Head Porter Mike Wignall on the new Porters’ Lodge

Thanks to a gift from an alumnus, our Porters’ Lodge underwent a major quality-of-life renovation over the summer. We sat down with Head Porter Mike Wignall to talk about the renovation and the planning behind it.

front of new porters lodge

What were some of the issues with the old Lodge?

When I first joined Wolfson back in 2008, we used to have the parcels stored on the floor. When you came through the front door you literally stepped over parcels to get to desks and things. So we got cupboards which gave us more breathing space, but of course that did not create a bigger Lodge.

Over the years we began hosting more conferences and meetings. With more people in, we needed more staff and as soon as you get more staff, you needed a bigger workspace. We are also getting a lot more parcels now with e-commerce, so more storage space was needed.

How was the design and preparation process for the new Lodge like?

We went down to see the new Lodges in Newnham, Queens’, King’s and Lucy Cavendish, and we picked ideas from each one. Then we got into the design with Neil, our Clerk of Works, and the designer Tim Marshall. We could ask if something was outrageous, and Tim would say “Yes, that is outrageous”. [laughs] Then he would say, “Hang on, I will tell you what we can do with the space.” It was kind of fun, in a way.

The planning for all that was initially for 2018, but College has a limited budget, and we were going to do the student accommodation blocks first. And then obviously with 2020 and costs from Covid-19 we were putting it off again. Then all of a sudden we were given the go-ahead, thanks to the anonymous benefactor and their gift, which has been very welcome!

What was the renovation like for the porters?

With the unexpected gift it was a bit of a quick start! The staff were great, it was a bit of a “Move in quickly!”, and then “Move out quickly!”, but it all worked out really well. A bit stressful and a bit rushed in the past week or so, but for good purpose, especially with the new intake of students coming in. We could have done with two weeks in between. We could have all had two days lying down in the Sundial Garden, just to destress.

What’s new in the renovated Lodge?

Our little break room is so much better now. We have proper lockers where we can hang clothes up, and there is a little basin for personal washing which is nice for the staff. We also have a new parcel room where the pigeonholes used to be, the pigeonholes are now across the Lobby where the lockers were.

The new Lodge is a lovely space, we can be in there more than one person at a time even with social distancing. We have some extra space to accommodate more porters if we need to, especially if the College goes from strength to strength as it has done in the last few years.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed things for the Lodge?

It is a bit more impersonal now with the masks and Perspex screens. We are still friendly, it is just sometimes more difficult to get across. But people seem to be responding to it, I noticed for the new students arriving it is almost like second nature now. That is the way the world is at the moment, it does not mean the people you are talking to are any more unfriendly than they ever were.

What do you see in the future for the Porters’ Lodge?

I hope it will carry on as it always has done, even in these times. It will carry on being the place people come to first, and they find somebody friendly and we can point people in the right direction for whatever they need. In the end, most visitors coming to us are not coming to see us, which is a shame, but they are not! [laughter] We find them who they want to see, we sort out their problems if they have got a problem. And I hope we can carry on with that, even in slightly more difficult times. It seems to me that the whole College is adapting very well, so I hope we can adapt with them.

I am sure alumni come back just to see our porters sometimes.

People have said so, why should you imagine they’ve not?! [laughter]

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