My Cambridge 2050

Summary

Future visions/plans of Cambridge such as the ones listed at https://www.cfse.cam.ac.uk/cambridge_visions_2065_published/view have all too often lacked the ‘human’ element, perhaps being too descriptive or focusing on one particular element. What if it was written in the style of the old ‘Life in the day of…’ columns in the Sunday Times? Noting that predicting the future is notoriously difficult thing to do.

“I’m sitting here writing my memoirs in one of Cambridge’s famous tea houses. They’ve experienced something of a renaissance of late as the popularity of coffee went into decline following Brexit and the great implosion of 2020. Coffee became too expensive so we all switched to tea.

“I’m meeting up with my sister in law to pick up her grand children from school. They are my great niece and great nephew. I never had any children of my own. I never married. Do I regret it? Of course. But that was in the days before they found a cure for my anxiety and exhaustion. It came too late for me, so I give what support I can to the next generations in my family and wider community.

“The school they go to is a nice local school. All of our schools are run by the city council now. We’ve not had private schools since the Great Nationalisation Act brought in under the Commissars – oh, Corbyn and McDonnell. Following Brexit we had a great implosion of our economy. Inequalities were so great and public services so underfunded that civil disorder broke out everywhere. Despite attempts to give the nation-wide privatised security guards full policing powers under the so-called G-4orce Act, day-to-day life temporarily seized up. Rather than risk a full on civil war, the government fell – hence the brief rule of the Commissars.

“Fortunately Cambridge escaped the worst of the disturbances – and before long the people insisted that Parliament remain in power – curtailing somewhat the worst excesses of the rule of the Commissars. The most damaged areas were the shopping areas – mainly the ones selling luxury and designer goods. Funnily enough no one touched the bookshops – which speaks volumes. The colleges remained unscathed give or take a bit of graffiti here and there. Students past and present seemed to make their way to the gates and walls of their colleges to keep out the crowds.

“The students however, didn’t give their colleges blank cheques. In return for saving the colleges, the students demanded some very big changes on how things were done not just inside their colleges, but outside too. The work that the Cambridge Hub had been doing in Cambridge’s council estates had an impact across the colleges – no longer were they prepared to walk on by in the face of the symptoms of what had become one of the most unequal places to live in Europe.

“To their credit, many of the students went out of their way to get us townfolk involved in shaping the future of this new ‘Great Cambridge’. Some bright sparks had gone through my ancient scribblings online about town history (or Herstories as they called them) and resolved to put right the historic wrongs.

“That’s why we have that magnificent Museum of Cambridge up on Castle Hill – essentially the rebuilt courthouse.

Shire House Law Courts

“There was a prison on the site before the old county council pulled it down and built Shire Hall on it. It was turned into a hotel before the former Mayor Palmer abolished the county council in the pre-Brexit reforms. Unfortunately for him, the Commissars got rid of his mayoral post. Thus we now have a single council at The Guildhall. Quite unexpectedly though, the Commissars and Mayor Palmer got on splendidly – and Palmer was kept on as Chairman of the light rail delivery company. Thus he spent the next decade working on and delivering the much-needed underground light rail.

“That wasn’t the end of the building either – we also got our guildhall overhauled too. We made good Sir Horace Darwin’s dream of 1898, giving John Belcher’s design a refresh while maintaining much of the structural integrity of Charles Cowes-Vosey’s guildhall built under the chairmanship of the Mother of Modern Cambridge, Florence Ada Keynes.

Guildhall1898

“You can’t see it in this drawing, but behind the roof is the rooftop cafe and bar and the big glass dome on top. We got the existing chamber behind the facade raised up to the top, creating a void that gave us a new state of the art lecture hall that is extremely popular with academics and the private sector alike. The rooftop cafe bar more than pays its way – tourists and wealthy locals more than happy to splash out with some of the best views in the city.

Cam Castle

Built in the style of Norwich Castle, but with far more windows and more colour and patterns in the brickwork, we built a new home for the Cambridge and county archives.

norwich_castle_keep2c_2009

“Local historians and archivists were outraged when developers reneged on a promise to build a new home for the archives in the banking crash just after the millennium. Although the men involved are long gone, there is a big exhibition of the worst culprits who exploited the town over the centuries, culminating in the frenzy of speculative developments completed before Brexit.

“Cam Castle was named after the historian Professor Helen Cam of Girton and later Harvard. Many people still think it’s just an abbreviation of Cambridge Castle, but it’s only when they see the big display and statue of Professor Cam that they realise we named one of our main historical attractions after a history professor. At the top of the Castle is another cafe bar with some of the best views of the city looking south. What it’s done is extend the tourist trail of the city as people head in their thousands to enjoy the castle, museum and parkland on that site.

Cambridge’s new legal quarter

“It wasn’t all ‘smash up the post war concrete blocks’ with this newfound love of Cambridge’s town history. The awful bland and cheaply built offices round the back of the Shire Hall were demolished and replaced by a new quarter for the magistrates, county and crown courts alongside a massive new joint law faculty for the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University – the first of its kind. A number of big legal firms also moved to the quarter that were housed in buildings inspired by the unbuilt court houses of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Despite some complaints from traditionalists, the court houses proved to be very popular with students, lawyers, academics and researchers alike. It was the students that came up with the idea of a joint faculty for both Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University, marking the start of what would be a number of joint activities bringing students from many different backgrounds together. Many people said it couldn’t be done, but the young people proved them all wrong.

Cambridge’s new grand concert hall – Florence Hall

“I described Florence Ada Keynes as the Mother of Modern Cambridge. It wasn’t until after Brexit that Newnham College – where Florence studied when she first arrived here – commissioned a project exploring the local work of their local graduates. From that project spun out a number of different projects, including the construction of a brand new concert hall for over 2,000 people on the corner of Hills Road and Gonville Place. It was ideal – the land was owned by Cambridge University and within walking distance of Anglia Ruskin University on East Road, the railway station, the main underground interchange, the bus routes, car, bike and pod parks and even local hotels.

“Inspired by the Sala Sao Paulo in Brazil, the hall has a movable ceiling allowing the panels to be adjusted to suit the acoustics of whatever show is on stage. It wasn’t all smooth going in the planning. The hotel next door vigorously opposed the scheme due to its size and impact. Or rather, it did until one of the colleges bought the hotel’s holding company, after which the opposition evaporated.

Cambridge Light Rail Underground – a model for other towns and cities

“The one thing the promoters of the light rail didn’t predict was the cultural impact it would have on our small but growing city: It made us more outward-looking to our siblings in the fens. The light rail link to Ely had an extension built – a westward spur that linked it to the towns of Ramsay and Chatteris. Suddenly a whole host of facilities and attractions that were otherwise hidden in the market towns were available to tens of thousands more people. Wisbech and Haverhill benefitted too – Wisbech once again becoming a jewel of the fens.

The three ladies of the three lakes

“The Three Lakes Country Park between Romsey and Cherry Hinton – a nature reserve and before that a large cement works (Cambridge did have some heavy industry once!) has since become a very popular country park. We named each of the lakes after three of the most prominent women in the town’s history – Clara Rackham, Eva Hartree and Leah Manning. Clara was one of the longest serving councillors in our city’s history – starting off her work campaigning against the absolute poverty of pre-WWI Cambridge and finishing up protesting against nuclear weapons in the 1960s. Eva was our first woman Mayor of Cambridge. She also formed the group of women that set up the first civic receptions for refugees fleeing the rise of fascism across Europe – at a time when too many press barons and politicians were going over to the continent to sing their praises. Leah Manning, another anti-fascist who fought in Spain, was one of the first women to be elected to the House of Commons – serving briefly in 1931 and again in Clement Attlee’s government. Despite representing constituencies outside of the city, she maintained her main home here.

Eglantyne Country Park

“One of the problems that Cambridge struggled with for centuries was poor air quality. The great smogs of 2020 seemed to coincide with the riots and civil unrest. The city responded in part by electing a swathe of Green councillors who, taking full advantage of the powers granted by the Commissars forced the new Great Cambridge Council to ban all fossil fuel cars and to shut down the airport at the same time. The move was incredibly unpopular with the business community until they realised just how few people actually used the airport. They had more of a problem with the local flying schools, but the overall result was the transferring of what was left of the aviation industry out to Mildenhall on a new north-eastern spur of the light rail. They got lucky because the light rail system ended up bringing in far more revenue than anyone had expected, thus the extensions were built relatively quickly.

“With the removal of the airport at Cambridge, much of the housing demand was met by the construction of what you can either call South Abbey or North Cherry Hinton. Fortunately it’s all brought together by a very large country park that also links to the Three Lakes. We named the country park after Eglantyne Jebb –  the founder of Save the Children, and the woman who transformed modern charity campaigning. Before she became famous for her charity work, she researched and wrote the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge – making her a hero to geography students across the city. Two of her policy recommendations included significantly improved housing design and build, and also for people to have access to the countryside and fresh air. This was also something not lost on the residents of Milton who finally secured for Cambridge a much-needed rowing lake, thus removing a very sore spot in the city of rowers ploughing through wildfowl swimming on the river.

The Coleridge Symbolist Movement

“The secondary school students ran away with this concept after staff at the Museum of Cambridge said to teenagers across the city that big art movements all had to start somewhere. It was an exhibition by some Year 8 students at Parkside Coleridge that came to embody the transformation of a divided and unequal town to a thriving and united city. What was really nice was that it wasn’t affluent ‘opinion formers’ who led the movement, but teenagers from Cambridge’s mainly working class communities.

“The biggest difference they made was persuading the entire city that art and culture wasn’t something only to be passively consumed, but something that we could all actively participate in. Obviously that didn’t suit everyone – there was some kickback from some in their ivory towers who couldn’t think of anything worse than engaging with the general public. Their view was that the public was there to pay, listen, applaud and go home. But the changing ethos of the city meant that hiding away in an ivory tower hoarding knowledge and talent away from the wider public was less and less acceptable.

“Did we get everything right?”

“Hell…No.

“For a start we didn’t properly crack the inequalities issues. We also got torn to pieces across the piece for being all ‘middle class is magical’. We were an easy target – especially after the turmoil of Brexit. But in the face of those verbal and written attacks, people were more inclined to stand up for each other.

“Brexit as predicted by many, did not solve society’s problems. Brexit was just a symptom that forced us all to accept just how polarised we had become, and how hard the task would be (and still is) to overcome those divisions. Many on the left assumed that the rule of The Commissars would solve it all. ‘Everything will be fine after the revolution!’ they said. It wasn’t – though Corbyn and McDonnell did far far better than anyone had expected – myself included. But such was the pressure on the pair of them that both of them passed away shortly after Parliament reasserted control.

“In the end, we got what we always get with Europe: a bit of a fudge. The UK simply went on being what it always has been: Not quite in Europe but not quite out of it either. But at least the EU realised that it too could not carry on with business as usual. Oh – and the world somehow survived Donald too.

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Some important decisions looming on the future of Cambridge

With a series of important decisions coming up, I’m going to be filming and reporting from a number of meetings in and around Cambridge over the next few months. I’m grateful for the support I’ve had from members of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations – in particular for the local plan and the Greater Cambridge Partnership meetings. I’ll also be reporting from a number of local committees and meetings of full council which are outside of this. Please consider supporting my work.


Donate

Please see the video below where I explain why I need your support

Greater Cambridge Partnership

The new name for the Greater Cambridge City Deal, they have just launched The Big Conversation. Part of me is like “Yeah – what http://www.smartertransport.uk/ said”. The agenda for the meeting on 20 September in Cambourne is here. Note the item on the 10 year strategy and look at it closely. The strategy document is here. What I want to see is a systematic timetable of consultation events with school children and students at our further education institutions. I don’t want it to be ad hoc and piecemeal, I want it to be properly planned and considered – and one that involves the staff and perhaps the parents of those institutions too. I also would like to see something that gets participants in touch with their local councillors to help reinvigorate local democracy.

Cambridge City Council

A relatively quiet September (See the calendar here), 19 October is the next meeting of the Full Council – though do check closer to the time to see they have not moved the time. The Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s latest newsletter (see here) has some interesting updates on local council issues – in particular on planning applications. If you are interested in local planning applications in Cambridge, sign up to their planning portal. You can find out which planning applications have been submitted. Note to self, ask the council to produce a video guide on how to use the portal. (Failing that, produce it myself).

Cambridgeshire County Council

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are lining up their activists to challenge the Conservative-led council over proposed cuts to nursery services and also further looming threats to the libraries service. They’ve got no room for manoeuvre on archives as they have said publicly that the service is currently being run at a statutory minimum. (See my video of my Q to the council here). 17 October is the next full council meeting – have a look at the calendar of meetings here.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor and Combined Authority

They finally have a website up at http://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/ with their list of looming meetings listed here.

Outside of Cambridge City – parish councils in South Cambridgeshire

For those of you in South Cambridgeshire, outside of Cambridge City, the list of meetings at South Cambridgeshire District Council is here. The extensive list of parish councils that surround Cambridge City is here.

Mayor James Palmer’s speech on the future of Cambridge Transport

One of the more notable speeches that took place over the summer was that by the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer. You can watch it in full below.

The list of videos from the event, including an extended Q&A session with The Mayor, local councillors and representatives of Smarter Cambridge Transport and Cambridge Connect Light Rail can be seen here.

Civic campaign groups

Groups and individuals within these groups have over the years supported my community reporting in and around Cambridge, for which I am extremely grateful. I am listing them because they have been taking an active part in the processes and meetings on the future of Cambridge. Therefore they are more likely to be informed about what is going on than most. They also state on whose behalf they are campaigning for. It is up to you to make your own judgements on their statements and representations to our elected institutions.

Cambridge Connect Light Rail

Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Cambridge Past, Present and Future

Federation of Cambridge Residents Associations

Rail Future

Rail Haverhill

There are also a number of neighbourhood-specific campaign groups organised online such as the Coton Busway Action Group and Save the Westfields.

Furthermore, there are also a number of Cambridge City-based neighbourhood groups and forums such as the Queen Edith’s Community Forum (also covering south Cherry Hinton and south Coleridge wards). In East Cambridge there is also Abbey People. There are also a number of smaller groups hosted under the umbrella of the Cambridge and District Council for Voluntary Services.

Local political parties

At some stage we have to engage with the political system. Some people choose to do that through campaign groups. Others through political parties. The four parties represented on Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council are:

Cambridge and South Cambs Conservatives

Cambridge Green Party

Cambridge Labour Party

Cambridge Liberal Democrats

Alternatively write to your local councillors or local MP via https://www.writetothem.com/. If you don’t get in touch with them, they won’t know what your opinions are.

Local reporters and journalists

It’s not just me who goes along to meetings. Cambridge is blessed by a number of very talented and hard working reporters who go to some very long meetings on cold, wet, windy nights in November to provide much-needed scrutiny of our public bodies. You’ll find the following worth a look:

Josh Thomas – Cambridge News

Ben Comber – Cambridge Independent

Hannah Olssen – BBC Cambridgeshire

Tara Cox – Cambridge News

Richard Taylor – independent cameraman & blogger

John Elworthy – Cambridgeshire Times

They can also all recommend colleagues who also report from council meetings and on local democracy.

I’ll finish it here for now – chances are I’ll be doing a further posts with more groups and organisations – and independent bloggers and commentators too.

 

Eglantyne Jebb shoots Rees-Mogg’s foodbank comment clean out of the water

Summary

It’s lovely when one of your heroes demolishes arguments from a contemporary politician from beyond the grave.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s words are below.

Interestingly, The Trussell Trust who run many of the country’s foodbanks countered Rees-Mogg’s claim that foodbank use had risen due to Jobcentre referrals in this statement below:

i.e. 95% of claims were not as a result of referrals from the Job Centre.

Senior Labour MP Angela Rayner wasn’t impressed.

Then there’s the ‘Christian Charity’ argument.

And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.”

As quoted in The Guardian above.

Now, I’m not going to go down the road of saying that religious people would have to invent the poor to enable them to do good things. That would be stupid and also historically inaccurate. Certainly at a local-to-me-in-Cambridge level anyway.

Recently, Jacob Rees Mogg was in hot water with the liberal media over his comments on abortion, taking the line of the Catholic Church on that specific issue. Two lines of challenge have been both opposition in principle to his views on women’s rights, and also his selective quotations of his political red lines based on the bits of a religion he agrees with. Paragraph 1947 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church effectively repudiates Rees-Mogg’s neo-liberal economic policies given the impact such policies have had on growing wealth inequalities over the past few decades. Talking of inequalities, he is one of the most highly paid MPs in terms of ‘extra curricular activities’ – check out those entries in his register of interests.

“What’s Eglantyne Jebb got to do with this?”

Eglantyne Jebb founded an organisation called Save the Children. You may have heard of them.

IMG_3708

Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb as an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 1890s

When Eglantyne came to Cambridge with her widowed mother, Tye, to live close to Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, the Cambridge Classicist, Eglantyne was nominally Conservative in her politics. By the time she left Cambridge for good just after the outbreak of the First World War, she had transitioned through to liberalism all the way to being a supporter of the co-operative movement at a time the Co-operative movement (and the Co-op Party) were reaching their peak. People familiar with Eglantyne Jebb’s charity work are generally less familiar with her political work that preceded it. This article that she wrote in December 1914 asking what the war will result in, demonstrates her conversion to the belief that our economic future would be a co-operative one.

Prior to that, the only significant parliamentary opposition to the Conservatives were the liberals – in fact they were in power from 1906 through to 1916. Her switch to the liberals – and to the Cambridge Liberal Party in particular, was driven by her social circle which included the Keynes family – in particular Florence and two of her three children, John Maynard the economist, and Margaret who prior to the latter’s marriage to Archibald Hill was also Eglantyne’s partner. The view we get of Eglantyne’s opinions stem in part from this article written in the run up to the December 1910 snap general election. The liberal-supporting Cambridge Independent wrote about how Eglantyne single-handedly ran Stanley Buckmaster KC’s campaign to get re-elected. He lost his seat to the Conservative Almeric Paget – who would later go onto become a fascist sympathiser. (According to that link in the referenced footnotes, he wrote the forward to this propaganda piece published just before the outbreak of WWII).

Helping the poor to become independent, not dependent on charitable handouts

Eglantyne, like a number of Christians in Cambridge, were struggling with entrenched poverty and deprivation in town. Ellice Hopkins in the 1870s was already raising issues in the local halls of power – and published a book shortly before leaving Cambridge on her findings. The nature of Cambridge in those days was that many areas where poor people lived were side-by-side streets where dwellers in expensive town houses lived. This is still visible today. Cross the road from St Barnabas Road into Gwydir Street and you move from town houses to terraced working class houses even though all you’ve done is cross Mill Road.

Being intellectually talented and very hard working, the women of Cambridge that Eglantyne socialised and worked with weren’t just providing relief for the poor in Cambridge through the Cambridge Charitable Organisations Society, they were also asking the people in power why the poor had no food in the first place. One of the first things that Eglantyne did was to establish a baseline. No one had done this before – we didn’t know what provision for the relief of the poor was already out there. So Eglantyne carried out a survey and published the results.

TheCambridgeRegisterEJebb

If you look closely above 82 Regent Street in Cambridge, you’ll see a blue plaque with Eglantyne’s name on it. I’ve written more about the publication here.

What she then did was revolutionary: She undertook the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge. You can read it on line in full here. Remember that there was still a school of [Christian] thought that blamed ‘ladies with loose morals’ as being a major cause of general bad stuff happening in town. That’s not to say she was the only person examining these issues. A number of her policy recommendations were already in place, for example slum clearances under the first of a series of Housing Acts. What her study did do was put policy rocket boosters onto attempts to deal with poverty and multiple deprivation. One result was Sedley Taylor setting up the country’s first municipal dental clinic in Cambridge and giving free treatment to all children at council-run schools. We named a primary school and a road with expensive houses on after him. The primary school got knocked down but the road with expensive houses on (Sedley Taylor Road) is still there.

It was on the back of all of this work that she got involved in local politics – elected to the board of education of Cambridge Borough Council. (The district/town/city councils had responsibility for schools in those days, and women could be elected by councillors onto such boards). It was this quotation that explains why Eglantyne switched to the liberals.

“I was a long time realising that social reform on the part of the Conservatives is like charity in the hands of Lady Bountiful – everything is to be made nice and pleasant, but the upper class [is] to be respected and obeyed’. The corruption at elections first opened my eyes and I came to believe that no social reform could be of use which did not promote the independence of the people”

Eglantyne Jebb in the Cambridge Independent Press, 08 July 1910. (Scroll to screenshots at end)

Rees-Mogg’s point about foodbanks is precisely the issue Eglantyne takes issue with. It may be good to see some people doing their ‘Christian duty’ to help the poor, but in Cambridge the Christians here that I’ve met over the years also have a habit of asking those in power why the poor have no food. Sir Brian Heap hosted a meeting on food security nearly 110 years after Eglantyne’s book was published, interestingly in the same church that Florence Ada Keynes attended in Cambridge. I went along to hear more than a few members of the church really going after a couple of speakers from the big food industry about their practices.

As the Trussell Trust has said on many occasions, food banks can only help alleviate the poverty that people face. They are not a long term solution to poverty – especially a poverty made worse by flawed government policies. This too was Eglantyne Jebb’s point in her campaigning. At the Cambridge Charitable Organisation Society they did a mixture of things – including finding jobs for the unemployed to providing limited financial handouts to those destitute. At the same time they were also lobbying politicians. This shows why history is ever so important: it means we don’t have to learn the same lessons again the hard way.

As a postscript…

Because of her work and legacy, the Church of England dedicated 17 December to her memory.

A hotel at Shire Hall? Only if we can rebuild the castle and courthouse as a city museum as well

Summary

Some thoughts on what to do with the Shire Hall site assuming Cambridgeshire County Council sell off the Shire Hall building to a hotel company

Some of you may have spotted Cambridge Independent’s front page.

170830 CambridgeIndyFrontpageShireHallHotel

Shire Hall currently looks like this

DemocracyCambridge Screengrab

So lovely I’ve used it as an image on my Democracy Cambridge FB Page.

Now, the site used to be many things. For centuries, it was a castle. Romans, Saxons and Normans all occupied it.

Ye olde Cambridge Castle

Then it was a prison

Images from the Cambridgeshire Collection and the Museum of Cambridge. 

…and not all of the prisoners came out alive.

CambridgeCountyGaolExecutionShed

An archival gem – and a morbid one. The last executioners of Cambridge County Gaol from the Cambridgeshire County Archive.

In the mid-1800s a lovely courthouse was built.

OldCourtHouse2.jpg

From the Museum of Cambridge – this should never have been demolished, least of all for an effing car park. But hey, 1950s architecture and all that…

 

Shire House Law Courts

An etched version from A history of Cambridge Architecture

So whatever happens to the Shire Hall building, one thing we can say is that the use of the site has changed, ebbed and flowed throughout history.

Others had plans for the site too. New law courts from 1956

New Shire Hall Courts Models

From the Cambridgeshire Collection’s microfiche archive, as buildings go I quite like this. 

But it never got built. So they tried again in 1967.

I only found these a couple of hours ago in the newspaper archives. Many tried tall towers after the construction of The University Library – only Addenbrooke’s Chimney managed to get away with it until after the Millennium.

“Where will the county council go?”

Somewhere less expensive. Personally I think it’s an opportunity for local government reform – and to get a unitary authority for (Greater) Cambridge. Personally I’d recommend relocating a ‘North Cambridgeshire Council’ to somewhere like Wisbech – if only to help provide jobs and ‘concentrate the minds’ of councillors to improve transport infrastructure up there.

“Will the site be sold of in its entirety?”

God I hope not, but I wouldn’t put it beyond the wishes of a Conservative-led council. Personally I’d prefer to see the site staying in public hands so that a local council could benefit from the long term rent that would come from it. Personally I think it would be a scandal if it were sold of – simply because the site is ripe for turning into a proper heritage site.

“What would you like to see?”

I’d like to see an expanded Museum of Cambridge alongside a restaurant, bar, and cafe. My premise is this:

Build an expansion to the Museum of Cambridge

The Museum of Cambridge – AKA The Folk Museum was the brainchild of local folk historian of Cambridge and the fens, Enid Porter. While Enid was very much the historian for the people of the rural fens, I like to think that founding trustee Florence Ada Keynes (yes, her again) represented us townsfolk. The problem is that the site the museum is currently on is far too cramped for what it wants to do. There is no room for new exhibits.

My plan is to rebuild the old courthouse as an expanded Museum of Cambridge, maintaining the existing site as ‘The Cambridge & County Folk Museum’. Keep the latter doing what it does well, and have this new Museum of Cambridge as the museum that tells the story of our city. For a start we could house the only remaining tram in existence that trundled the streets of Cambridge – currently at the East Anglia Transport Museum in Ipswich. It could also be a wonderful place to display photographs from the archives, and artwork from the past. Furthermore, it could also host video/film displays from archives such as the East Anglian Film Archive – such as this one on proposals to redevelop Cambridge in 1962.

A rebuilt Cambridge Castle?

My take would be to rebuild a castle tower inspired by the drawings of the past, but have it designed and constructed so that it becomes taller than the top of Castle Mound – itself an ancient monument. That way you divert some of the crowds from a site at risk from erosion while putting a rooftop bar at the top that charges expensive prices for small glasses of wine like the Varsity Hotel does. Splendid views across the city and the building pays for itself.

A restaurant too?

Why not have two in competition with each other? One at ground level where the courthouse is, and another in the new castle building? With the other two venues nearby – The Castle Inn and The Architect Pub, it then becomes a place to go in its own right due to the choice available. Assuming the hotel gets built, the eateries have a new, built-in market every night of the week.

And a cafe?

The risk with the bars and restaurants is you price people out. Personally I’d like to see a cafe run in partnership with Cambridge Regional College or similar, effectively serving as a training venue that they have on their King’s Hedges Road site as well as being something that can serve the less affluent end of the market too. It may also be an outlet for the Cambridge Food Cycle team for things like making cakes and salads as a revenue earner for them.

Like the idea?

Feel free to share, comment and also let your county councillor know via https://www.writetothem.com/

Because I would love to see an expanded Museum of Cambridge to tell the story of our growing city.

 

How can local history influence the future of a town or a city?

Summary

Some thoughts on making use of our hidden histories (& herstories) to get more people involved not just in local democracy but on the futures of where we live. Cambridge and Cambridgeshire being my case study.

For those of you following my Lost Cambridge project, one of the things that I’m looking at is how to make everything I do ‘Me-proof’ on the grounds that the weakest link in all of this going forward is me. For a variety of reasons which I won’t go into here. My point is that my discoveries over the past few months show that however we as a city choose to follow this up, it’s going to take far more than one man and his dragon fairy to actually do it. I also don’t want some poor soul in 100 years time to stumble across all of this work and ask why no one did follow it up assuming I get run over by a bus or something. A question we often asked in the civil service when assessing project risk was what would happen if a key individual was run over by a bus: how would the project continue? This is actually a weakness of many ministerial initiatives – as soon as the minister is sacked, transferred or promoted, the project dies a very quick death as their replacement looks to stamp their mark of authority on their new teams.

Local history as a very long term project or program

My time horizon in all of this is about 15 years – i.e. between now and the centenary of Florence Ada Keynes’ mayoralty.

Florence Ada Keynes Dissenting Forbears NevilleBrown

Florence Ada Keynes shortly after her wedding to John Neville Keynes (parents of the Economist John Maynard Keynes) in Dissenting Forbears by Neville Brown.

“15 years – that’s a long time!”

Exactly – yet through it, it allows a program to grow as big as the city and the people want it to be, rather than having a very tight deadline to complete an unbelievably large and varied projects by.

It also means there is enough time for consistent branding to be developed, and something that projects developed by others can hook onto. Essentially the time allows for a significant amount of strategic planning – one where we can have a ‘year zero’ where we do that large information scoping and data collection exercise just to get a feel for what is out there. Because what I’ve found in the course of less than a year is that our civic history in Cambridge is far, far greater, more exciting and more interesting than many of us had realised.

Time for negotiations too

The reason why this matters is because a number of the colleges hold archives of letters and papers of people who were very important and influential in the shaping of our town and city. Some of the colleges are not actually aware they hold those papers outside of their archivist community. Others will have forgotten the part some of their former members played in how Cambridge the town grew, and more importantly how we improved the provision of social and public services as a result of the intervention of civic-minded individuals. The point being is that those individuals, as well as being part of the colleges’ histories are also part of the town’s history too. Once you’ve established that shared connection, then you can start talking about how to commemorate it. For example Florence Ada Keynes above was one of the earliest students at Newnham College – as were more than a few of the most prominent women social activists in the late 19th/early-mid 20th centuries. To pick two more individuals, Sir Horace Darwin, Fellow of Trinity College, founded the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company (which became a huge local employer, and whose offices on Chesterton Lane now house The Job Centre), and Sedley Taylor, (also at Trinity College) who paid for the first municipal dental clinic in Cambridge, and for free checks for all children at council run schools in 1907/08. Remember this was the time before the welfare state and most families couldn’t afford a dentist. Sedley Taylor Road, Cambridge? Yep, named after him.

Looming multiple centenaries.

We’ve missed a number of important ones – including the centenary of Florence Ada Keynes’ election to Cambridge Borough Council as the first woman in 1914. But there are a whole host looming, including:

  • 1918 – Representation of the People Act 1918 giving some women the vote for the first time, and also removed the property qualification on men who otherwise were still barred from voting.
  • 1919 – First women to win contested elections in Cambridge – Clara Rackham and Dorothy Stevenson
  • 1920 – the appointment of the first women magistrates (Florence Ada Keynes, Jane Harrison, Leah Manning and Clara Rackham)
  • 1923 – the appointment of our first woman police officer, WPC and later Sgt Annie Carnegie Brown
  • 1924 – election of our first woman mayor – Cllr Eva Hartree
  • 1929 – first elections that women could vote on equal basis with men following the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act. Thus the UK did not get Universal Suffrage until that Act was passed.
  • 1932 – Florence Ada Keynes elected Mayor
  • 1933 – Cambridge Refugee Committee formed by Eva Hartree and others, to organise the first municipal reception for refugees fleeing from the rise of fascism across Europe – most notably from Germany and Spain.

Those events above as standalone local events deserve some sort of centenary marking in their own right. As part of a story of our city – especially on civic and social progression, it feels far more powerful because all of these are ones that town, gown and village can celebrate together.

“Town, gown and village? That’s a new one?!”

We take it for granted that the wards of Trumpington, Cherry Hinton and Chesterton are part of Cambridge City as far as elections and public services go. But all of these used to have their own councils – Chesterton once being its own rural district covering both these villages and much of what we now know as South Cambridgeshire.

HIstory of #localgov for Cambridge

The civic boundaries of Cambridge used to be much, much smaller. But we grew.

How will this influence the future of local public policy?

One of the things I’ve felt for a long time is that we, the people of Cambridge do not have nearly as strong civic identity as we could have. Part of that is down to us not knowing our civic history as well as we could do. That in itself stems from the fact that the last person who wrote anything approaching a comprehensive history of Cambridge the town was Cambridge Labour activist, Professor Helen Cam CBE of Girton College, Cambridge.

IMG_3522Cambridge Hero Professor Helen Cam – historian and benefactor of Romsey Labour Club in Cambridge. From Cambridge Women: 12 Portraits.

In the case of this blogpost on the town’s history, I’ve already named figures from three Cambridge colleges – Newnham (Florence Ada Keynes, Eva Hartree), Trinity (Horace Darwin, Sedley Taylor) and Girton (Helen Cam).

“What did Helen Cam do?”

Wrote our civic history. Literally.

No – really. Pages 1-149 of the official Victoria County History – Cambridge (the town) were written by Helen. I bought my own printed version of the history for £1 when the library was disposing of old past copies of the county history.

Helen Cam History of Cambridge Town Contents

Over the page all of the colleges are divvied up between various male historians (bar Girton (Jean Lindsay) and Newnham (Dorothy Brodie). Only Helen, supported by Susan Reynolds covered the town. The last update to this was in 1959.

That means we’ve got coming up to 70 years of unwritten history coming up

In a nutshell. That plus there was only so much Helen Cam and Susan Reynolds could squeeze into those 150 pages.

There are other things that come up too that were contemporary for the time but for whatever reason have been forgotten. In part because so few comprehensive books on Cambridge’s history outside of Cambridge University and its colleges have been written and sold widely. I remain of the view that some of the academic theses I’ve read by local historians, academics and enthusiasts are good enough subject to topping, tailing and layout changes, for publication as books in their own right. Go into any bookshop in Cambridge however, and you’ll see just how few books there are on the story of our city. And even then, some of the more contemporary ones are dispassionate accounts of the rise of a specific industrial sector that follows the money rather than the people, written as publicity puff pieces rather than as histories with an honest critical eye. With history, what you choose to exclude is just as important as what you cover. Pretending that there are no negative consequences with some of the more recent developments is just as dishonest as pretending there were no good things that happened in developments in the 1960s & 1970s when we lost more than a few really nice buildings in the city.

“Why so much interest in the women?”

Because that’s the bit that’s been written about the least vis-a-vis the historical evidence that is out there. Rather than following the noise that is in the university guidebooks and photo-guides of college splendours with all of the oil paintings of old men on the gilded ancient halls, I’m following the silences and the absences.

That plus the institutionalised sexism of the University of Cambridge and the churches linked to them is ever so striking. Florence Ada Keynes as Mayor of Cambridge was barred from having a full degree from Cambridge University due to her gender, despite being Mayor of Cambridge in 1932/33. Ditto Eva Hartree in 1924/25. And also ditto for another Newnham College student, Lady Alice Bragg who was Cambridge’s third woman mayor in 1946/47. Have a listen to her speech here from The Guildhall Balcony awarding the Freedom of the City to the Cambridgeshire Regiment, a number of whom had only recently been liberated from the hell of Imperial Japanese Prisoner of War camps in the Far East. (I covered the Cambridgeshire & the Fall of Singapore in 1942 in this post). Ultimately, it wasn’t until 1948 that Cambridge University finally removed the gender ban.

Interested in finding out more on the social and civic history of Cambridge the town? The first place to look is the Museum of Cambridge. Florence Ada Keynes was one of the founding trustees of the Museum of Cambridge when it was founded as the Cambridge and County Folk Museum. They are on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/museumofcambridge/ and on Twitter at @MuseumOfCamb. The museum has social drop ins every Friday afternoon from 2pm where a different subject is showcased or featured. If you are interested in getting involved – in particular on the history and actions of the women, drop an email to the museum.

“And on influencing the future?”

It really comes down to this: The more you know about a place and the greater the connection you have for a place, the more likely it is (I believe) that you’ll want to make difference to that place. Whether standing up against damaging developments or pushing for more positive things to be built or take place. It’s so easy to forget but it was a group of passionate teenagers and young adults in the mid-1980s who pushed for a new music and arts venue to be built in Cambridge. That is why Cambridge has The Junction.

Who took the fun out of Cambridge? (& how do we get it back?)

Summary

On regular events and nights we used to have but no longer do

I’ve had a number of conversations with local residents and activists in recent weeks about all things leisure in Cambridge, and a number of things have come up as a result.

What happened to the regular club nights at The Junction?

The Junction, as well as being a major entertainment and arts venue is also a big part of our civic history – especially for teenagers and people in their 20s. Why? It was that generation of teenagers & young people who got it built in the 1980s.

Plans for The Junction music/arts venue. )4 Nov 1986

The above from the Cambridgeshire Collection’s newspaper microfiche archive is the Cambridge Evening News of 04 November 1986. Looking at it now, the underpass in the centre of Elizabeth Way roundabout would make for an awesome public space – whack a dome over it!

Yet the club nights that were regularly sold out in the late 1990s are no longer there. The old 70s and indie nights at The Junction are now at the much smaller Q-Club on Station Road Corner, which makes me feel that as a city we’ve gone backwards somewhat. That’s not to criticise The Junction as a venue or their staff. One of the things that they’ve struggled with – one that crosses more than two generations, is under-aged drinking. It’s a problem that goes far beyond Cambridge and one that we don’t look like solving anytime soon. I’ve seen secondary school children negotiating with street drinkers to buy alcohol from local supermarkets thinking “Yeah – why didn’t my generation think of that?!” while noting still that it’s easier for under-18s to get hold of illegal drugs than it is alcohol – just as it was for my generation growing up in 1990s Cambridge. I shrug my shoulders at those that squeal for the police and local councils to do more while voting in politicians that repeatedly vote for cuts to their budgets and/or refuse to vote for the necessary resources to enable public officials to carry out the duties they demand of them.

Cambridge’s population has grown by size of the town of Haverhill since 1990 – but has our leisure offer matched that growth?

I asked this question this time two years ago. The answer is still the same: no. Between 1990 and today, Cambridge should have built the equivalent of what Haverhill has, plus more given the improvements in transport access that the guided bus has given to the villages and towns in West Cambridgeshire.

What do we mean by “Cambridge is wealthy”?

People and politicians talk about the profitability of various firms (eg ARM Holdings), the number of tourists that visit Cambridge (while not considering the negative externalities of the model of mass tourism) and the amount of money Cambridge City Council returns to The Treasury from business rates. The problem is the municipal authorities don’t have the means to channel more than a fraction of that wealth into the functions that a city needs to function. Why does ARM holdings pay for a diesel shuttle bus from the railway station to its campus in Fulbourn rather than paying to re-open the railway station and upgrade the railway line that goes past its offices? There’s even a campaign to get it reopened for crying out loud!

“What’s that got to do with fun?”

Everything – people need to get to and from the places concerned – as I wrote in this blogpost. Finally – finally work as begun on our new ice rink on Newmarket Road. Flooding fenland fields in winter – which used to work in decades gone by no longer does in an era of climate change. If all goes well and the main bus route extends to the rink, I have an almost point-to-point bus link to said rink. Which is splendid even if the route is quite a long one. I get on, I sleep for 45 minutes, I get off, I get my ice skates on.

Land prices making some activities much more expensive

Some indoor activities inevitably need large amounts of indoor space. Basketball and rollerskating are two examples. One of our city’s best sports clubs, the Cambridge Rollerbillies needs a permanent and affordable home but is dependent on the availability of the Kelsey Kerridge Sports Hall. Cambridge United Women’s Football Club doesn’t even have a home ground inside the county, let alone the city. A disgrace to our city that needs rectifying. That two of our top women’s sports teams don’t have permanent homes in our city with decent facilities is a reflection of the institutionalised sexism in our city and in sport in general.

Where are the activities that mix young people studying at the city’s private language schools with young people at our secondary schools?

There are two things that worry me here. The first is that activities put on for visiting young people are inaccessible to young people that live here. The second is that visiting young people form friendships and future networks in our city that our young people are inevitably excluded from, while the private firms run off with the profits giving nothing back to the young people who call Cambridge ‘home’. It is not beyond the business networks in this city to do something about this if Cambridge is as innovative and forward thinking as we are told we are.

Is classical music about being beyond grade 8 or nothing?

Some of you might remember me jumping up and down about a new concert hall (and ideally, grand ballroom) for Cambridge in this blogpost. i.e. the one I’ve told several of you that I plan to name after the Mother of Modern Cambridge, Florence Ada Keynes.

florence-ada-keynes-portrait

Hero: Florence Ada Keynes in the 1880s before she transformed our city.

We have the guildhall in Market Square because of her. Unfortunately, in the large hall built in Victorian times behind it, the organ in there is broken and needs the best part of £500,000 to repair it. That plus some serious work to improve the very poor acoustics in there. Not that it stopped Mrs Keynes aged 74 from facing down 2,000 angry people inside said hall in 1935 who were complaining about design issues with the then proposed guildhall. While this was going on, her son, John Maynard Keynes (the economist) was busy building The Arts Theatre (which he underwrote for what was £20,000 in 1930s money when King’s College refused to stump up the cash). When he was bored or needed a break from economics in the evenings, he could sometimes be found in the box office selling tickets – because it was his theatre and because it was fun for him!

On the music side, my take for the past decade or so has been that Cambridge needs an adults’ late starters orchestra. East London has one, and Cambridge is full of music teachers and music scholars. So what is stopping Cambridge’s classical music scene from making this happen? After all, you have a big music school in our city and it’s not as if classical music doesn’t have an accessibility and image problem re diversity. (Although the point is often made about how tickets to football matches can be just as, if not more expensive than a classical music concert – which then makes us wonder whether the problem is ticket price or something else).

Lots of summer activities for older people and younger people – but what about that gap in between?

I was talking to a few people who like me, fall into that group and also happen to be single and childless. What is there that is specifically organised for this demographic (late-20s to early 40s) in and around Cambridge? I was looking at some of the things put on for the summer in Cambridge thinking: “I’d ***love*** to do that but I’m not 13 anymore.” I’m also not old enough to qualify for the Mayor’s annual day out to Great Yarmouth – but am more than happy to campaign for the re-opening of the railroute that used to exist so that we can all go to the seaside by train like we used to in the olden days!

Can our larger institutions think beyond their own memberships?

Cambridge University on social housing:

This from the top two councillors in Cambridge City – Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council and Cllr Kevin Price, executive director for housing and Chair of the Greater Cambridge Assembly.

I agree with both councillors – it is unacceptable for Cambridge University and its member colleges to behave in this way, pricing out the people who do the cleaning, bedding and catering inside their institutions. Astonishing that those on the college finance boards cannot see the positive impact that having such staff living in walking distance of their work places would have both on their work and on the health and lives of their employees. But as they are all too often outsourced to third parties, all too often the responsibilities go with them. For me a massive false economy.

Have some of our larger organisations stopped putting on some of the fun stuff of old?

I asked that question in this recent blogpost. The local archives make for fascinating reading in this regard. Given that they didn’t have TV or the internet 100 or so years ago, people had to find other things to keep them busy. In those days, some organisations built their own premises and hosted events in them. The Cambridge & District Co-operative Society was one such organisation. One Cambridge hero – Save The Children founder Eglantyne Jebb predicted shortly after the outbreak of the First World War that co-operation was the future. Read her full remarks from December 1914 here. Alas it was not to be, and the huge premises that were on Burleigh Street were sold off to the Grosvenor Estate Group and now host that symbol of low-cost-high-turnover turbo-capitalism, Primark.

“Doesn’t fun mean different things for different people?”

Yes – and dare I say it, we’ve lost our imagination and self-belief to build those things that could make our city much better than it currently is. I’ve been ridiculed enough over the concert hall idea. Note that we were told by 2016 we’d need a 50m swimming pool, a rowing lake, a community sports stadium and more – I read through old documents so you don’t have to 🙂 (Page 16 if you’re interested – the summary box at the end).

Yet as the 1986 newspaper article demonstrated, teenagers and young people came up with the idea of turning the big underpass by Elizabeth Way bridge into a venue – something that I’d never have had the imagination for. With not nearly enough diversity in local democracy nor a critical mass of the people that make up our city involved in how to make it function properly (not a new problem by anymeans), we miss out on the genuinely radical and imaginative ideas that could really make a difference. It’s one of the reasons I want the Cambridge Connect Light Rail to work. I’m still astonished that out of all of the candidates who stood for county mayor this year, it was the Conservative candidate James Palmer (who subsequently got elected) who pinned his manifesto to the mast of underground light rail. None of the others would back it.

“What about the free stuff?”

Wide open spaces matter.

Cambridge Crusaders vs Trumpington Tornadoes!

The pitch wasn’t nearly as nice as it is today, but we won 4-1 away in what was my first competitive football match as a centre-back. I was petrified…because I was 10.

But something as simple as removing the grass clippings from the open spaces actually makes a huge difference – especially to hayfever sufferers like me. Unlike my local park Coleridge Rec, the King George V playing fields in Trumpington had the clippings removed so I didn’t break out into a sneezing fit when I popped over on Saturday to see the Trumpington Youth Festival that was funded by Cambridge City Council’s South Area Committee allocation.

“Shouldn’t the city council be allocating some of this funding to each state secondary school to put on a summer festival in their local parks?”

Now there’s an idea.

The question is whether the schools would have the capacity to deliver it. These things are always easier said than done. Years of repeated cuts means that the capacity to deliver community events has fallen more and more onto volunteers. This inevitably means only those with the desire, the time and capacity to deliver such things take them up.

Talking to council officials, it was a group of young people aged 9-15 who put on the event in Trumpington. They went through the process of applying for funding and got it. I mentioned that learning how to apply for the money was an important part of the learning process, but also that there must be a simplified system we can put in place for the firms to donate funds say to the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation knowing that it will be used for such events. That or making a much better go of publicising the one that is already in place here.

And finally…

The *Wow!* factor.

Compared to where they were, Cambridge University has significantly improved its public engagement work in recent years. You could say that given that it used to treat the public like The Plague, an improvement isn’t hard. But many of the people who have been at the public-facing end that I’ve met have been utterly inspiring, and shows what we are capable of when we work together and put our minds to it.

Musicians in Cambridge working together could create not just a late starters orchestra but a new musical movement in Cambridge.

Dance groups in Cambridge working together could create the equivalent of a ‘May Ball’ where you had music and dancing of a different dance style in each hall/room/marquee.

Arts and college investment funds working with private donors and the local councils could give us that larger-than-the-corn-exchange concert hall (doubling as a conference centre that the business community regularly tells us we need). It’s not like we don’t have the technology to create a flexible but inspiring internal space.

At an even more basic level, we don’t need to sell out to developers all the time and leave pokey little patches of green in our new housing developments. Provide people with large open parklands like we used to. Let’s not become like London where we lose those open spaces as this report from 2006 shows what London lost.

What are your ideas?

You could say that ‘organised fun’ is a contradiction in terms – like planned spontaneity. There’s always been room for some sort of municipal provision for events ever since the Romans came up with the concept of bread and circuses to keep the people content…allegedly.

What are the things that as a city we’ve not even thought about? What are the things that could easily be put on and/or have low costs? What are the things that stop us from organising these things? Money? Poor transport links? Problems with publicity?

It reminds me of the criteria I wrote at the end of this blogpost on school sports: available, affordable, accessible, enjoyable, sociable. Do these apply to your ideas? Comments on a postcard please. (Alternatively in the comments box below on on Twitter & FB).

 

 

 

 

 

Adjusting to long term limitations from mental health illness

Summary

Over 5 years on and with no end in sight – trying to avoid despondency

It’s been that long since I went through a mental health crisis that took out my ability to work full-time hours. About six months prior to that I left the civil service on the back of the first major round of austerity job cuts.

In that time, I’ve tried my hand at a whole host of things but never really found a niche until now – with all things https://lostcambridge.wordpress.com/ in a project that I believe could last many years simply because of the stories hidden within and the amount of unpublished and hidden material there is out there. The only thing that will limit it as far as I am concerned is the ambition of the city and its institutions. The other limitation is me. I see myself as the weakest link in project for a whole host of reasons.

“Yer not a kid anymore!”

One of the bad things of having moved back to Cambridge from London (and also from Brighton prior to that) is being surrounded by childhood history that is hard to run away from. Over the past few months I’ve really begun to feel my age – in particular getting it into my mind that over 2 decades have passed since I did my GCSEs, even though for a long time it felt like almost yesterday. Ditto with A-levels & university until I came to terms with the idea of this world having social media and those worlds not. It’s something I remind myself regarding the time of history I’m studying with Cambridge’s civic history: I’m studying a time period when there was no internet, no TV and in most cases, no radio. Perhaps just as importantly, no vinyl records, tape cassettes nor CD players. The idea you could hide away in your room and listen to music is a very recent phenomenon.

The more important thing though is getting used to the idea that my body is physically not able to do the stuff I took for granted until 2012. And I’m not just talking about hangover recovery – which had already reached the stage of needing a whole weekend to recover from a Friday night session by my very late 20s. No, this is the basics of cycling into town. Despite having a cycle, I always take the bus, even though I’ve procrastinated about getting back onto two wheels. The inevitable problem of moving back in with family is that you cease to be in control of your living circumstances – it’s not your house. You can’t make the changes to it that you would do if it were your own place. But in a place like Cambridge, moving out to somewhere else isn’t easy for anyone. We have a ‘hidden homelessness’ problem here of people who would like to move out but cannot. The problem is we don’t really show up on the statistics so there’s little political incentive for politicians to deal with it.

The other paradox with all of this is that I don’t know if I could cope with living on my own in my current state – though it’s something I’m more-and-more ready to give another shot again. Staying where I am feels unsustainable emotionally more than anything else.

On letting dreams go

When I left the civil service I always had it in mind that I’d get back into dancing (ballroom etc) again. But by then the club that I was once part of in the last decade prior to moving to London, had shrunk from its peak in 2005. The buzz that was once there was no longer there. I too was getting older and felt it more and more. Today I can’t see myself going back into the main venue where they host lessons. Funnily enough, since doing historical research on the political history of the town, the hall turns out to be one of the most well-used venues for a number of locally significant political meetings – in particular on votes for women, and the growth of the Labour movement.

Instinctively though, my body still has this strange yearning to go dancing – and cycling…and to play football too. It’s like when you do a given activity over an extended period of time in your relative youth, it becomes second nature. Yet at the same time, because of the regular bouts of (mental) exhaustion I get, I have to consider getting to and from venues in a way which I never had to in times gone by. Turns out I’ve not been the only person thinking about this – a number of local public policy types have started linking public transport access to venues as part of the county’s future leisure strategies. For me it’s an obvious point – I’m dependent on buses.  But if you’re a rural councillor from an affluent background, driving is the normal thing to do.

A career as a lifestyle

I assumed that this is what London would be like – work hard, play hard and socialise with the people you worked with. It didn’t quite turn out like that. Ironically, the people in the civil service who I probably felt the most comfortable with during my time there were the group that would later form the Government Digital Service. It was around the time many of us were considering our futures and I thought to myself that this is the group of people who I wanted to work with on something exciting, dynamic and socially productive. Many of these people were Puffles’ earliest followers. But there were no sideways moves and I had already signed my career away. The civil service that ministers were mismanaging was not a place I wanted to be in – and was also a place I couldn’t see myself surviving in. I needed a break.

Needing a break, but not a breakdown

I’d heard the phrase about people ‘going into the city, working hard, playing hard and burning out when they got to 30’. I just didn’t think it’d happen to me. Well it did. It’s like when the media gives out the 1-in-4 stat about the number of people who’ll suffer from a mental health problem in their lifetime. I’m one of the ones-in-four.

How are you supposed to manage a mental health condition when the NHS structures imposed by Lansley and Hunt don’t even give you a named general practitioner anymore?

This is why I despise with a passion the current and former health secretaries – and the prime ministers that appointed them. It speaks volumes these days that the former Health Secretary now only seems to appear at private meetings when discussing public policy. It’s almost as if he knows how hated he is by the general public that he dare not show his face. (Check those interests). A reflection of just how toxic our politics has become.

The thing is the politicians have known about the lack of funding of mental health services for over a century. Again, the newspaper archive reports are strikingly blunt in how they report inquests and hearings from the coroner’s office. Essentially when someone has an ‘unnatural death’ the county coroner is involved. (See this guide). This includes people taking their own life. (Don’t worry – I’m not about to take mine, but let’s not pretend the thought hasn’t cross my mind ever since I was diagnosed back in 2000). Even then it was crystal clear that mental health should not be ignored in the drive to improve physical health and hygiene as people became more aware. That’s why I’m like “Shut the fuck up about what you’re going to do, come back when it’s done”.

Sick of ‘let’s talk about mental health’

No. I’m sick of it. I’m sick to fucking death of it. I want all of us to have access to decent comprehensive mental healthcare treatment that is ours of right but isn’t being delivered because of political choices being made by ministers. You’ve been in power for over seven years: own it.

…because if you talk too much about it, you lose friends…

I have a number of people in my mind where I look back and think what a difference it would have made if that comprehensive system of support had been in place. The various crises I’ve had were not for them to bear the burden of helping me through. That was for the NHS – it’s what our taxes paid for. In particular having known how to make best use of tranquilliser medication which, up until my breakdown was something I thought was only for very serious cases. It would have helped stabilise my moods at some really critical points. Part of me thinks “How the fuck did you make it so far in the face of all of that?”

That’s why these days I try to bottle most of it in and/or distract myself

Fortunately I’ve got something to keep me distracted for a very long time – and fingers crossed our funding applications that I and a few others have started working on will mean I become somewhat independent and have a group of people to work with. Augusts generally are grim for me because everyone goes away and everything stops. Also, when I’m at my most irritable I need to get out of the house and away from people – which is why archives are very useful in that regard. No one disturbs you in archives. Given the nature of what I’m researching, very few people will have found the sorts of things I’ve been pulling out – mainly things in long-forgotten newspaper columns from a century ago. It’s the stuff that unexpectedly makes you laugh or smile that’s the nicest. Such as ‘red tape gone mad’.

Liberal Socialist farming spoof - 13 Oct 1926

…through to one of the earliest photographs of people (in this case children at the old Milton Road Primary School) smiling for the camera

Milton Road School PLay

(Click on the image and expand – the top photo in particular).

Then you’ve got things that simply smash negative stereotypes – such as the myth that girls cannot throw.

Miss Olive Johnson County High School Sports 30 June 1920

That’s Miss Olive Johnson at the Cambridge County High School for Girls Sports Day – 30 June 1920. We now call that institution Long Road Sixth Form College. And that is a cricket ball Olive is about to hurl.

Managing other people’s expectations

Never an easy one to talk about in terms of family expectations because the whole thing is loaded with things from the past that were outside the control of many of us. So I won’t go there.

But the inertia of past expectations and the social culture of what ‘middle class Cambridge’ was until I left to go to university in the late 1990s is one I can only describe looking with hindsight as absolutely toxic. It surprises me even now that we allowed churches and religious institutions to have such a stranglehold on our lives. The one thing that really strikes me is the impact the internet has had. As a child up until the internet became mainstream, you took what you were given knowledge-wise and were told to pass exams. Do well and you get treats, do badly and all hell breaks loose. I took that to heart and as a result ended up stepping back from a whole host of things to put exams first, when actually doing those other things would have been of immense benefit. The mindset at the time was that you only studied languages if you wanted to be a translator and that you played a musical instrument so that if you could not find a job anywhere else, you could always become a music teacher. (I still remember being told this by more than one adult).

The problem was that when I got to university and moved from a world where I didn’t have the internet to one where I did, I found that the institutions who I had trustingly obeyed throughout my childhood at left me woefully underprepared for the real world. What I also didn’t realise was that university was about to do exactly the same thing in my economics degree, only this time I didn’t fall into line. Much of what I was taught in that degree was called into question by the banking crisis – hence organisations such as http://neweconomics.org/about-us/ and http://www.rethinkeconomics.org/about/ got set up.

“So, when are you going to get married and have children then?”

One of the reasons why I tend to avoid family gatherings these days. That plus a few years ago I started getting panic attacks at them so now I simply don’t go.

In a strange way I always assumed that getting married and having kids is what was going to happen. I was told before I went to university that I’d meet a new stable group of friends and a future spouse – none of which happened. One of the biggest shortcomings of higher education policy for decades has been ignoring the housing/student accommodation element. The housing situation in Brighton plus my old uni’s policy towards it did so much damage not just to me, but to many other people I spoke to at the time in terms of their experience there.

Post-civil service I’ve made the judgement call that my health simply is not strong enough to be a parent – even if I did meet the perfect partner. It’s such an awesome responsibility to have for such an extended period of time that I would inevitably fall short. We all make rash decisions when we’re tired and under pressure. Given that a high state of mental exhaustion is my starting point – combined with not being able to work full time anyway to support anyone, let alone myself, I’ve written myself out of it. But I’m reconciled to that and am at ease with it.

You could say that narrows the field in terms of searching for a life partner, but then I’ve not really been looking ever since my breakdown on the grounds that I’m not in a fit state of health. That plus having had to move back into my childhood home and not being in full time employment – and not fully independent means I’m hardly going to be topping the criteria list, let’s put it that way!

But rather than going on ***Oh woe is me!*** on that front (I’ve spent most of the previous paragraphs doing that), I’ve unwittingly followed the example of one of my top historical heroes, Eglantyne Jebb, who (following heartbreak) found a cause that chimed with her and didn’t look back.

Eglantyne Jebb in Cambridge

Eglantyne Jebb: Author of Cambridge: A brief study in social questions. 1906. Photo in Feminism & Voluntary Action by L Mahood. Photo from around the time Eglantyne was active in Cambridge (1903-1913).

When I first read her book I had no idea who she was. All I knew was that in the first two chapters she had taught me more about the civic history of Cambridge up to the year 1900 than the rest of the city put together. It was only when I found out that she founded Save The Children that I wondered why the story of her work in Cambridge wasn’t known much more widely. Like me, Eglantyne suffered from mental health problems, was incredibly highly strung/intense as a persona, liked partner dancing – and also never married. Reading her biographies I can’t help but think she worked herself into an early grave dying in her early 50s but looking decades older in her final years.

The reason why I’m committing my next however many years of living to this project is that the life stories of the women who transformed Cambridge is one of the most inspiring that I’ve read about, yet so few know about it.

“Does that mean giving up politics?”

Hell…no. History and politics are joined at the hip. Brexit being an example of politics going badly wrong because collectively we’ve gotten our histories in a big mess. Interestingly I’m in a situation where I spend a lot of time researching the lives and actions of long-deceased heroic women while at the same time spending a similar amount of time scrutinising the actions of panels and committees that are unfortunately mainly if not entirely male. (Greater Cambridge City Deal Board, Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority Cabinets are all-male).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The decline of work-based social and support functions

Summary

A ramble through the hollowing out of employer-backed social institutions in Cambridge, and the rise of local online-based networks in their place

For those of you following my research project Lost Cambridge, you’ll know that I’m currently going through about half a century’s worth of newspaper archives. Accordingly, I’m picking up on a host of things that I hadn’t really expected to find out about or even intended to find out about. Having just watched a programme on BBC4 about Paisley’s huge mills in Scotland, (with No.1 Spinning Mill being demolished in a crime against industrial architecture) it reminded me of something I was thinking about in relation to the collapse of the Co-operative movement in Cambridge.

“Collapse of the co-op in Cambridge? But they have stores everywhere!”

I’ve still not figured out what went wrong with the Co-op Society in general, but something very very bad happened over an extended period of time. And that was before they tried their hand at banking. I wrote about my brief work experience stint there in the mid-1990s and even then I could see all was not well. Not well at all. Compared to what the Cambridge & District Co-operative Society was in the early 1930s, today all that effectively exists is a brand. (They are rebuilding – which is a point I’ll end on).

IMG_1058.JPG

The old Co-operative buildings on Burleigh Street – demolished by Grosvenor in the mod-2000s as part of a re-location of John Lewis while the Grand Arcade project was redeveloped. The site was then taken over by Primark.

SaleOfCo-op Burleigh Street_ArchivesRecord1980

Only now have I found out how the Co-op ended up relinquishing such fine buildings. Turns out in 1980 they sold the property to Grosvenor Estates – the firm in the headlines recently over family trusts and inheritance taxes.

The only reason I can think why the Co-op would have sold that site was because they moved to a new supermarket at the Beehive Centre. According to Ian Kitching the Co-op finally moved out of Burleigh Street in 1996.

More than just a shop and offices, but a social centre too

The photo-mosaic below (click for detailed images) from the Cambridge Chronicle on various dates throughout the 1920s show the sorts of events the Cambridge & District Co-operative Society Ltd organised. Images from the Cambridgeshire Collection’s newspaper microfiche archive.

Fashion shows, civic parades, children’s fetes, formal dinners – and note the numbers of people taking part: hundreds. And the Co-op wasn’t the only organisation to do this. Heffers, the bookshop below in 1939.

390123 HeffersSportsSocialClub

Staff associations also had their big events.

CambridgeDomesticStaffBall1939

Cambridge University staff used to have huge ballroom dances – this at the old Dorothy Cafe that is now Waterstones Bookshop.

Furthermore, there were significant tributes from employers for employees who had volunteered for or were conscripted into the armed forces during the First World War.

Given the sheer numbers you get the sense of the scale of the disruption that firms across the country will have faced. Note one of the templates used by Eaden Lilley and Chivers and co – two of the biggest employers in the area. Before the rise of the totalitarian dictators the symbol had much more peaceful connotations.

Public sector social clubs

The biggest and possibly most well known one in Cambridge is the Frank Lee Centre, which serves Addenbrooke’s Hospital and is open to staff and their families. I had my 18th birthday party there in the late 1990s. Also well known is the Cambridge University Sports and Social Club. It’s very well known in dancing circles as a venue for dance classes on its upstairs hall. In the private sector, Marshall’s has its own social club. Finally, Cambridge University Press had The Cass Centre – which was sometimes used by local civil service employers – certainly when I was there just over a decade ago. It remains to be seen what will happen once Cambridge Assessment move into their new site that was the old Press Factory. But these are the exceptions.

In the grand scheme of things, the large traditional working class social clubs that were subsidised by (or at least branded by) employers seems to have gone. Even the old trade union networks and political social clubs are a shadow of themselves. The only one that still functions is the Cambridge Working Men’s Club. The Romsey Labour Club closed – how and why I will never know but it should never have been allowed to. The Salisbury Club and Cherry Hinton Road Conservative Clubs are now more known as venues that can be hired out rather than as political hubs – reflecting the decline of Conservative politics in Cambridge over the past 30 years. While Cambridge Labour Party are able to host large private gatherings in Alex Wood Hall, the Liberal social presence buildings-wise, and that was once huge, has disappeared completely.

060126 Cambridge Liberal Club Etching.jpeg

This building was leased to the Cambridge Liberal Club for 21 years – a grand venue on Downing Street opposite Pembroke College.

“Perhaps people don’t want to socialise with those that they work with”

I worked for one of the large banks in a small office in Cambridge (long since closed) during my “year out”. I didn’t really know what a ‘Gap Year’ was until I actually got to University – when I met people who must have been the inspiration behind this chap. I remember once I had settled down thinking whether I could imagine myself spending the next 40 years of my life in that organisation or even industry. To which the answer was ‘no’. At the same time I remember the attitude generally was that the people there didn’t socialise with each other. I promised myself I’d never work in a small office as a career choice.

The crushing of workers (for want of another term) by firms in pursuit of profit has meant the cutting back on ‘non-essential’ expenditure

Look at the rise of the zero-hour contract and short-term contracts. Nothing shows more contempt for staff more than being ‘on demand’ for a firm who makes no consideration for an outside life you might have. Or being on one 3-month contract after contract knowing that at any point, your employer can simply let you go with no redundancy payment. I saw this shortly before I joined the civil service. What saddens me today is that these are the practices of firms that used to have much better terms and conditions for their frontline staff.

A growing number of single workers, micro-businesses and start-ups

Some have gone into this because it’s what works for them. Others have found themselves ‘coerced’ into this route following the large-scale redundancies in the public sector with austerity. Either way, this change in working patterns means you don’t get to form the networks or friendship groups that you might do working in a large organisation in a large workplace. Note that one of the responses to this in a number of places is the creation of open space ‘hubs’. Individuals and groups can hire flexible work space with the professional office services they need. Although they may be working for different organisations in different fields, they are all in the same workspace and even the same large room/office space.

Lower population density plus a poor transport network

It’s also worth remembering that Cambridge was much more compact compared with today – although some of the high-rise developments is beginning to reverse some of this. It’s one of the reasons why grand churches like All Saints, Cambridge was decommissioned, or worse, like the Wesleyan Methodist Church on Hills Road, sold off and demolished.

The old Wesleyan Methodist Church – where Strutt & Parker now are. This would have made a wonderful community building had the landlords preserved it.

Essentially in a compact town it was much easier to walk or cycle to where you needed to get to. It’s strange to think so today, but until fairly recently many of Cambridge’s central districts had large working class communities. Castle Hill, The Kite with The Grafton Centre, Petersfield, Newtown, West Chesterton and Newnham Croft are all examples. Today, many people on mid-to-low incomes have to commute in from outside the centre or outside of the city. Without the transport network that the city has needed for decades, it means that fewer people are able to take part in post-work activities.

Finally…advertising. Local newspapers used to be widely read. No longer. 

I kind of feel sorry for the historians of the future in that they won’t have this wealth of local journalism to work with. I certainly get the sense that the larger work-based social clubs had a much higher profile than they do today. It wasn’t just the photographs of their big events, but the smaller things such as games and sports teams competing in local leagues. Imagine your local political party having an amateur football team. That. A pub vs a political party vs a local church vs a large private sector employer in the sport or pastime of your choice. This was normal.

“Has someone come up with alternatives? Especially in this social media age?” 

Certainly at the ‘young professionals’ end with both JCI Cambridge and Cambridge Young Professionals. Furthermore, Meetup has a number of self-organising groups – the most vibrant of these being the CamCreatives network. The groups can be very specific to a city and/or local economy. In Cambridge, some of the most popular are based around specialist industries – some even based around specific computer programming languages!

Given the more transient nature of our city, social media has become all the more important in organising work or profession-based events. Also, given the now huge land costs in Cambridge, the idea of any organisation owning their own premises is a non-starter unless they have a major institutional backer or have inherited property down the decades.

It was also why I came up with the idea of a ‘Cambridge Societies Fair’ in 2014 – which evolved into the Cambridge Volunteers Fair run on behalf of Cambridge City Council by the wonderful Cambridge Hub. The next one is on 21 October – have a look at all of the organisations taking part.

Some of the supermarkets – the Co-op included, have appointed community representatives and organisers.  At the moment, these are predominantly store-based. It will be interesting to see if Cambridge City Council is able to harness their collective influence for city-wide campaigns and actions. Stores/groups of stores in an area supporting local charities and causes is now a regular feature at many. Here’s an example from the Co-op (who I’m a member of). Note a number of workplaces also do ‘charity action days’ where their staff collectively volunteer for a day of work (eg a nature reserve that needs lots of spare hands for a blitz) to taking part in big charity races.

“Does this mean that ‘the good old days’ were better?”

Absolutely…Not.

One of the other things that bound people together was the risk of destitution. In the days before the welfare state, you and your family were one bad accident or injury away from disaster. Going through the newspaper archives has revealed to me a number of ‘shocks to society’ that ultimately central government had to deal with. One of those was all of those families across the classes that no longer had a father and main wage earner.

The other thing that I keep on reminding myself of is that the people who I’m researching were living in a time where there was no TV and no internet. Radio was still in its infancy too. Given that the quality of housing wasn’t great, you can imagine the incentive to get out and about – and stay out if you could. I’m always struck by the news reports of court cases of how members of the public were able to run round the corner to alert the nearest police constable to arrest a local ruffian and haul him before the judges.

With the growth of the inter-war and post-war estates, and the improving quality of housing, the incentive to go out and about (and travel greater distances) perhaps diminished. Why go out in the cold and dark when you’ve got a warm house and a TV to keep you occupied? This is one of the explanations given to be by a church historian recently.

The rise and fall of friendly societies

Before the welfare state and before the system of national insurance, there was a growth of ‘friendly societies’ through the 19th Century as a means for people to insure themselves against the bad things in life. One of the few that is still visible in Cambridge at a street level is the Cambridge Oddfellows Branch. I’ve always wondered what they were about until I read about an election hustings they hosted a few years ago. The unofficial FB page here. shows the interior of the hall that they host events in and that locals can hire out – essential in a town that has a shortage of hall space for evening classes and rehearsals. From Lloyd George’s reforms in 1910 until the forming of the welfare state after the Second World War, the friendly societies played a big part in the administration of national insurance.

“Does any of this have a bearing on future public policy?”

In terms of how to deal with loneliness and mental health issues, plus in terms of the stabilisation of communities, I think it does. Hence my personal interest in it. The economic policies of the neo-liberal years (i.e. post-1979) saw the decline of the traditional churches (seen as Tory strongholds) and trade unions in inner city communities (traditionally Labour strongholds). Policy-makers in social policy have been struggling to come up with ideas on how to deal with some of the negative fallout of the decline of these institutions such as bringing people together on a regular basis. Difficult to argue for state support for organisations in a world where if something does not make money/profit it is seen as bad or a drain on society.

 

How many tourists is too many tourists?

 

Summary

On the Cambridge News’ exchanges with its readers

This relates to this tweet from Cllr George Pippas who in this civic year is Mayor of Cambridge.

Given his civic duties he’s often receiving delegations of visitors from China, civic, business and educational.

At the same time, The Cambridge News was also asking about tourism which lead to this article covering the comments from readers.

Tourists and and residents who might happen to look like they are from a country from where Cambridge gets lots of tourists are not the same thing.

This is why I hate punt touts. Because I happen to have dark skin they think I’m a tourist and I got sick of being continually pestered by them. Oh – they are also breaking the law. (That doesn’t mean Cambridge doesn’t need to overhaul how it manages punting and other activities on the river – it does).

I then read this by Colin Wiles

What makes me nervous about ‘anti-tourist’ protests is that they can very easily become anti-foreigner and anti ‘people that look like me’ protests. And Cambridge is my home – I grew up here.

As history goes, tourism in Cambridge is relatively recent. The text in the Twitterphoto is from 1950:

The problem is not the tourists, and dare I say it, not the numbers of them alone: it’s the model of tourism – mass consumer tourism.

This was something featured in The Guardian here recently.

Cambridge is a living, breathing city. It’s not a theme park and it’s not a film studio.

The organisations that bring in the tourists – and furthermore the language students and the much-maligned ‘cram college’ students don’t directly bear the negative externalities of their economic activities.

Former Eton economics tutor Geoff Riley created this guide on negative externalities. It’s written for an A-level economics audience, but the symptoms of what local residents in Cambridge complain about are negative externalities of the economic activities of the firms and organisations mentioned above.

My take is that the fault lies with central government – they have not given local councils here the administrative structures, legal powers or the financial freedoms (tax and spend) to deal with the externalities we face. (See my last blogpost here for more on this).

The problem for the past couple of decades is that Cambridge has not had the infrastructure to cope with the rising number of tourists and private students now studying in the city. Speculative developers have bought up plots of land and converted them into private student accommodation – often seen at the expense of social housing that the city desperately needs. I’m technically one of the ‘hidden homeless’ living back with my parents but who would rather like to have my own place if only I could afford it. But again, I don’t blame the students, young people or even the tourists. The blame here rests with ministers.

Transport infrastructure one of the solutions

One of the reasons why I like Cambridge Connect Light Rail is that it provides solutions both for the traffic congestion problem, and for raising revenue from the visitors to the city – in particular the day trippers. Here’s me on traffic issues very recently.

Traffic in Cambridge – not new, but now unsustainable?

I recorded that video after getting zero sleep the night before – hence the dark rings under my eyes. #SleepFailClub.

The point with a light rail underground network is that you can combine it with restrictions on tourist traffic coming into Cambridge. Bar tourist and private coaches coming into the city and get them to deposit their passengers at out of town/end of line park and ride stations so they can buy light rail tickets into town. Cambridge now has over 7million visitors per year. Suddenly you are making money that can be reinvested in transport – or whose future revenues can be rolled up into bonds on the finance markets to pay for at least some of the infrastructure in the first place.

Using transport planning to support culture and leisure industries.

For those of you that like Cambridge (the town) history, I wrote about the history of The Grafton Centre here. A couple of decades ago, many bus routes stopped at the shopping centre. Very few do today, and that has had a big impact on the vibrancy of the place. Yet flip the whole thing on its head and there is an opportunity to use future transport plans to increase the viability of a whole host of existing (or even future) attractions. For example one of the proposed lines out to East Cambridge could support the proposed Cambridge Ice Arena ice rink. Looking at postcode data from a number of venues in Cambridge at a hack event years ago, we discovered that the distances people were travelling to see shows in Cambridge were significantly greater than we had anticipated. Thus if people are already travelling those distances, does it not make more sense to invest in new public transport infrastructure to get people off roads and onto light rail? Note many of the venues have their performances in the evenings, thus making the services more viable for the nighttime economy.

It’s not just the driving and rail – it’s the walking and cycling too. All Saints Cambridge is one of our city’s hidden gems. The reason why it struggles is because the road it is down is off the beaten track. The pavement is far too narrow, too many buses and lorries go down it and it is not sign-posted. Yet the interior of the building is some of the most splendid Victorian era you’ll see in the city, if not the country.

What surveys have been done of tourists and language school students?

We’re in the middle of peak language school season and tour group season. I read one comment complaining about seeing groups of disinterested teens and tweens being dragged around the city by tour guides. I wonder if anyone has done research into what the students and young people on those tours and courses get out of them. Is there something unique about visiting/studying here or is it just another place to go shopping and have fun? If it’s the latter, do Cambridge’s institutions need to aim for a different market while inviting somewhere else that has the ‘shopping and partying infrastructure’ to set itself up as that vibrant place for young life-loving people? I remember in my early teens how boring Cambridge felt compared to our family friends who lived just outside Stevenage. In the early 1990s we thought Stevenage was great – you could go bowling, ice skating, and go swimming in a pool with a wave machine! You couldn’t do that in Cambridge in those days.

The other thing that worries me is that Cambridge’s young people are missing out on socialising with the young people from abroad on those courses. We don’t organise systematically joint activities and events. Personally this is where I’d like to see one of Cambridge’s business groups taking a lead on this and having a levy on the language schools – even a voluntary contribution to start with, to fund activities that can be put on for all young people in our city free of charge. That way it makes them accessible for families on very low incomes. Don’t think poverty doesn’t exist in Cambridge; it does.

“A different model for tourism?”

It’s a global issue. Here’s Barcelona. Here’s Venice. We learnt about the damage of unrestricted tourism in GCSE Geography in the mid-1990s. Do you think those t-shirts in the tourist shops with ‘Cambridge’ printed on them were made locally? Exactly. What are the alternatives to ‘the selfie, the snack and sod-off’ tourism? You’ve seen the articles of selfies in sacred and/or sombre places, the latter for example sites of crimes against humanity. Those are obviously extreme examples. But my point here is as a city about what we want tourists, visitors and language students to take away from their time here, rather than just thinking about the bottom line. Unfortunately while all of the incentives and economic structures are all about growth and profits, we’ll continue down this socially and environmentally destructive model of tourism. And not just in Cambridge. That cannot be good for anyone – including the tourists.

Cambridge can’t have nice things because its structure of governance is a big mess

Summary

Or rather, Cambridge cannot sort out its longstanding problems such as transport congestion because of an over-complicated structure of governance driven by/designed as a result of party political concerns rather than what is best for the city & surrounding towns & villages

The structure of governance in Cambridge looks like this:

CambridgeGovernanceStructure

And…it’s a mess.

And it’s no way to run a city with a global brand. The Cambridge City Council/South Cambs District Council are actually at the same level – both district councils, but the diagram by Edward Leigh of Smarter Cambridge Transport illustrates that South Cambs has to cope with all of the towns and villages immediately around Cambridge without having any say or influence on what happens inside the doughnut – that being the area of Cambridge City Council.

“What do the history books tell us?”

Quite a lot – see my blogpost on Lost Cambridge here. Some of the most interesting exchanges on what should happen to Cambridge happened in the 1920s & 30s – when the art/science of town planning was blossoming as a result in part of the drive to build homes fit for heroes following the sacrifices of the First World War. The map below from “A history of local government from 1834-1958 with special reference to the county of Cambridge” shows what politicians, councillors and civil servants were considering in 1934.

IMG_3097

The boundaries for the area applied for by the then Cambridge Borough Council (now Cambridge City Council) reflect the anticipated future development of Cambridge that planners in the 1960s anticipated. We know this because again, the archives tell us this.

HIstory of #localgov for Cambridge

Interestingly enough, in the 1960s the councils proposed segregated cycleways – note how they link them to the secondary schools.

HIstory of #localgov for Cambridge

I’ll leave it to you to judge how accurate the planners’ predictions were.

“Back to today, who is responsible for what?”

Exactly. This is what’s on the menu of Cambridge City Council:

170204 CamCitCoListOfServices

And this is for Cambridgeshire County Council

170730 CambsCCServices

But due to the nature of services delivered and a wider geographical range, the county council’s budget is much bigger than the city council’s budget. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve switched my focus in recent times from the city council to the county council – I’m following the money.

City vs Country – the progressive island in a sea of conservatism

One of the tensions in local politics is the Conservative-led county council vs the Labour-led city council (and before 2014, the Lib-Dem led city council). There are more Green Party councillors on Cambridge City Council than there are Conservatives – there are currently no Conservative Party councillors on Cambridge City Council. Hence the frustrations of Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters and politicians when so much of what they would like to do in the city is effectively blocked by the Conservative majority on the county council.

“Has it always been like this?”

No.

Former Cambridge councillor Colin Rosenstiel maintains a fascinating database of Cambridge election results going back to the 1930s. Note how the Conservatives collapsed in the 1990s in Cambridge and never recovered. There’s a Ph.D thesis waiting for someone to write: Why did the Conservatives collapse in Cambridge during the 1990s and why have they not recovered since?

Because the Conservatives used to run the council in my very early childhood here, and regularly returned Conservative MPs until Newnham College graduate and former Parkside teacher Anne Campbell turfed out the Conservatives in 1992 as their candidate, former Cambridge University Conservative Association President Mark Bishop (see list of past ones here) failed to succeed historian Robert Rhodes James. Therefore the left-liberal political control of Cambridge borough/city in the grand scheme of things is a relatively recent phenomenon.

“How does that work with ministers and MPs?”

My stereotypical take is that ministers of all parties that don’t know Cambridge well see it as this picture postcard view of public school, punting, King’s College and ***complicated stuff that we don’t understand but that impresses foreign people and brings in lots of money for the treasury that we can use for spending/tax cuts [delete as appropriate]***

So I can imagine some hereditary peers getting angry about the lack of Conservative councillors on Cambridge City Council being a constitutional outrage, and that we should go back to the old system when Cambridge University had 2 aldermen and 6 councillors on the city council. (Aldermen as a concept were abolished in England and Wales in the 1970s). See Colin Rosenstiel here for more on how elections that included having university councillors worked prior to their abolition in the 1970s. Part of me wonders whether the governance of the city would improve if we had University representatives on the council – representatives that were responsible for the University’s actions and who could be cross-examined by residents & councillors alike. (On the other hand, Anglia Ruskin University might take issue given the number of students it has).

“So, what about the Mayor of the county, the City Deal/Partnership and so on?”

Since I left the civil service in 2011, Cambridge has gained:

Now my focus here is on the structures rather than the individuals that hold office in them. Because if you’ve got your structures wrong, even the most talented of individuals will be bogged down with meetings and libraries worth of papers to read. I should know – I’m one of the people that tries to turn up to meetings and read the papers! Yes! This is why I’m still single!

I digress…

My point is that all of these new structures were put together in isolation rather in combination with each other.

I also note that the combined authority is at http://www.cambspboroca.org/ and does not have a gov.uk suffix. Given its functions, this surprises me. (Turns out it’s 2 urls for one website http://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/ ).

We’ve also had a rebrand of the Cambridge City Deal – now the Greater Cambridge Partnership. Essentially they are now up and running at a level that they really should have been running at the start. The problem is that they were too officer-driven at the start and it’s difficult for them to unpick some of the poor decisions made early on. For example not having a ‘year zero’ for information gathering, data collection and community consultations.

Finally there are the problems of the Local Economic Partnership, initially set up by Coalition ministers to replace the former development agencies, just with lower budgets. Since their inceptions, I’ve repeatedly criticised the lack of diversity on their board. Count the number of men vs women. Also note the stupid-crazy-stupid decision not to have the leader of the city council on their board. Note Cambridge local historian Allan Brigham here. Furthermore, Steve Barclay MP has gone after the LEP over the decisions it has taken and the impact on Wisbech, one of the most economically deprived towns in the region in his constituency. (A town I might add that has huge potential).

With many of these organisations, it’s not entirely clear where some members get their mandate from, nor who they are accountable to.

“So…what does this mean for decision-making from a citizen’s perspective?”

Everything is unnecessarily complex.

Therefore the only people who can really influence things are people with time and money. I was following the Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire local plans, filming for the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations. These were really intense meetings going into a level of detail that is politically microscopic, but ones that developers and landowners were prepared to hire very expensive barristers/QCs to represent them.

More simplified structures amongst other things would reduce the need for internal meetings to co-ordinate the actions of different organisations dotted around all over the place. Time could also be saved for everyone with clear lines of accountability in terms of who does what. The public would also have a greater understanding of what is going on – important for making informed decisions.

One of the things that institutions take for granted is the cost of residents’ input. These things are not free. It means something else foregone. In my case with filming, I get commissions from FeCRA as I’ve mentioned, along with kind donations from individuals (see here – please support my filming and reporting!), but the commissioning rates I charge are about a tenth of the market rate. The simple reason being that no one would pay the £500-£1000 a day rate for someone to film a local council or community meeting.

Interestingly, the County Mayor James Palmer has announced recently that he wants to review local government in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough.

I hope this book will be of interest to him and his officials.

IMG_3098

There’s a copy in the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Cambridge Central Library, but this version is my own personal one.

“Publications on how the state functions from times gone by – a refresh?”

I found this in the RSPCA shop on Burleigh St for 75p.

It dates from just after the Second World War and is a fascinating read. While I’d like to think publishing a refreshed series covering the functions of all of the major organisations of state would be useful, the restructures over the past decade would inevitably mean they’d become obsolete very quickly.

In the grand scheme of things, too much power rests with Whitehall, and within it, The Treasury. Note Cllr Lewis Herbert on the business rates revenue that are surrendered to Whitehall. For me it’s not nearly as simple as asking ministers to allow local councils to retain receipts. Ministers have to come up with something that allows local councils greater tax and spend powers, while bringing in different systems to support those local councils in economically deprived areas that face higher demands for their services while having a lower tax base to raise from. The problem with the current situation is that ministers have repeatedly cut support from central government while not giving councils the ability to raise revenue from other sources. Being a council leader or a council chief executive is the opposite of being a newspaper/media baron: Responsibility without power.