Greater Cambridge is failing its young people. The 2021 elections must result in a substantial collective response

It’s not just me that’s saying it, but expensive, in depth, independent reports for the North East Cambridge redevelopment of the Cambridge Waterworks Site.

You can read the in-depth report by consultants LDA Design here. At 142 pages long, and really needs to be at least browsed through if not read in detail by a much, much wider audience. Note the report date – June 2020 – less than a year ago.

“There are limited places within Cambridge city that young people feel a sense of belonging, the only location directly mentioned by young people was Cambridge Leisure Park. No low-cost or free alternative was identified.”

Cultural Place-making Strategy, NE Cambridge, June 2020. P37

If there is a statement that should shame us all, it is this one. 30 years after The Junction in Cambridge was opened, young people in Cambridge could not identify any other facilities which they feel ownership of. Remember that The Junction only got built because young people in Cambridge back in 1985 literally had a riot at an occupation protesting against the closure of music venues in town, resulting in numerous prosecutions and a number of police officers put in hospital as the latter tried to shut down an occupation on East Road.

The Junction was never meant to be a long term solution. Look at the architecture – it is a box-shaped building made out of cheap breeze blocks with a roof on top of it. At the time the site was a closed, derelict livestock market – the old Cattle Market. With the inevitable anti-social behaviour issues it caused back then. The redevelopment of the site didn’t do away with those problems Last weekend the local police had to issue a dispersal order on the site.

Police having to issue a dispersal order – while the entire country was supposed to be under lockdown due to a once-in-a-century pandemic.

“There is evidence to suggest that young people with low cultural engagement will be likely to engage with activity on their doorstep, before progressing to participate in activities such as those in central Cambridge.”

p37 ibid.

Part of that evidence base was created by Year 7 students from Parkside Coleridge on the Activate Cambridge Programme which opened the doors to students who would not normally have the opportunity to go to free events at places like The Fitzwilliam Museum or The Junction. For me, this programme needs to be restarted after lockdown, and expanded significantly. Have a look at the video below and listen to the young students themselves.

The most recent video in the playlist here is from March 2019. It’s not clear what happened to the autumn 2019 activities – inevitably they would have been forced to close by March 2020.

“It should also be noted that not all young people are connected in this way. Young people from low-income families in the area, may not have access to personal mobile phones or internet at home, finding themselves in digital poverty, and be vulnerable to social exclusion.”

A stark reminder that a ‘digital only’ approach will automatically exclude those that need the most help

“The provision of physical and social spaces dedicated to young people takes on paramount importance in this digital age; encouraging the development of traditional social skills, networks, and personal skills still required for employment.”

So, their call is this:

North East Cambridge should be identified as a place that welcomes young people, centred on learning and promoting active lifestyles and creative minds. Featuring spaces designed with and for young people, recognising the vibrancy and creativity which they can contribute to an area; enabling them to have a sense of ownership, pride, and safety there. Establishing a culture where young adults can grow through real life learning opportunities, engaging with the local environment, business and residential communities positively.”

“So, candidates for election to wards and divisions in North Cambridge: What are your proposals to ensure this vision is realised?”

Furthermore, how are you going to tap into the wealth that we are continually told the economy of Greater Cambridge makes? How are you going to ensure that the organisations and institutions that might be created from the development are ones that have strong roots, sound financial principles and ones that can sustain their activities for young people in the longer term – activities co-designed by and interesting for that target audience?

Another long report – on community and cultural facilities from 2019 – also by LDA Design

You can read the full report here. It is 132 pages long – but contains some very important diagrams and illustrations in all of the text.

Above – on page 40 is this map of community facilities in North Cambridge.

It took the city council five years after Puffles’ manifesto launch of 2014 to produce a map like this in the necessary detail but better late than never eh? That manifesto called for:

A community mapping exercise – where we collect information on all of the venues and facilities that are available to the community. Information we need includes:

  • Who owns them?
  • Who runs them?
  • What facilities do they offer?
  • How expensive are they?
  • When are they open?
  • What are their contact details?
  • What system of publicity and booking do they currently operate?
  • Who currently uses them? (where applicable)”

Analysis of that information to work out where the gaps are in our city’s offer to our citizens and visitors

  • What are the facilities that are being under-used?
  • Which facilities are too expensive or inaccessible?
  • Which facilities would we like but don’t have?
  • How much would realising this vision cost, and who will pay for it?
  • What are the other barriers to realising this vision, and how could we overcome them given the current economic and political climate?

Identifying interested people and organisations to get involved in delivering this vision

Above – from “A manifesto for Cambridge – Theme 7 – on public buildings and public spaces”

I’m not going to claim that everyone read Puffles’ manifesto in detail and that the consultants were commissioned to come up with this. Often there are like-minded people and organisations working separately without knowledge of each other on similar ideas towards similar goals.

Dare new councillors be bold and purchase/acquire some of the college playing fields and make them accessible to the public?

I’m not going to pretend that something like this has not been considered. Chances are uncooperative colleges/landowners and lack of finances have prevented such moves. But we are now in a very different political and social climate – one where continuing inequalities are unacceptable and access to green space is now a much higher political priority.

Above – Arbury Ward, historically one of the most economically deprived in Cambridge – sitting next door to Castle Ward which has a number of Cambridge University Colleges within it. Where the word “Castle” is on the map are the playing fields of Fitzwilliam College. Where Fitzwilliam College is happens to have Trinity Hall playing fields next to it. We know from evidence given to the Greater Cambridge Local Plan that a number of Cambridge colleges have green space that they consider are under used that they would like to build on. I contend that those under-used green spaces should be converted into public parks instead. If they have no need for them, the rest of the city on whom the University and its colleges depend on, have people and communities who could do with the open spaces.

Sports pitches and indoor halls

I pulled the table on p56 out of the report.

The North Cambridge Academy in King’s Hedges is another school that serves another historically economically less affluent ward. The Sport England recommendation of booked capacity is 80%. As the population continues to expand in and around the city, it is essential that additional capacity is included in new developments.

Performing Arts and Gallery/Exhibition Space

In North Cambridge, there is no provision.

“There are currently no facilities for performances or exhibitions, or space available for creative industries”

In South Cambridge on Cambridge Leisure Park, The Junction has big plans and has an appointed architect. Back in October 2020 I wrote a blogpost making the case for a North Cambridge Arts Centre. I make that call again in this post – with the evidence bases that these two reports provide (You can see the rest of the supporting evidence and reports for North East Cambridge here).

The Local Elections in 2021

In a month’s time the candidates will be published – and their contact details will be on

Primarily this is a discussion and debate for the neighbourhoods north of the city. However, as the visitor data from The Junction and other venues in Cambridge have shown, people from all over the city and beyond – even from beyond the county travel in to visit, use – and sustain our leisure facilities. Whatever the North East Cambridge site ultimately provides, chances are that it will be a facility used by people from far beyond the local neighbourhood. Accordingly, the north of the city deserves to have the modern, substantial facilities not just for young people in the neighbourhood, but from those who will be able to access the area from the multiple public transport links that will flow through it.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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