My personas of the year for 2014


Foxy has hers below, 

…and here are mine

[My personal] Hero of 2014

Without doubt and by an effing country mile…

Andrea Cockerton of the Dowsing Sound Collective

Here’s a glimpse why… …and that’s just the fundraising.

Her arrangement of this Basement Jaxx number not only impressed me, it impressed Basement Jaxx who were also in the audience – so much so that they invited her to collaborate with them – the result being Dowsing’s version of ‘Power to the People’. This was quickly followed up by recording Reality Checkpoint for the Cycle of Songs/Tour de France in Cambridge – leading to a live performance on Parker’s Piece in the summer. Clashing with the World Cup Final were two performances at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds – where this video was recorded. Finally we had sellout gigs in December at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, and a smaller one at The Maltings in Ely.

Two professional recordings and four live performances with one of the most buzzing and supportive of groups of people I’ve worked with in years. That’s the difference Andrea made to me.

Taking a risk with me award

Goes to…

David Cleevely and Anne Bailey

Both invested not just their reputations but a huge amount of time in the Be the change – Cambridge project. What started out as a meeting over coffee led to our first event, our Conversation Cafe at Anglia Ruskin University in September – see here for a write-up and video footage.  My thanks also to all of the sponsors and supporters – especially as we prepare for our community action event on 14 March 2015.

Honourable mentions also go to the Cambridge Buskers Festival and to the Campaign for Better Transport for giving me my first paid digital video commissions, and to the ADC Theatre for my first panto film commission too!

Standing up to be counted in the face of hostility award 

Goes to…

Rahima Ahammed – Labour candidate for the Queen Edith’s by-election in November 2014

Given the amount of hostility generated by the media towards women and to Muslims, to put yourself forward for election and to campaign actively takes a huge amount of courage in the face of such a hostile environment. Having experienced what it’s like to campaign in Puffles’ campaign earlier this year, and having heard anecdotally some of the backlash she faced, Cambridge isn’t immune. To face this head on deserved commending.

The One Cambridge Award

Goes jointly to…

Anna Malan and Emily Dunning of the Cambridge Hub

This is for their work with the Cambridge Hub in trying to bridge the gap between Cambridge students and local residents. Emily is currently halfway around the world on her project. Here’s an interview I recorded with her just before she left.


Anna is now the manager of the Cambridge Hub and in the space of a few months has turned two ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if Cambridge did this?’ blogposts and turned them into actions & events. The first was one that brought many of Cambridge’s environmentalist groups & activists together for an open space session – which is being repeated in the New Year. The second is the Volunteer for Cambridge event on 28 February 2014. She’s creating the safe space for ‘town and gown’ to come together to solve our shared challenges.

The ‘I’ll stand by you’ award

Goes to…

Ceri Jones – a Cambridge community activist

Because she was the only person who campaigned with me publicly when I stood as Puffles for the Coleridge Ward in the Cambridge City Council elections in 2014. She was also at The Guildhall for the results count, staying up all night in the media gallery with journalists from national as well as local news.

Journalist of the year award

Goes to…

Chris Havergal, formerly of the Cambridge News, now of The Times Higher Education

A well-deserved move from local to national news earlier this year, Chris had more than earned this move with his local government reporting for the Cambridge News, attending local council committee meetings that hardly anyone else wanted to attend. Honourable mentions go to Jayne Secker of Sky News – conversing with me over Twitter between advert breaks while she was on air, and Julian Clover of Cambridge105 for broadcasting my first radio reports.

Unsung political activist of the year award

Goes to…

Ellisif Wasmuth of The Cambridge Green Party

Two years ago I criticised The Green Party for having such a small presence in the city following a fall from their 2010 high point. Ellisif came to Cambridge and from scratch and formed what is now a vibrant Cambridge Young Greens movement and was instrumental in supporting Rupert Read’s campaign in the Euro elections, where the Greens polled over 7,000 votes across Cambridge – a record.

Political innovation of the year award

Goes to…

Cambridge Regional College Media Students & Hilary Cox

For organising and delivering a broadcast standard version of Question Time – see here. This for me has set what I hope is an annual precedent: of Cambridgeshire County Councillors being cross-examined by college students while being live broadcast online.

Musician of the year award

Goes to:

Grace Sarah

Grace did her GCSEs this summer, yet still managed to record and perform some amazing music this year. I saw her at The Junction in Cambridge (see here) and in St Ives just outside the city, and filmed both performances. Honourable mentions also go to:

…all of whom played some tremendous sets this year.

The big theme that runs through many of the nominees and winners is that many of them tried out new things for the first time, or enabled me to do the same – eg allowing me to film them perform. This chimes with challenge I set in my last words of my final blogpost of 2013.

1) “What is the one action that you are going to undertake this year that you have not done before in your life?

2) What behaviour change will you make this year? What are you currently doing that you will stop doing or change, what are you currently not doing that you will start doing?”

The same challenges apply this year.

I’ve avoided having a villain of the year. If there was, it’d be the tabloid media. But giving them such an award would only give them more publicity and feed the demons of hatred that need vanquishing. So no award for them. For many, it’s been a difficult year. I hope we can make 2015 a vast improvement. I’m going to do my bit.

Happy New Year!


Posted in Cambridge | 2 Comments

Community conversations in the run up to the 2015 general election?


How can local political parties make themselves available for face-to-face conversations with voters, potential supporters and fellow activists beyond door-to-door canvassing and organised hustings?

This post stems from a number of conversations I’ve had with activists of various political colours (and those independent) locally in recent times. It comes at a time when – in Cambridge at least, all of the main political parties should be showing an increase in membership and volunteers given that we are less than six months away from a general election.

The five main parties in England – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP have all been out campaigning visibly in Cambridge in the past month or two. All of the parties here have selected their candidates:

My take remains that it’s too close to call between Julian and Daniel. There are many factors that make Cambridge a particularly volatile seat – and one more difficult when it comes to campaign tactics & messages. My analysis just after the May 2014 elections here remains broadly the same. Perhaps the only contextual change is that UKIP and The Greens have already started campaigning aggressively. Not a week goes by without a letter from Cambridge Greens being printed in the Cambridge News. UKIP are also targeting safe Labour wards where other parties in recent years have only stood paper candidates. With UKIP continuing to benefit from mainstream media amplification alongside the more quiet but steady growth of the Greens locally – membership in the city now having exceeded 200, how best could Labour go about campaigning against opponents on two opposing political fronts?

Any places to informally gather new activists & introduce them to each other?

Whether it’s the Lib Dems in Coleridge, the Greens in Queen Edith’s or the Conservatives in Abbey wards, it can’t be much fun being a lone activist for your party in your part of town. Nne thing that has struck me about all the local parties is the lack of publicity for organised informal gatherings to introduce new members or supporters to each other. I’m aware that Cambridge Greens have now started doing monthly pub gatherings (with about 12 attending this one that I popped into on the way back from filming another event).

With the canvassing & leafletting that they are already doing, where are the regular informal social gatherings from the other parties that allow potential supporters and new members to meet with seasoned activists, candidates and elected representatives? Could they be advertised on the next round of leaflets that they all distribute? Could you send personalised targeted correspondence (or a phone call) to members and supporters in your databases to come along? (Which is more likely to have an impact – a mass email/leaflet drop or a personalised invitation?)

In the conversations I’ve had regarding the above, the Greens have shown the most interest in the idea – in part because they have signed up dozens of new members locally in a very short space of time. The challenge remains for the Greens to turn these new members into trained and effective activists – ones that can sustain their campaigns long after the adrenalin of the general election has died down. For various reasons, they failed to do this post-2010, despite getting three councillors elected. In anycase, since then, two of their former elected councillors have since passed away and the third left Cambridge altogether.

Other formats for community conversations and campaigning?

I’ve always wondered what it would be like if activists from two different political parties teamed up together to go door-to-door campaigning, thus creating a three-way conversation on the doorstep. For example what would it be like if the Lib Dems and UKIP or The Greens and the Tories teamed up in pairs to go door-to-door? How would the dynamics of conversations be changed? I know it’s highly unlikely to happen – party hierarchies wouldn’t stand for it. But it’s a thought.

Another format – one we use for Be the change – Cambridge, is collective problem-solving. Rather than having a traditional ‘audience vs the panel’ set up, scatter the politicians into groups who have self-divided into groups according to the issue they would like to discuss. These gatherings are very difficult to organise – as I’ve found out. But local community groups & organisations – esp those with their own venues are in an ideal place to host such gatherings. Transition Cambridge demonstrated how to do this recently – see my videos here.

My role in the 2015 campaigns in Cambridge?

I’m not planning on standing this time around – although it remains an option if things stay quiet in South Cambridge! As far as my aim of increasing participation in local democracy is concerned, I’m probably better suited to filming & reporting from gatherings, meetings and events than participating directly. My experience from the Queen Edith’s hustings (see the videos here) and the number of plays the videos got shows that there is likely to be demand for such content in the run up to the elections.

As I’ve said to the three parties represented on Cambridge City Council, I’m happy to film ‘point and record’ pieces to the camera and upload or hand over the footage I capture free of charge. The reason being I want to use digital video to help dispel some of the negative myths around local democracy. Part of that means getting footage of local candidates introducing themselves in their own words. This is what I did in the November videos below:

My aim with these is to get people to the stage where they can relate to the candidates that are on camera and think: “Yes, I could have a reasonable conversation with them” and overcome the ‘All politicians are the same’ mindset. As far as digital video with local candidates go, that’s pretty much my limit – leaving it to the public to then ask any follow-up or policy-specific questions. I had my say by standing in the May elections – in which I learnt lots. Now it’s time for others not just to have their say, but to join in some wider conversations. Through community reporting & digital video I hope that more will be able to take part.

Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Party politics, Social media | Leave a comment

Community reporting in 2015 – could you give it a go?


…including new apps, new tools, and encouraging more people to try it out themselves

2014 was an eventful year for me as far as learning new things and doing things for the first time was concerned.

  • Standing for election
  • Singing on stage in a public performance
  • Submitting my first media reports
  • Carrying out my first media interviews
  • Taking part in my first studio interview
  • Creating my first digital videos and podcasts

For 2015, I’m thinking: “Can you do the above again, but better?”

Vimeo stats 22dec2014 copy

The above-stats are for video plays on my vimeo account – I also have a Youtube account here, where I’ll be putting some of the longer digital videos & final versions up at in future. Essentially my video stats are rising compared with blogpost reads, which are falling. Interestingly, despite continually rising Twitter follower numbers (hovering around 6,500), interaction has fallen. I have far fewer conversations on it these days. Hence it’s much harder to get a feel for what other people get out of the content I post.

Out, about and visible to the public

It’s been fun and eventful. It’s got me out of the house & doing something positive. I’ve also become more comfortable with a new way of learning – one that involves not getting things right first time every time. I look back at some of my early digital videos & cringe at some basic errors – whether it’s holding a smartphone portrait rather than landscape style, to really poor audio.

I took the above footage during Puffles’ election campaign – I’d just finished a stall outside The Guildhall and recorded Jack Man Friday – now Mr Shepherd. Basic error here is holding the camera portrait style. Fortunately I’m now at the stage where filming out and about feels ‘normal’, making fewer simple errors and having basic safeguards such as asking for consent to film as habitual.

Filming Dr Rupert Read of Cambridge Green Party just before Christmas 2014

Filming Dr Rupert Read of Cambridge Green Party just before Christmas 2014

“How can we get other people into community reporting like this?”

Because I can’t cover the city alone! Also, far better to have a number of people covering things and bringing their different perspectives.

For people in Cambridgeshire, the offer of support & training is with Shape Your Place. Also, this website iphonereporting came recommended by Cambridge 105.

In spring 2014, Cambridge Regional College produced a BBC Question-Time-style programme where students cross-examined a panel of Cambridgeshire County Council councillors – see here for the 1 hour episode. For me, the next step is to make this programme an annual event (if not more frequent), and so something around building community reporting into either extra-curricular programs or the curricula of media studies and politics courses for post-16 students.

The ‘soft’ learning in what can be a solitary activity

Being a lone ranger means having to cover everything yourself. You’re not this outside broadcast machine that BBC Question Time is, where you have multiple people on cameras and microphones alone. Far more thought goes into creating solid digital content than the detractors of media studies might care to acknowledge. At the same time, operating some of the kit requires an incredibly sensitive touch – something that takes a huge amount of time to perfect. Think of operating your piece of kit to that of playing a musical instrument. It’s a little bit like that. You can’t give someone a text book & expect them to take to it. It takes time to get used to the piece of equipment and become ‘as one’ with it.

For me, some of the soft learning has included:

  • Getting used to the zoom controls on a camcorder
  • Getting used to the controls on a tripod
  • Becoming sensitive to the natural light and sounds around me – in particular prior to and during filming
  • Becoming aware of what might make good pieces of digital video – and setting up quickly my kit to record.

Making it easy to record with smartphones

For videos, I often carry a small smartphone clip and a mini tripod with me just in case I happen to be somewhere where there’s something that’s worth filming. The advantage of these two attachments is you can have the phone standing on something solid, avoiding the dreaded camera-shake! The clip also works for normal tripods too – which I used when filming for the Cambridge Buskers Festival.

Most recently-made smartphones do a reasonable job recording face-to-face spoken-word video and audio. My own footage has been used by local radio this year. Audio for music is much harder – especially trying to get a decent bassline and/or if the music and vocals are not amplified.

Creating that safe space for people to learn together

This is what I want to explore in 2015 – perhaps in the form of a few evening workshops in a community venue somewhere. In two sessions you could take people through the basics, put in people’s diaries who would be filming what events, and have a second session reviewing what people had filmed. Ideally I’d like to get something like this done before the election campaigns really kick off – that way there might be a few more people around to cover what happens.

Posted in Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Education, training and exams, Social media | 2 Comments

Turning up the volume for Cambridge’s community of singer/songwriters


What would some of their songs sound like if they had a big band behind them?

I was having a chilled-out chat with Andrea, Jules and George of the Dowsing Sound Collective on a late winter’s Sunday evening in town recently. Amongst the varied topics of conversation were some of the things I touched upon in my last blogpost about concert venues in Cambridge – with the three of them having a far greater knowledge of the challenges our city faces than perhaps I ever will. After all, I’m either just the bloke behind the camera or one of a big chorus. They organise events.

Learning from filming for the Cambridge Buskers Festival 2014

Of all the videos that I made in 2014, this one was the one I had the most fun with and got the most satisfaction from.

The above is the result of what was my first paid commission – which followed shortly after completing Rex Elston’s introduction to digital video evening class in Cambridge. (Linked because he’s running it again in January 2015).

Having learnt lots more about digital video in the four or so months that have passed, I started talking with some of the organisers of the festival – which is back on 12-14 June 2015. (You heard it here first, kids!) The big learning point for me is on how to improve the audio – especially when filming outdoors. Have a listen to some of the performers in the 2014 Cambridge Buskers Festival Album here – in particular Rachel Clark who had to deal with a fair breeze throughout her set. A properly-produced version of Rachel’s above-linked track is here.

Going beyond one person and one instrument

In a sense I’m trying to work out how to encourage the many singer/songwriters to go beyond their normal solo performances – splendid as they are. Some – such as incredibly soothing Melody Causton here, and stupendously talented Grace Sarah here have already demonstrated they can go beyond writing for a single instrument. I’ve not, however, seen them perform live with wider musical/instrumental backing. What would that look like and sound like? What are the things stopping something like this from happening – other than cost? Could we create an event where local singer/songwriters arranged a couple of their favourite tracks for other vocal and instrumental parts for a bigger band to support them?

What sort of track might be suitable for such a big band?

Here’s 15 year old Ellie Dixon at The Junction in autumn 2014

Ellie’s talent, creativity and imagination with music is out of this world – this cover version of ‘I need a dollar’ being one such example. “Going Places” is one track that I think would fit very nicely with a big band and backing vocals behind her.

Essentially, I’d like to see The Junction host such an event. While I can think of a few bands that might be interested, for something like this you’d need a sort of ‘musical director’ who could select suitable backing musicians who could provide both the support and constructive feedback for the main performers. The backing musicians would also need a wide enough repertoire to cover the variety of musicians taking part. For example Dave Holmes here focuses mainly on bossa nova. As the Dowsing Sound Collective demonstrate, it works to have that variety in a line-up, but one that has not just been randomly thrown together. In Dave’s case, what would the track he plays on the video clip sound like if they were commissioned to take that number and ‘give it some attitude’?

And the audio?

In a nutshell, the external mic I got for my camcorder doesn’t cut the mustard. Useful for 1-2-1 interviews but little else. This means getting into some very complicated territory around digital audio – something that I never anticipated would be an issue when I first started out earlier this year. The first time I really noticed this as an issue was with this recording of ‘Car Wash’ performed by Makossa just outside Cambridge. You can hear the bass but you can’t feel it – if that makes sense. A shame because in the room it was thumping.

A problem I have though is I pride myself on being ***mobile***. Ie I can get set up and filming in under 60 seconds, and am able to produce footage that goes beyond what current smartphones can. How do you improve your audio without ending up with a van full of expensive equipment? It’s why I’ve started looking at small pieces of kit like this mini sound desk. But that inevitably means more wires & mics. One of the things I need to learn about local venues is who uses which sound desks, and which ones when in use enable the audio to be recorded separately. That way the audio quality will be a significant step up from what I’m currently able to produce.





Posted in Cambridge, Music | Leave a comment

Cambridge – we need to talk about community & concert venues


Some thoughts following a year of going to lots of venues in and around Cambridge

Being a self-styled ‘community cameraman’ means I get to go out and about filming in lots of community venues. This year I’ve been to places in my home town that I had never been to before – such as the Corpus Playroom. These have often been venues that I have heard of but never got round to going to. This week it was the CB2 Basement – which is exactly as described. You can get about 30 people inside theatre style. Suitable for short performances and sketch shows, or for singer-songwriters starting out. Here’s a sketch from Paul & Izzy’s funky panto on 18 December 2014

“Is there lots of bad news for Cambridge on this front?”

On the venue front, yes – but…

“But what?”

But…the problem isn’t one that can be solved by the venue owners or operators themselves. It’s something that goes far beyond a level that institutions currently consider. It also requires a level of co-ordination & co-operation at undreamt of levels.

“OK – list the problems”

  • Transport accessibility to venues
  • Knowledge of existence of venues & their availability
  • Affordability of venues to people & groups that want to use them
  • An anecdotal but as yet unquantified excess demand over supply

…to name but a few.


Let’s take two very separate case studies: Cambridge United Football Club and the West Road Concert Hall.

Cambridge United

Car traffic on match day is always huge, making it difficult to run a decent Citi-3 bus service because Newmarket Road gets clogged up very quickly. Just as we did during my season-ticket-holding days, the roads of the local industrial estate and residential roads become places where fans try to find any space reasonably close to the stadium to park. During the 1991-92 season, there were games I attended where Cambridge would get double the attendances they get today – in the days when United had Dion Dublin & Steve Claridge up front. Had United got promoted that season, they’d have been in the Premier League for 1992-93. As it was, they lost to Leicester City, who subsequently lost to Blackburn Rovers & the rest is history. My point is that even with a high-flying team, Cambridge United will struggle to get more than 7,000 into the stadium for a match simply because the local transport infrastructure is not up to scratch. Why the local councils have not been able to agree transport improvements or an alternative venue is beyond me.

West Road Concert Hall

With Cambridge University’s main concert hall, as a child we used to go to the classical music concerts here. I remember them being excruciatingly ‘Keeping up appearances’-style events – ones where I felt embarrassed to be there. They didn’t have popcorn during the intervals – they had apples instead! Big shiny red ones! These were the days when my understanding of ‘cool’ was all things Stevenage – where they had a multilplex cinema, a bowling alley, an ice rink and most importantly, a McDonalds. Cambridgeshire remained stubbornly free of the last until 1992/93!

Just as it was then, it’s notoriously difficult to find a parking space nearby. The only bus route that serves the hall is the Uni4 bus service – aimed at students rather than residents. For those students living/studying close by, rocking up to a concert is relatively easy. If you are a resident in Cambridge suburbs, going to a concert requires military precision planning. Again, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the musicians or composers are, you’ll struggle to get people from outside classical music circles going along.

Where are our venues?

I discussed this here – part of the problem is we don’t have all of the information we need in an easy-to-access-and-analyse format. There are many hidden venues in Cambridge’s community silos – such as Save our Space through to under-used school and church halls. My existing challenge to the city is: How can we make the process of searching for suitable venues much less frustrating and time-consuming?

‘We can’t find suitable venues – they are all booked up/they are too expensive!’

I’ve heard these points made too many times for us not to do something about it. What we don’t have is hard data on the number of enquiries made that do not lead to confirmed bookings – and the reasons why. From anecdotes from people across the city I believe there is huge untapped demand for community venues. See the second half of the video below.

But without a more solid evidence base it’s difficult to make the case for greater investment in new or expanded existing ones.


The above was my view from the stage of the Cambridge Corn Exchange – before people filled it for the Dowsing Sound Collective Christmas Cocktail that sold out. What you’re looking at in this picture is 1,000 soon-to-be-filled seats. This was the first time I had seen the Corn Exchange from the stage. My first impression was that it was smaller than I had anticipated. The transport infrastructure around the trio of Cambridge venues – The Guildhall halls, the Cambridge Arts Theatre and the Corn Exchange isn’t great for pedestrians. The reason being they are strangled by the car routes into and out of the main city centre car park. (Will we get a metro?)

Even students are finding it hard to find venues – their colleges putting corporate interests first

This was one of the complaints by the recently-founded Whose University? campaign. With continued funding pressures, and with the international brand Cambridge has, you can see why conferencing is big business. But how do you balance the demands of conferencing with the needs of students?

If we want to find out what sort of venues Cambridge needs, and then go about building them, where do we start?

My first reaction to looking at the Corn Exchange was that Cambridge needed a venue with double the capacity. The Corn Exchange itself needs a big refurb backstage too – as do many of the other venues I have been to. If anything, the architecture backstage in the older venues feels a bit ‘Downton Abbey’ – splendid at the front where the customers are, but a maze of warrens at the back. Not good if you’ve got over 100 singers or large props on stage! Hopefully with the new Cambridge Live Trust they’ll be able to get some investment into the building.

‘Get me the data, get me the proposals from the community groups’

This for me is where we’re at now. Hopefully the coming together of the Cambridge arts’ communities can be the catalyst that drives the change. Gathering the evidence base is an essential part of that process.

Posted in Business economics and finance, Cambridge, Charities and Big Society, Events I have been to, Housing and transport, Music, Public administration & policy, Sport | 1 Comment

The Dowsing Sound Collective’s Christmas Cocktail – a cracker!


A view from the stage

This time last year Puffles got an invitation to see the Dowsing Sound Collective at the Cambridge Corn Exchange.

Jenny, it’s all your fault!

So…where dragon gets an invitation, dragon tends to go!

…and then we were hit by this wave of musical energy

Spotting the wonderfully talented Jennie Debenham in the collective, my first reaction after that track was:

“Yep – I wanna be where they are!”

My thoughts following last year’s concert – and on the launch of the Dosoco Foundation are in this blogpost. That launch as it turned out was the start of something that is already changing lives across Cambridgeshire.

Fast forward a few days short of a year, and that’s where I found myself – with my camcorder recording the concert from the other side of the hall. It was just before the interval where Andrea Cockerton, our musical wizard who unleashed the power within us all on stage, made a series of announcements on £4,000 of grants. Have a watch.

Of the charities mentioned, The Romsey Mill in my neighbourhood does amazing work with teenage parents. I am featuring them in my film for the Mill Road Winter Fair 2014 – a first draft of which is here. The other, Centre33 (based in Cambridge & Ely in Cambs) may be familiar to many longer-term readers. Over a decade ago they provided me with much-needed and empathetic free counselling,  something I had really struggled with at university. It was here that I had one of the very few counsellors that I connected with and who was able to analyse the ‘noise’ in my head & distill issues down to a handful of ‘hinge’ moments in my personal history. Hence in 2004 I did a TV interview as a service user for BBC’s Look East, followed by a radio interview in the same role for BBC Cambridgeshire. In 2013, Centre 33 was adopted as on of two official charities for Mayor Paul Saunders’ term of office. Here’s the story behind his choice. So to hear that Centre33 are benefiting at a time of continued grant funding cuts from elsewhere is great to hear.

A very tough run up

As far as my health was concerned, it was an awful run-in to a massive performance. Sleeping patterns all over the place (which inevitably plays havoc with my mental health), and strikingly persistent head cold that I’ve still not shaken didn’t do me any favours. It screws up your concentration, and voice-wise means you cannot get any volume. I wasn’t the only one taken out by the cold bug – we lost a number of very talented people to it on the evening of the performance. Despite our numbers, it makes a difference. Well, to me it does. Many of the people that sing with us are in their 30s-60s. Thus their presence – especially the altos – tends to have a calming effect on me.

Finding musical anchors in a sea of talented musicians.

I mentioned this to Angela Jameson-Potts earlier this year at my first concert hall performance with the Dowsing Sound Collective. In the video below, she’s on my right-hand-side.

In that performance, she was my musical anchor – as well as being that little bit older and wiser than me. I hadn’t really appreciated how used to having the second altos behind me in rehearsals until the full dress rehearsal and the performance. With so many of us singers in the collective, Andrea’s able to run wild with the number of different vocal parts she can write into pieces – the result being some incredibly powerful crescendos of chords. With vocalists rehearsing on two separate days, the traditional ‘soprano-alto-tenor-bass’ parts can be broken into upper and lower parts for each, with one for each day. 4 x 2 x 2 means Andrea can write up to 16 different parts if she wants to. And that’s before she’s even looked at the drums, bass, rhythm & lead guitars, string quartet, brass/sax trio and any other instruments she can throw in. Last night we had bagpipes, eigenharp (see here for a demo) and a steel pan player!

It was at this performance that I got a sense of which musical parts I need & where. For example I’m more comfortable when us tenors are clustered rather than spread out. I also prefer not being in the front row – it somehow feels less exposed that way.

The energy of an audience – crowd dynamics at play?

Being in an enclosed space with over 1,000 people in the same hall applauding you is something that would move even the most stone-hearted of people. At the final pre-show run-through, a combination of sheer exhaustion along with internal angst over various pieces of news coming together at the same time was something I found incredibly challenging to deal with. Not least because you don’t want to let anyone down or cause problems over issues that in the grand scheme of things are either personal or minor. You want to keep that focus. In part, that’s where any professional training in any field in the workplace comes in. You grit your teeth & get on and do it because you’re a professional. OK, it wasn’t quite true. It was more a case of having to go through these moments to experience the emotional highs on the other side.

Because of the above, when we marched onto the stage, my mindset was on getting through it as fast as possible. Fortunately the audience had other ideas. The applause here was noticeably different to what we had both for the summer performance on Parker’s Piece for the Cambridge leg of the Tour de France, (which was open-air), and at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds (which was a smaller venue, smaller crowd & a modern hall with a much sharper acoustic). Hence my mood for the second half was more this:

About two decades ago, Oasis played that very track on that very stage in that same venue.

The audience didn’t dance last year, but they conga’d down the aisles this year!

By the time we got to our final track, I was roasting underneath the stage lights despite the very cold temperatures outside. Hence ditching the dinner jacket for that famous Scottish anthem ‘500 miles’. Spontaneously, most of the other men did the same at the same time – as they did the previous year but to a different number. That I didn’t see coming – but having spotted Becky Chambers of one of Dowsing’s new London collectives leading it, we were even more smiles. Straight after, a group of teenage girls raced towards the stage, gesturing and waving with huge grins on the faces. At one point it looked like the were going to invade the stage – until one of them eyeballed me asking me to get the attention of one of my fellow singers (Tom) next to me. Turns out it was his daughter & her friends.

Post-gig parties – they are always fun, aren’t they?

I ended up at two, some even more. The first was at St Catherine College’s incredibly trendy-London-style bar and function room – which was buzzing. My friends Penny & Chris had come up from London for the gig. The Dowsing crowd took them under their wings. We then ended up at The Fountain Inn – where Fay Roberts runs the Hammer & Tongue poetry slam events. (Here’s a clip). The taxi driver on the way back told us they had a licence to stay open till 3am. On a Sunday night/Monday morning. It was surprisingly busy even at 2am when we called it a night.

“What was it like being on stage?”


Actually, I take that back. It was inspiring.

We had an audience that ***wanted us to do well***. When there are over 100 of you on stage, you inevitably have a room teeming with family & friends. As soon as we got on stage the number of people waving at us from the audience was incredible. That was when I got the first sense that the audience would be far more energised than the previous year. Makes a change from some of the policy audiences I’ve spoken at where there are people in the room that want you to screw up big time because they don’t like the government’s policy of the day that as a civil servant you’re presenting & defending.

It wasn’t ‘mindless noisy applause’ either. The mood of the applause matched the tone of the songs we performed. So for the more mellow-but-moving tracks, the applause matched the mood of the song. The songs that ended on really intense and extended crescendos got applauses that matched that intensity. It was this response that got me through that evening.

“Good night had by all?”

Yep – and the footage I filmed came out better than I had expected. Obviously the audio was always going to struggle, but I’ve got it at a level where I can replace it with the recorded version on the professional sound equipment used by the venue. Before the gig I set up my camcorder and ran a series of test-recordings during the sound checking to zoom in enough to get visual expressions of individuals while trying to get as many faces into the shot. Just before the performance started, I pressed record & left the camcorder to do its magic. Over Christmas I’ll be working on the footage – and lots of other digital video things.

***Thank you & well done*** to everyone involved in what was a wonderful experience.

For more info on the Dowsing Sound Collective – including spaces at the new London collectives, and on the Dosoco Foundation, please see


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A united arts and culture offer for the people of Cambridge


In the face of austerity, the Cambridge Arts Network is bringing together the diverse & somewhat fragmented arts and culture scenes in Cambridge to try and unite us all in the face of a very uncertain future

The Cambridge Arts Network (convened by Cambridge City Council) had their annual conference at Cambridge University’s ‘CRASSH’ building today. I went along with a series of indirect multiple interests & connections, even though I don’t consider myself an ‘arty-painty’ sort of person that my Mum knows. But then perhaps it’s one of those things where you don’t necessarily have to be good at making something to appreciate it, or to communicate it. A useful comparison can be made between people who are great football players but who never succeed as managers – and vice-versa.

One of the strands that emerged from the Be the change – Cambridge Conversation Cafe was the vision for a single arts and culture offer for Cambridge. Driven by Jane Wilson of Cambridge City Council, she and her team have brought along a large number of people (there were nearly 100 of us today) and organisations to a point where we’re in striking distance of something quite significant.

Bringing the schools on board

Rachel Snape, the headteacher of the Spinney Primary School led a workshop on getting young people engaged – in particular through schools. At the same time, she also highlighted again and again (with good reason) the power of local networking. Good reason because Cambridge is full of stubborn silos that for whatever reason are difficult to break. Longer term readers of this blog will be aware of some of the battles I’ve fought on this over the years. One of the ideas that has evolved in our discussion spaces (whether through BTCC or other forums) is that of bringing the schools together with arts and culture providers in Cambridge in the post-exams summers of each year to ensure teachers and heads are aware of what is on offer ***prior to planning their annual schemes of work*** for the following academic year. It was at this workshop that we got the go-ahead to make the first event of this type happen.

We’re still struggling with this digital thing

The Sidgwick site seems to have been designed as a mobile ‘not spot’ – and I have no clue why. All it does is inconvenience those of us that are not members of Cambridge University. The only person consistently live-tweeting through the event was me through Puffles. The other couple or so that posted were there as co-organisers (mainly Anne Bailey and Alessandra Caggiano, both of whom are part of the core BTCC group too – small world). Yet out of the dozens of people that were there it was left to Puffles to keep open a link to the outside world – thus enabling a few people unable to attend to submit questions to the room. We’re still yet to get to the stage of UKGovCamp’s buzzing social media presence. Cambridge tweeple – next ticket releases are on 11 & 18 December at 1pm ***sharp*** – & they will go like hotcakes on a cold day. Come along & experience it!

We need to talk about community reporting

A few people have raised the issue of me filming putting them & others of from asking questions at events or even from turning up at all. At the same time, I filmed various parts of today’s event because several people unable to attend had asked me to. How do you balance the two? Responding with “The world is going digital: deal with it!” aggressive response isn’t really my style anymore. It may have its time and place in a limited situations, but not this one.

The reason is that the conversations are becoming much more nuanced – and more interesting. It’s also one that brings out the skill of editing digital video footage. Filming in the grand scheme of things is relatively straight forward. Selecting the best five minutes of footage from five hours of film is a hard-earned skill. Selecting a decent sound track and then getting the footage – visuals & audio to synchronise with the music is another skill. Creating a product that is both informative, inspiring and purposeful is another. But that level of editing & production is incredibly time-consuming. Most of what I do – film, download, adjust volume, upload & publicise…well that’s relatively straight forward. Producing a five-minute medley with a separate sound-track takes a great deal longer. But people don’t see that editing process or the thought that goes into it.

“I thought you said you weren’t an artist!”

This sort of links to breaking the cultural inertia in Cambridge. There are generations of parents & grandparents in Cambridge brought up to believe that Cambridge University & its events are not for people like them. That’s because until the 2000s, that was the message that came from the institution & its member colleges & institutes. (During my teens, Cambridge admin staff and academics said it to my face or down the phone on more than one occasion, so you can understand why Cambridge University needs to take ownership of bad decisions & bad behaviour of its members in the past, & make that extra effort today).

That’s not to say there aren’t people inside Cambridge University already working their socks off. There are – I’ve met & worked with lots of them. The problem is changing the culture of an institution – and at the same time changing how that institution’s culture is perceived by the communities around it. If you do one without the other, it’ll fail. This is why for me at a personal level, influencing the institutions were the more interesting discussion points during the day. What is it about their cultures, systems & processes that isn’t currently working for the people of our city? What needs to change? Who can make that change, and how?

“Take me to your leader!”

I don’t know how many people are aware of the Cambridge Art and Culture Leaders Group – I’ve heard positive things, (eg ‘good to see them finally coming together with a united purpose’) to areas of concern (eg ‘how are you accountable to the people of the city for the decisions you take?’). With broad partnerships (count the member institutions here) you inevitably have the problem of co-ordination. Combine that with the fragmented state of local government still reeling from austerity (and there’s even more to come – £20billion by 2020 according to Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude MP) and you begin to realise that the context of this single art & culture offer is not one where there are lots of grants to be had. Not from local government anyway.

This explains why I believe the single art and culture offer for Cambridge cannot be seen as a standalone project or objective. Its success depends on things like a sound restructure of local government. (You can’t have huge cuts to an institutions budget and hit it with a communications revolution & then expect it to have the same structures, systems & processes).

One of the challenges that people expressed frustration over was institutional leadership. With the current structure of institutions in Cambridge, no one institution has the competency to provide that leadership. By that I mean legal, financial and influencing. Cambridge City Council has planning & development control, with some community & leisure funding. Cambridgeshire County Council has control of transport & education. Cambridge University & its member colleges have lots of money, own lots of land and has a significant influence over what happens in our city. What would it look like if Cambridge University behaved in a manner where it believed itself to be responsible for and accountable to all of the people that make up the city of Cambridge rather than just its members?

So…what’s stopping all of this then?

Again, one of my big bugbears is the culture within administrative departments of institutions. Having worked in or for a few of them over the years – even outside the civil service, sentiments from the Whose University? campaign set up recently by Cambridge students is one I empathise with. In whose interests are our institutions acting in? Because if students are feeling that Cambridge University is not acting in their interests, combine that with the town-gown divide, we have a real challenge. It might be that the solution involves a level of transparency and accountability that makes Cambridge University and its colleges feel, in the short term at least, very uncomfortable.

One of my basic campaigning points for Cambridge – one that was a major part of my election manifesto in May 2014’s Cambridge City Council elections – was making basic digital skills and data analysis skills mandatory competencies for all newly advertised management posts in the public sector in Cambridge. (See here). You can imagine how that went down in some quarters. You never know – I could bring the dragon back for the 2015 Cambridge City Council elections and try it again.

It’s not just digital though, is it?

Not at all – and a number of other solutions were raised. Some very familiar ones. A single city-wide events portal that is user-friendly and is acknowledged as the single port of call – such as on the Isle of Wight, came up. Another one was information overload – particularly with schools. How does the Cambridge arts & culture community ensure schools are not bombarded with marketing materials to the extent that the latter simply shut up shop?

The same is true but from a different perspective for potential donors and sponsors. How do we make it dead easy for people & organisations that have very limited time to make quick decisions on who to support? The same goes for employers wanting to engage with schools and provide things like workshops & work experience. At workshops with the Cambridgeshire/Peterborough Local Economic Partnership employers have regularly spoken of their frustration at not being able to get past the school receptionists at state schools, while private schools have trained outreach officers that make the job of organising work experience from the employers’ perspective a doddle.

“This all looks incredibly complicated – I just came along because I agreed with the aims & wanted to help out!”

Let me introduce you to the delights of local government finance policy! Then again. Actually, one of the biggest barriers I noticed was on information (in terms of data sets & evidence bases), and communications.

Information – qualitative & quantitative

Again, I put this in Puffles’ manifesto back in May, calling for us to do a mapping exercise for the city to give us a baseline from which to work with. On community venues for example, I wanted to know the following:

  • How many venues there are
  • The distribution of those venues across the city
  • Accessibility – especially by public transport to the venue but also wheelchair access inside the venue
  • Who owns/runs those venues
  • The capacity & facilities available at those venues
  • When they are available
  • Cost of hiring
  • % of the total available days they are booked
  • Quick-wins investment-wise – what new facilities would venue owners like to add, at what cost and what additional income would they bring in?
  • Audience segmentation – who are the users? Who is conspicuous by their presence/absence?

On the numbers side, it might be things like:

  • How many community engagement officers (FTE and number) have we got in Cambridge irrespective of the institution that they work for?
  • Total spending on community outreach across the city, irrespective of institutions (note we’d need to be careful on definitions)
  • Distances travelled by users to get to venues
  • Can we get some data on our audiences – generic data that can influence & inform decision-making?


Me and Richard Taylor gatecrashed the November meeting of the Cambridge City Deal Shadow Board at The Guildhall. Hashtag #GuildhallGroupies. Hence being able to influence their discussions on communications just by being there. With camcorders. And smartphones. All the more surprising that their official record of that meeting doesn’t include a record of the public questions I put to them.

…even though we have it on video! #Facepalm

Actually, the wider issue is with their communications strategy (which is here). As a city, we need to come to a collective agreement about how we the people of our city communicate with each other and our institutions. What’s the point in saying you’ll use social media if people cannot access it? What’s the point of using print publications if they are struggling to shift copies? The word ‘feedback’ is only mentioned once in the entire document. Mother Nature gave us two ears, two eyes and one mouth in those proportions for a reason. How does that feedback get analysed & influence decision-making?

So…lots of food for thought at an event where…I got a sense that we’re really getting somewhere with a very important part of city life. So ***well done*** everyone who organised & participated.

Now…after all that, have a panto song!!!


Posted in Business economics and finance, Cambridge, Charities and Big Society, Education, training and exams, Events I have been to, Music, Public administration & policy, Social media | Leave a comment

Guest Blogpost – Young people grill Cambridge Councillors at South Area Committee

Cambridge City Council’s South Area Committee meeting tonight (8th December) was encouraging in terms of community involvement, writes Chris Rand of Queen Edith’s Online.

Having 20-30 members of the public in attendance was good, but the fact that half of them were under voting age made it even better. Maybe it was just be a one-off, but we should credit those who have been spreading the word – to parents as much as young people – that we can all have a say in how our community is run.

The young people at the South Area Committee meeting were in two groups. The first was a group from the 27th Cambridge Scouts, in uniform, who had come along to ask if councillors would introduce safer road crossing near their headquarters in Cherry Hinton. One of the Scouts stood up and explained how they’d assessed different possibilities, and concluded that a zebra crossing would be the best approach. It was a lesson to some of the adults who present to council in how to say:

“We’ve looked at the options, found the solution, and now all you have to do is to make it happen”.

The second group of young people included under-10s, who’d come with their parents, to appeal for a scooter park to be built on the Accordia development. The money and plans for this have been knocking around for several years, and a whole generation of children have probably missed out while council officers and local government procrastinated in the way which those not driven by the urgency of youth tend to do.

At this point, huge credit should be given to the new South Area Committee chair, Cllr Andy Blackhurst, for doing an exemplary job. Cllr Blackhurst superbly juggled around the agenda to balance the need to hear late arrivals with the desire to ensure that younger children weren’t kept waiting until past the time they had to leave. This was an identical problem to one which this committee had handled badly in the past, and it was great to see a lesson having been learned. Cllr Blackhurst was also wonderfully patient with a couple of the very youngest members of the public, who were understandably shy to speak, but eventually did so (and how well!).

What could have be done better?

Well, the last thing we need is for events like this to seem boring to young people, so perhaps the Scouts (who were heard early on) could have been told that they could leave if they wished. Instead, they had to sit through another hour of unrelated discussion (which they did with impeccable behaviour). More important, however, was the age-old problem with these committees, that they can’t always make decisions, and that they don’t explain that to the public. The Scouts, for example, asked if the council could consider a zebra crossing. They were given the brief – and quite correct – answer by the County Councillors that it might be possible, and that it would be raised in next year’s plans. That was all they got.

The Scouts would have gone home and been asked: “How did it go? Are we going to get a crossing?”, to which they could only have replied: “I think so. Maybe. Eventually. To be honest, we’re not quite sure”. Similarly, the children who’d appealed so eloquently for their scooter park would have asked their parents afterwards:

“So are we going to get it?”

To which the reply would have been:

“Well, the councillors all voted for it – again – but the officer from the council mumbled something about another planning meeting next year, and wouldn’t give any commitments or timescales, so we’ve no idea really”.

Members of the Area Committees, and veteran watchers, all know that these discussions and votes are normally just a tiny part of the epic process involved in getting something done in local government. There are too many people involved whose very jobs seem to require things to move as slowly as possible. When members of the public – especially young people – take the trouble to turn up and make their views heard, they don’t realise this. They deserve to have the real situation explained to them very clearly, while at the same time getting an acknowledgement that their representation really has made a significant contribution.

Posted in Cambridge, Party politics, Public administration & policy | 2 Comments

Filming a theatrical performance – a big step up


Some thoughts on filming a theatrical stage performance

First of all a big ***Thank you*** to Alex and Laura, the co-producers of CUADC’s production of The Emperor’s New Clothes at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge.

The above is a teaser-medley I put together, as most of my weekly allowance of file space was used up for a Transition Cambridge event with Cambridge MP Dr Julian Huppert. Videos of Julian’s speech, and the feedback presentations are here. I also recorded the audio of the Q&A session Julian hosted – avoiding filming so as not to put off people from asking questions. Click here for the audio – which I recorded on an old smartphone that I’ve kept old of, attaching it to a standard lapel mic clipped onto Julian’s shirt. Note to self, adjust the mic volume before recording!

Going beyond ‘setup and record’

This is the next step for me – going beyond being the static cameraman. Many of my previous recordings have involved little more than setting up the camera and letting the hardware do the work. With a theatrical performance, you cannot do that. If you capture the whole stage, you don’t get any detail of the actors’ face expressions. A lot of the nuance and communication is lost. You run the risk of ‘stick figures moving to audio’ with that approach.

The optical zoom on my camera was powerful enough to zoom in close enough for a decent head-and-shoulders shot. The problem with that is you have to be aware of what the rest of the case is doing outside of your view-finder. When you have multiple characters in dialogue, this is a huge challenge. Even more so if the characters are spread across the stage – as they often are in plays. It takes a huge amount of practice to learn what level of zoom corresponds with what levels of camera movement. The slightest touch of the camera when zoomed in on a distant performer will knock the performer out of shot.

Comparing actors moving across a stage with a single pianist in one place

The above is one of my favourite performances by one of my favourite young musicians, Grace Sarah – filmed at The Junction in Cambridge just after she had completed her GCSEs. This was filmed from the same distance on my old camcorder that only had a digital zoom. In the grand scheme of things, that 2010-era consumer model camcorder did a reasonable job. But it struggled with other performers that evening. It would have had no chance with a theatre performance. The movement and changing light patterns would have been too much for it. Ditto with trying to pick up the music from a relatively large theatre band. Interestingly, there were a number of occasions when even my upgraded camcorder really struggled with trying to auto-focus in on some of the actors – particularly when the light contrasts were large, eg with spotlights.

Improving on the audio

In the grand scheme of things, audio counts for at least 50% of your videos. People can tolerate slightly shaky visuals. Screw up the audio and they switch off – as I found out with a very early digital video project a couple of years ago.

Take this performance below by the Cambridge-based octet Makossa.

You can hear the bass, but you can’t feel it – if that makes sense. The same is the case with this performance by Fred’s House from earlier this summer at a pack Alex Pub. (Dowsing Sound Collective friends may recognise Paul on the drums). Again, you can hear but not feel some of the various musical instruments.

As a single operator, I’m faced with the constant challenge of the trying to find a decent place to film from as well as a decent place to get audio from. In the case of the Fred’s House performance, there was neither as the garden was jam packed. In both these cases, the amps were linked up to a professional standard sound mixer. In the case of Makossa, there wasn’t anyone operating the sound mixer during the performance. In an ideal world you’d have someone who knew reasonably well what they were doing & were passionate about it on the sound mixer, with your camcorder plugged in. (I don’t have the kit to plug into such kit, hence relying on an external mic – which I suppose makes me ‘look the part’!)


On theatre performances where you have people moving across the stage, & multiple voices appearing in different places, I can see how rehearsing can make a huge difference. Furthermore, I can see how having a ‘camera script’ of who to focus on and when, being really useful too. The better clips – in particular the face expressions that I filmed from the ADC Theatre earlier were down to luck with anticipation and bloody hard concentration. The last time I concentrated so hard on a screen for an extended period of time was during second reading of a bill going through Parliament that me and my team were supporting ministers for. That was a good seven hours concentrating on every single word uttered by every MP.

In 2015 I’d like to try out filming another show – not a serious play but a light-hearted one, with rehearsal & preparation time. Hard work, but I imagine damn good fun!

Posted in Cambridge, Events I have been to, Music, Social media | 1 Comment

Cambridge Hub turning ideas into actions


Taking a ‘Be the change – Cambridge’ problem to Cambridge student activists…and watching them run with it

Some of you may be aware of the Volunteer Cambridge event that the Cambridge Hub is organising for Cambridge City Council on 28 February 2015 at The Guildhall. In previous blogposts I cited this as an example of an idea I had which is now coming to fruition. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that the Hub was organising an open space gathering for Cambridge’s many environmental groups and campaigns. Almost a year ago to the day, I posted this blogpost. Despite a persistent cold, I went along.

I’d say there was a 60-40 split of students-town activists, starting off with a couple of ice-breakers before going into open-space pitching.


The above is a pano-photo I took during one of the ice-breakers.

The sessions pitched ranged from hyper-local (encouraging students to get involved in growing on community allotments) to the mega-global (campaign preparations for the Paris 2015 Climate Talks). The session I pitched was on mobilising Cambridge’s 16-19 year olds through environmental activism. One of the challenges we face for Be the change – Cambridge is getting young people involved in a way that interests them and also has them influencing the decisions made by the city’s institutions. One of the pieces of advice I’ve had from community youth workers was to work with people closer to their age range to to bridge the age and credibility gaps. I’m in my 30s now – when I was in my mid-teens the current generation of mid-teens were not even born. Mine was the large generation of ‘the ignorant’ – ie one where we didn’t have the internet and thus all this information at our fingertips. Thus I will have my blind spots – or my ‘unknown unknowns’.

Mobilising Cambridge’s 16-19 year olds through environmental activism

My approach as a facilitator was one where I asked questions about the problem – focusing on specifics and how participants might go about dealing with them. Quite rightly, we had a steer of not making the sessions about pet projects or existing schemes – hence not mentioning BTCC until invited to by the organisers. My premise being that this was their space, not mine, and that those interested in taking forward the ideas we came up with also needed to take ownership of it – with me and others in support.

‘What does success look like to you?’

This was one of the first things I put to our breakout group. While I have a vision for what success looks like, I wanted to find out based on their experiences what it would look like. Hence these notes.


The most interesting part of the discussion for me was about the safe space to make mistakes and to learn by doing. It’s easy for someone like me to say: “Oh well we tried that a few years ago and it didn’t work” in response to someone’s idea. Such a comment reduces the influence and control that young people have on their projects. Hence far better to either let them get on with it or say: “Have you thought about the risks with your approach? What could go wrong and how could you prevent this?” Rather than defining the solution for them, allow them to figure it out themselves – because that way they might come up with something you’re completely unaware of.

Strong support and confidence in young activists

Within that same context came the above – the back up young activists want or need from older people. In particular making clear that things might not go to plan, things might fail and that this is OK. This is especially the case when time and money is involved. In terms of learning basic transferrable skills, the top three I came up with included:

  • Working as a team to achieve a greater goal
  • Communicating in different contexts
  • Managing a budget

In terms of visible changes, diversity within existing city campaign groups is one of the most important ones for me. I’ve been to gatherings of too many community groups that are not fully reflective of the communities that they are within. In many of the cases that I have seen, young people are conspicuous by their absence. From the Cambridge Cycling Campaign to the Cambridgeshire Local History Group, I have often been one of the youngest people there, and often the only non-White person there. When you consider the number of young cyclists, or the number of young people doing local history projects, you can see the opportunities our city is missing out on.

“So…who’s going to do what then?”


Apologies for the stupendously blurred picture above. The Cambridge Hub have the originals.

In terms of actions, the two most important were:

  • Mapping the community – finding out what is already happening
  • Planning your approach for each institution or group – in particular being crystal clear about what you want from them and what your offer to them is

The two big risks the students identified were:

  • Sustainability and continuity with the annual turnover of students & young people on both sides
  • Groups and institutions being deluged with lots of ideas, and being overwhelmed to the extent that nothing happens because they don’t know how to respond

On the first one, the students came up with suggestions on having permanent teacher contacts with each school, and ‘desk instructions’ for newly-elected reps – such as school council reps on what they need to do as soon as they take on their responsibilities

On the second one, they suggested the Cambridge Hub could come up with criteria that projects/proposals could be assessed against, ensuring that a limited number of developed proposals can be put to outside organisations rather than an uncoordinated wave of requests/invitations to get involved.

Everyone’s camera shy!

I wanted to film some short interview clips about the event, but everyone was camera-shy, despite encouragement from organisers. This is coming up as an issue time and again. People seem to be very nervous about being filmed in an interview. It’s got me thinking about whether as a city we need to do something about very basic interview training, to whether I need to overhaul both my own image and how I go about my work. For example setting up myself as my own media network to make it sound more professional? I’m thinking along the lines of Novara Media.

Next steps?

It sounds like this is something that students are interested in running with, so I’ll be keeping in touch to see what comes out of this after the Winterval break. :-P #PCCorrectMassiv

It also sounds like Cambridge Hub will be running a similar open space gathering in early 2015. If interested, they are on Facebook here, and on Twitter at @CambridgeHub.

Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Charities and Big Society, Education, training and exams, Events I have been to, Social media | 1 Comment