Theme 5) Civic responsibility from institutions

Theme 5) Civic responsibility from schools, colleges, universities and private institutions – especially cramming colleges and language schools

Much has been written about the town-gown divide – most recently by Professor Mary Beard[1]. In an era of turbo-capitalism, communities in Cambridge have been destabilised as family homes have been bought out by buy-to-let landlords cashing in on the failure of educational establishments to provide enough housing.

Furthermore, little co-ordinated effort has been made to educate language students about their rights and responsibilities here. At the same time, there’s been little beyond the basics to encourage communities to reach out and look after those staying and studying here – particularly those in their early teens.

Finally, at an institutional level, Cambridge University and its member colleges need to play a much more constructive role in making Cambridge a better place for everyone, not just a better place for its members or its bank balances.


The impact?

  • Unnecessary raising of community tensions that are otherwise easily avoided
  • Communities become easy prey for petty crime and drug dealing due to the lack of community anchors
  • Communities – especially our young citizens – are missing out on making friends with visiting students, which may help them years down the line in future careers
  • Nimby (Not in my back yard) mindset of college senior management seeing Cambridge as a place to wind down, blocking developments that could benefit the non-Cambridge University communities – such as the old Bingo Hall here
  • Cambridge University & colleges’ developments not taking into account of the impact some of its larger developments have on the residential communities, and not taking into account how it can substantially improve strategic non-car transport infrastructure
  • Cambridge University & colleges’ not taking into account the positive impact it could have on independent businesses in Cambridge by, for example reducing rents for small businesses

My proposals

  • The council to use its influence as a convenor to bring the institutions together to flesh out the problems and identify solutions
  • Have a clear route of escalation – all the way to Whitehall and Westminster if needs be – for those institutions that refuse to co-operate
  • Have a ‘positive’ campaign extolling the benefits of civic responsibility from our local institutions – have a branding marque for it? “Our responsibilities extend beyond our gates to you, our friends and neighbours”
  • For Cambridge University in particular, have signed off at board/Senate level agreement on some core principles on how it and its member colleges will go about its business so that it enhances the lives and communities of those who are residents and not members of the University [With a wingtip to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign]
  • For Cambridge University in particular, to review in partnership with relevant local councils (eg Cambridge City, Cambridgeshire County and South Cambridgeshire District councils) on how they can improve their actions and activities so they are working as partners when it comes to planning applications [With a wingtip to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign]
  • Create community contracts/neighbourhood agreements along the lines featured the 2008 Communities in Control White Paper and developed most effectively by Maxine Moar when she was a community development officer in Oldham. (See her work here – I declare an interest that she’s a friend of mine who I met during my civil service days).
  • Go beyond just ‘opening up the college playing fields’ and bring separated communities together – regularly and in a sequenced manner. It’s the soft ‘public school’ social ties that are becoming the biggest barrier to talent rising to the top. Lets break down these social barriers as well as the physical ones.
  • With a wingtip to Cambridge University Student Union’s Ethical Affairs team, calling on Cambridge University to divest its investments in firms that behave in an unethical manner, in particular with regards to human rights, the environment and international law. (See here).
  • With a wingtip to former Cambridgeshire County Council leader Nick Clarke (yes, that Nick Clarke!) have relevant local councils working with Cambridge University and colleges to see where in Cambridge they can substantially reduce rents to create new sustainable clusters of small, independent businesses as opposed to ‘clone town’ brands.
  • With a wingtip to my friends Penny & Chris, who are having too much sand kicked in their faces trying to find their first home, encourage local estate agents to commit to encouraging house sellers to sell to people that want to live in Cambridge and contribute to the city, not cash-rich sellers/BTL landlords.




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