Uniting East Cambridge – with a lake or three


How a former quarry and current ‘problem area’ could be turned into something for the community in a part of town not brilliantly served with things for people to do 

The website for the Cambridge Lakes Project is here. Their Facebook page is here. Every summer we get stories like this. So rather than keeping people out, how about turning the old quarry lakes into a facility that people can have access to? I went along avec camcorder and tripod at the invitation of the project group to a meeting at St Martin’s Church Hall – in my home ward where Puffles and I stood for election in May 2014.

Unfortunately I arrived just after the presentations started, so wasn’t able to film the very interesting history of the site. I managed to film the second and third presentations though.


The above video – apologies for the not great quality (I’m still learning!) featuring an in-depth presentation by Andreas Mitchell is the first time I’ve seen anyone really explore the issues beyond a scoping phase. Hence I’m glad I was able to get it on film for others to see. The team is also asking people to complete a survey which Amy talked about in the next video below.


The survey is now available at http://www.camlakes.co.uk/home/community-survey/

A project big, exciting and radical enough to bring together the wards of Coleridge, Romsey, Cherry Hinton and Abbey?

In a word: Yes.

(Even though the lakes and the path of the brooks and streams don’t sit so easily with the city council’s area committee setup).

I remember when Steve Turville, the chairperson of the group, first mentioned the project to me. This was back in 2012 around the time it was featured in the local paper. Knowing what I knew of local council systems and processes, I thought the idea was splendid but could not see how it would get through local government, let alone getting the funding to make the project a success. So to see it get to this stage is testament to the huge amount of work Steve and the team have put into it.

Over fifty people came along to the meeting – mainly from Cherry Hinton but a handful from Romsey and Coleridge too. The local Lib Dems and Labour parties were represented by Councillors Kilian Bourke and Dave Baigent, which was good to see. I wonder whether at such events our elected councillors could wear the name badges they have, so that people less familiar with the council and councillors can easily spot them. Amongst other things it would help combat some of the views about the visibility of councillors.

‘Yeah – where’s Puffles?’

A couple of people asked me where my dragon fairy was. A fair question given that Puffles was on the ballot paper in the most recent elections in the ward where the meeting was taking place. But here I was in ‘community reporter’ mode. As with the Mill Road depot meeting (see here), my focus was on digital content. ie ‘Get stuff on film, do some quick edits to improve sound and stabilisation, get it up on my vimeo page and share’. A sort of ‘Richard Taylor for South Cambridge‘ if you like. (Richard films lots of local council meetings).

In my case it’s fewer ‘strong opinions’ from me (as that was what the election campaign was for) and more filming what other groups are presenting – enabling them to reach a wider audience. It chimes with my Be The Change – Cambridge projectThere’s only so much you can talk, plead, persuade, encourage and ‘threaten’ (not in a malicious way – but in an ‘I’ll stand against you at the ballot box’ sort of way) people and parties to do the things you want them to do. Sometimes you simply have to set the example yourself. ‘Be the change you want to see’ as I am often heard saying.

A city of civic pioneers?

We’ve got more than a few. But as a city we’ve not given them the support we need over the years to make what they do something great. Andrea Cockerton and Dowsing Sound Collective along with the Dosoco Foundation, Mel Findlater and the You Can Bike project, Andrew Entecote and the Net-Squared social media surgeries, Jennie Debenham, Anna McIvor and friends in Transition Cambridge – as well as those in  Cambridge Sustainable Food City and Food Cycle Cambridge. Neil Prem’s Future Possibilities (& his 30 day challenge). Also the Cambridge Science Centre. We have our civic pioneers. For those that want to, the challenge – as NESTA in London state – is how to make them big.

Are we reaching a defining point in Cambridge’s history as a city?

More than a few things tell me that we are. Interestingly, several of the local politicians from the four main parties active in Cambridge have indicated similar. (The Greens being number 4 rather than UKIP being number 4 – having secured over 5,000 votes in the recent local elections to UKIP’s 300 or so.) You won’t see that reflected in the party political debate locally. The focus of those debates are defined primarily by the structures and constraints imposed by Westminster and Whitehall. For example councillors have to debate then formally vote on a budget. If they don’t do this, your bins don’t get collected.

What makes this era interesting and challenging for Cambridge and the surrounding area from a civic pioneering perspective is we’re getting towards a critical mass of people and organisations that want to be part of the solutions. This may not be reflected in voter turnout or engagement with councillors, but it is reflected in many other ways. It’s as if people and groups are doing things despite [national] party politics rather than because of it. This has a noticeably different feel to what things were like in 1996/97.

Be the change you want to see

This is what I’m unleashing in the autumn –  and yes it will remain work in progress. (eg Website updates and logo not yet sorted).  I’m still recovering from an awesome weekend singing with the Dowsing Sound Collective in Bury St Edmunds. Here’s the collective in Ely in 2013 if you missed it.

(See the second half of this for my write up of the Bury St Edmunds performances). On the community reporting side of things, a few of us have tried to encourage people to do community reporting and make digital videos for Cambridgeshire’s Shape Your Place website. – with very little success. This is one of the reasons why I’m making digital videos as part of community reporting. My blogposts go up on this blog, and the digital videos onto my Vimeo page (see here) which I then embed into blogposts as I have done here. Where I can’t film, sometimes I record an audio version of speeches – such as here.

“Why do this?”

Accessibility & a permanent record.

I’m not really interested in debating who said what at which council meetings. I’m more interested in filming presentations and performances and making them available to a wider community audience. Having paid for an upgrade, I now get detailed data on the digital videos. Put it this way, the short digital videos of others presenting seem to be more popular than my recent blogposts!

But then, I like this. For a start, it takes the focus off me. The digital videos are a much better way of bringing other people and their ideas & talents into the conversation. On social media pages of local groups, they can have conversations about the content that I filmed. One of the reasons why I’ve disabled the comments on my Vimeo account is that I want the online conversations to take place elsewhere (ie on the pages of the community groups rather than on a page I would then have to moderate).

The feedback I’ve had so far has been splendid – mainly on the accessibility point. People have expressed appreciation at being able to see and hear who said what. While social media makes it easier to share, someone still has to go out there and create the content. For now at least, that’s what I’m experimenting with – even though I’m still a beginner with the camcorder.



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