Community Action in Action – Cambridge


When local people speak about their own ideas that they have worked on for a long time, the passion comes out in huge quantities. Community reporters can bring these ideas to a wider audience

Some of you may have heard me talk about this ‘Change Cambridge’ event I’ve scheduled for 13 September at Anglia Ruskin University. (See here for the rough draft brochure which me and Ceri are still working on to get polished and finalised!) This week has been a very busy week and I’m absolutely knackered – but it’s all for a good reason. Saturday 5th July sees Cycle of Songs come to Cambridge for the Tour de France – I’ll be with the Dowsing Sound Collective on the main stage from 4pm. If you’re in Cambridge that day, come and see us! The following weekend we’re in Bury St Edmunds for more musical mayhem – see my article here for Cambridgeshire’s community website ‘Shape Your Place’ for details. Hence busy-busy-busy.

What to do with the Mill Road Depot

This is something Hugh Chapman of the Cambridge Map Project has been working on with the Mill Road Society and others. It’s quite a large city council-owned site on the west side of the railway line near Hot Numbers Coffee on Gwydir Street, and has the old Mill Road Library, now the Bharat Bhavan at the entrance to the site.

I rocked up at Hugh’s invitation to find a room full of community activists alongside politicians and activists from the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. As well as former mayor and ex-Romsey councillor Paul Saunders (who gave useful advice over coffee earlier on re: Change Cambridge – thank you!), Julian Huppert MP & Cllr Catherine Smart were there for the Lib Dems. New Petersfield Councillor Ann Sinnott was there for Labour and Matt Hodgkinson was there for the Greens.

For me this was a positive sign – not least that for much of the evening they were in listening and engaging mode. There was only one awkward moment when party politics threatened to spill out. Otherwise, the ‘established political types’ (myself included) had a relatively low-key presence throughout.

‘Change Cambridge’ on a smaller scale?

In one sense it was in terms of timescale (a couple of hours), venue and compared to the numbers I’m aiming for. At the same time it gave me ideas on who to reach out to in order to make my event a success for the people taking part. In that sense it means me being seen but not really heard. Hence going for a commissioned MC/host to be the visible public face on the day. Having observed many events, the role of organiser does not fit in well with the public face of proceedings.

What struck me from the speakers with the ideas was how many of them in the final presentations following group breakout sessions were able to speak from the heart on the back of the discussions we had. Having got permission, I filmed the final pitches.

Cambridge food project


Cambridge housing co-op


Cambridge community day centre for homeless people


Cambridge art salon with Cambridge community circus


Cambridge cycle hub


Cambridge community learning


***Please do not judge these speakers by the standards of people who are comfortable/used to/trained on how to speak in public***

Constructively scrutinise their ideas by all means, but it takes a huge amount of courage to stand up in front of an audience of about 40-50 people from your local community to pitch your idea. I commend and congratulate all of the speakers for their work. (Note too the high number of women speaking in the videos – something to learn from regarding the event format?)

If you’re in Cambridge and want to find out more about these specific ideas, please go via the Cambridge Map Project.

My learning from this week

As far as community reporting goes, I’m getting into a habit of:

  • Spot something interesting
  • Start filming with mobile phone
  • Upload footage to laptop upon return
  • Short, sharp edits to improve stabilisation and sound
  • Upload footage to my digital video website
  • Share – in particular with those that appear on the film

The more I do, the more used to it I become and the more comfortable I become with the editing tools I have at my disposal. Little and often as someone said to me recently. I’ve also got over a couple of mental barriers with the whole ‘Be the change – Cambridge’ campaign, of which the Change Cambridge event is part of. Again, me and Ceri are working up changes to the old website, but I’ve got a Facebook page for it which amongst other things I hope will act as a ‘repository for links’ as well as making things easier for others to connect & share.

‘These are your ideas’

One of the great things for me was that I hardly said a word throughout the evening. I didn’t need to. For me, all of the speakers made compelling cases for everyone to get involved in more detailed activities. It was a pleasure to be able to sit back and watch informed and energised discussions in a friendly and safe atmosphere. With the number of people we had there, we had a critical mass of people to discuss these things. It was far more interesting than what happens at local council area committee meetings – in part because we weren’t restricted by formal procedure that (understandably) comes with some of the decisions made at them. Eg setting local police priorities or distribution of local grants from taxpayers’ money.

I put my 1001 ideas into a manifesto for the local elections in 2014. What I’ve been struggling for over the past few years is digital footage of people local to me being willing to present their ideas on digital film. Even with myself, I didn’t have the confidence to step in front of the camera for digital videos in the election campaign. Now we have lots of footage of a variety of ideas presented by lots of different people to show to others. Splendid!

For me, the most inspiring moment of the evening was watching Avril, who was homeless for many years, positively glowing as she described her idea to our breakout group while at the same time busting a lot of myths about homelessness. I’ve not edited the footage, so even if you only watch one of the videos, make it this one.


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