Samantha Jane Davies MBE – for services to the community in Queen Edith’s, Cambridge – esp during CoVID19

It’s official

The media embargo on the list from Cabinet Office was lifted late last night. If you know someone who deserves to be recognised for their work in their community, you can nominate them. See Cabinet Office here.

And a thoroughly well-deserved honour it is. To get an idea of the work she undertook organising and working with a team of community volunteers and activists, you only have to look at the daily emails from March 2020 (See here) and April 2020 (See here).

Comments from Ms Davies are included in Paul Brackley’s report for the Cambridge Independent. Messages of congratulations have come through from across the political matrix not just for the work Ms Davies has done (and continues to do) in response to the pandemic locally, but also for the *years* of community action she has put in before. Have a listen to Ms Davies on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

“I have won this on behalf of the Queen Edith’s Community Forum, and the wider Queen Edith’s Community.” Sam Davies, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, 10 Oct 2020.

Below – Sam Davies interviewed by myself nearly five years ago at a local consultation on cross-city cycling in Cambridge.

One of the points I want to underline is that the nomination came from people in the community who have been supported by and have worked with Ms Davies. For all the negative headlines we see about state honours, the vast, vast majority of them are awarded following local nominations, not nominations from government ministers. It’s worth noting that in this round, nearly 1,500 awards were made, and I counted only ten for political service. If you know someone who deserves to be nominated, you can nominate them.

That does not mean it’s easy. Quite the opposite – the assessment process is a very tough one to get through, which is why the award for Ms Davies is significant. It showed that there were a significant number of people willing to submit statements in support and subscribe to the nomination. Which also meant that a lot of people had to keep the secret from her as well!

During my civil service days, I started off life in a team that was responsible for honours nominations in the East of England. Hence becoming familiar with the system that covers the vast majority of people who have received awards. It’s a significant amount of work and research that the assessing civil servants put in before the final nominations are signed off at the top.

What does running a local community forum involve and how is it different to what councillors do?

Have a watch of one of the earliest forum gatherings at St John The Evangelist Church Hall on Hills Road back in 2016.

Note newsletter editor Chris Rand in the still.

Mr Rand also blogs at https://queen-ediths.co.uk/ with his own analysis on what’s happening locally. He also facilitates the annual election hustings that we have in the ward – not an easy task by any means! Again, from 2016, the city council elections with the local candidates.

Without the pair organising these in recent years, far fewer residents would have had the opportunity to meet and question the candidates, and even fewer would have heard or seen in action the candidates in/with their own voices. It’s all the more powerful that Queen Edith’s has these annual hustings because the surrounding wards including Coleridge and Cherry Hinton do not. Accordingly, in the Cambridge City Council Elections of 2019, Queen Edith’s had a turnout of around 43%, while for Cherry Hinton and Coleridge next door, it was 33% and 35% respectively. Which is why Chris wrote a guide on how communities can organise their own ones for future elections…once the Covid19 restrictions are lifted!

I’m convinced that there’s a much greater interest in the local council election than the fairly low voting turnouts suggest. Chris Rand.

Running a community forum is bloody hard work – and it also means reading dense council papers that no one else wants to read, and turning up to meetings on cold dark evenings when there might be something better on telly. But still she’s there.

Above – Sam Davies scrutinising an application from a wealthy developer for public funds to pay for works on a profitable development.

It also means protesting the old fashioned way as well.

The last we heard on what was being proposed was this back in August 2020.

Remember that everything in and around Queen Edith’s in South Cambridge is made more complicated by the massive development of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Hence Ms Davies bringing in representatives to face the local community back in 2017…

…with one of the issues being threats to local water supplies and aquifers from the continued house building – something that has since gone national with former Undertones lead singer Feargal Sharkey. At one meeting, Ms Davies organised a briefing from a representative of a local residents association in the vicinity of a nature reserve.

At the same meeting, Ms Davies presented results of a ward survey which had a 5% response of the adult population run on a budget of £zero.

Above – the survey results.

Not long after, Cambridge City Council commissioned a similar survey for Coleridge Ward next door (my stomping ground in the city council boundaries – though strangely with the redrawn county council boundaries Coleridge no longer exists, split between Romsey and Queen Edith’s. For the county council I am in the latter. If that makes sense!)

Community fairs and fetes

I’m still of the view that no supermarket has been able to capture the taste of proper home-made fairy cakes that are always found on sale at such events. And hopefully they never will. Inevitably the role of organising such events involves the activists and volunteers on the community forum with the booking of venues, filling out the Health and Safety forms, carrying out the risk assessments, ensuring that the bills are paid. But then as well as being community celebrations it is also a stage for community groups to show what they have been doing.

This was the first time I had been in the back hall of the Queen Edith’s Chapel building. As you can see the hall is not much bigger than a badminton court. (The tables, chairs, audience, and cake stall is behind the camera). In the grand scheme of things, Queen Edith’s needs a larger community centre.

“What about the Pavilion at Nightingale Avenue?”

The amount of time and energy used trying to get that built is incredible. I don’t know why it has taken so long given the money had been allocated ages ago – though I guess much of it was to do with lack of council officer capacity on the back of a decade of austerity, set back further by the COVID 19. The delay was raised at the last local area council meeting but nothing doing.

Ms Davies worked with the team who turned the old bowling green on Nightingale Avenue into a community garden – now a separately constituted organisation as the Nightingale Garden and one of the first of its kind locally that I’ve become aware of.

A new community centre was supposedly part of the plan according to the Holford Wright Report of 1950. Below is a screenshot from that report.

Above – the plan for Queen Edith’s. Note the community centre labelled opposite the shops that did get built. The road that runs along the bottom is Queen Edith’s Way. The Secondary Modern became Netherhall Lower School, and is today Queen Emma Primary School. The Senior School became Netherhall Upper School – today the whole secondary school is on the same site, along with the Sixth Form Centre now called the Oakes College Cambridge, named after the builder of Cherry Hinton Hall, John Oakes. (This is separate to the private primary school on Cherry Hinton Hall which has a different spelling, Oaks).

Over the next couple of decades I can see the area around the shops being renovated. Is that the time to upgrade the community facilities? And have a Samantha Davies Community Centre?

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