Community facilities in Cambridge


What happens when you take a dragon fairy to a consultation event with the local community

Well…you get a few strange looks, that’s for sure. But then I’m sort of used to that. This gathering was about getting ideas on what to do with developers’ contributions that stem from Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Basically when a developer builds new buildings, the local planning authority – the local council can enter into an agreement with a developer to contribute money towards local facilities. As you may be aware, there is LOADS of house building happening in and around Cambridge, so there’s several £million to go around. Hence turning up to see what was going on.

Cambridge in terms of administration is broken up into a series of different areas. I live on the border between two of them – hence why the committee system doesn’t really work for someone like me who has activities and interests that bounce between two areas. For example the area I live in is not the same one that my old primary school is in. Not a big deal until this week when I became a new community governor for my old school – teaming up with an old friend who I was in the same class with all those years ago, also on the board of governors.

So Pooffles, when are we getting that ice rink?

Not with this money – much as I’d like to see an ice rink. The first intervention I made before we broke into discussions was on the lack of young people there. There was only one person in a room of about 40 people who was under 25. Hence getting a commitment from council officers that they would be going into schools to get the ideas of young people there. I intend to hold them to that commitment. Local politicians reading this blogpost, I would be extremely grateful if you could follow this up & ensure officials are as good as their word as these are significant sums of money. It’s also a great opportunity to engage young people in local democracy. The south area alone has £700,000 to spend on community facilities. It would be a tragedy if young people were not engaged in how to spend this money.

Not everyone likes these contributions

Puffles and I sparred with Andy Bower and Tim Haire, local Conservative activists (and the webmasters for my main website) on the merits of Section 106 agreements. They argue that such contributions are an unnecessary tax on developers that eventually get passed onto hard-pressed house-buyers. Local Lib Dem activist Kim Spence-Jones takes a different view in that there is widespread market failure in the housing market. I’m with Kim on this one, taking the view that taxation is the price we pay for living in a civilised society.


This had me kicking and screaming over Sport England’s definition of accessibility of facilities, which was around distance to and from a venue. It did not cover issues of where people were either priced out (such as private gyms) or simply barred because they were not eligible for membership – in my case the Frank Lee Centre at Addenbrookes. The latter I expect will end up expanding to allow wider access once the housing nearby is completed – assuming local demand for it to do so materialises. The Centre is normally only open to people employed by the hospital. Both my parents used to work there – it was their connections that allowed me to hold my 18th birthday party there many moons ago. But I shouldn’t have needed those connections. People should not need connections to access community facilities. They should be accessible to everyone.

This used to be my playground

Our group, including a property developer called Aldo and a university academic called Mia (who by virtue of teh interwebz I’ve discovered to be Dr Mia Gray) had a crackingly good discussion over Aldo’s idea of a community orchard.

As you can see from my writing, we raised the issue of Homerton College to open its gates to allow people from the community to enjoy its grounds. Can’t they issue local residents with swipe-cards so that we can go for walks in their grounds like we used to when I was a child? In those days we were welcome. Today, it’s “Private property”.

Magic dragons eh? Always looking at the food, even if it’s just a bad drawing of it!

Actually, Aldo (on the left) raised a number of interesting points about community cohesion across the ages – ones that I think we could run with. He pointed out that there were a number of elderly people near where he lived, and wanted to have somewhere for the elderly to go to (out of the house) that was not in the staged setting of a community centre. Hence his idea of an orchard.

Whether this will get off of the ground I don’t know. Given the plans for the nature area around the new development in Clay Farm (which, for those of you coming into Cambridge from London via rail, is the bit on the left just as you’re about to go past Addenbrookes – that cluster of big buildings with the big chimney with the red lights on that I used to make lego models of when I was little), there’s room for a community orchard. (Apols for the long sentence!)

Hey Pooffles, you’ve not mentioned social media!

Puffles was the only one tweeting, but at the same time social media in Cambridge is still in its infancy. Former councillor Amanda Taylor (who was first elected while I was still doing paper rounds!) blogged about one local area committee meeting that for me was a bit of a watershed. Alongside the doyenne of local government reporting in Cambridge, Chris Havergal, there were another four people there live-tweeting and opinionating throughout. On the last point, that’s a back-handed compliment to Chris. Cambridge wouldn’t have a clue about what goes on in local government without his strenuous efforts – ditto Richard Taylor. One of the things I want to do – in particular through Cambridge L!VE is to help train up a new generation of people who either go along to such gatherings but don’t report on who said what & what they thought, and social media users who otherwise don’t know about and/or don’t turn up to such gatherings.

One of the things I picked up from Sian Berry at a recent Transition Cambridge (see Puffles with Sian here) event was the power of information locally. In the context of transport, people were less likely to use it if they did not have information on when buses were going to arrive. Hence the importance of live feeds. I’ve started using them myself – saving time standing outside waiting for buses to arrive. In my view, similar principles apply to community activities.

What do you mean?

The Council reeled off a list of ‘non-council-run’ community centres, as well as the council-run ones. Most of the latter are not in my part of the city, but it was not clear where the non-council-run ones were. Given that central government wants more of these council-owned assets, it’s all the more important that community centres use social media to share both event information and best practice so as to make them as sustainable as possible in this era of cuts.

What’s your idea?

I had a chat with a couple of council officials this evening – on the back of “Why have you brought a dragon with you?” sort of questions. See the advantage of having a dragon with you?

I’ve offered/agreed to pilot a workshop (for free because Cambridge is home and I’ve not done something like this before) with the people who help run Cambridge’s community centres to see how we can use social media to get people to make more frequent and better use of the facilities that we have. Fingers crossed something good will come from it. Watch this space.


One thought on “Community facilities in Cambridge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s