially and I expect a similar thing to happen when the new building is opened in 2021.
And finally, what does Jesus mean to you now?
Jesus has been a huge part of my life for the past forty years and I probably don’t see this as a place where I work anymore, it’s more of an extension of home. In fact, sometimes when I get a phone call during the evening or at a weekend regarding a conference guest who can’t find a meeting room or is having trouble connecting to the Wi Fi, I feel that I am never at home!
My wife and three sons have all worked here at some stage, either as a career move or during their university vacation or gap year, and I have calculated that I have met more than 6,000 students, 500 or so Fellows, hundreds of staff members, five Bursars and four Principals. Here’s to the next 20 years!