Very young footballers in princess outfits playing while the brass band played

“Put on music and they will come!” Sunday afternoon in changeable weather at Coleridge Rec with the Soham Comrades Band.

So they (the city council) did.

And even though these things tend not to have huge advertising campaigns along with them, a few hundred people turned up.

Above in the left-centre of the pano is one young girl playing football dressed as “Elsa” from the movie “Frozen.”

In fact, as I sat there next to my bike listening to the brass band behind the main row of seats (you can see the handlebar in the bottom right of the pano above!) there were a handful of nursery/infant school-aged girls playing football around us.

The reason why this is significant for me is that when I was their age (or a few years older) back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, it was only the boys that played football – certainly it was only the boys that had organised football training sessions on the Saturday mornings.

Looking back at it, that wasn’t the only thing wrong with how we kids played ‘organised football’ back in those days. The youth leagues insisted on playing on very large – sometimes close to full sized pitches (and goals) for under-9s and under 10s. Even as a child I knew this was stupid – watching one match where our goalkeeper could not kick the ball far enough to get it out of the penalty area for a goal kick. But still the powers that be in the leagues persisted. By the time we were teenagers the powers that be decided we weren’t good enough to play in organised leagues so we went to a different park (Cherry Hinton Hall) to play with what turned out to be anyone somehow ‘not good enough’ to play organised sports at weekends – including the girls. We never looked back.

Today’s Coleridge has a different feel to it compared to the one of 30-40 years ago. Even just closing my eyes I could hear how the accents were different – the English accents more polished, and a greater diversity of international accents too. The young parents of the 1980s who stayed around in the neighbourhood – there are still a number of them, are now eligible for pensions.

At what point in local histories do neighbourhoods and communities stabilise, settle, and develop their own civic identity?

So much of this depends why they are located where they are, and on how they are designed in the first place. When my parents moved to their own place in the ward nearly half a century ago, the old post-war pre-fabs had only recently been taken down and replaced with permanent housing. Between then and now, three of the state primary schools that served the ward have been demolished, and one has been built.

In South Cambridge, neither Coleridge nor Queen Edith’s wards – both planned as new residential neighbourhoods for Cambridge, do not have the extended history that Cherry Hinton – the village now a suburb of the city on the eastern edge of town (we’ve always interchanged the terms locally), has. So when you look at the line up for the Cherry Hinton Festival on 18th Sept 2021, at least three of the groups there pre-date the establishment of Queen Edith’s and Coleridge wards. (The St Andrew’s Bellringers – the old church is Grade 1 listed and parts of it pre-date the University), The Baptist Chapel (the present building dating from 1883), and the village’s Women’s Institute (dating from 1924).

The one thing I noticed at the Coleridge event vs say the Cherry Hinton Festival or the Arbury Carnival (both much bigger events to be fair) was that the groups of people kept themselves to themselves. I didn’t get the sense that lots of people knew each other. In fact, I hardly knew anyone there. And I’m a former council candidate there! (Cambridge has a fairly high population turnover, not helped by the culture of fixed term contracts in academia and research rather than permanent employment).

Help from the villages

When you look at the list of brass bands that are in the event list, you find that half of them are from surrounding towns and villages:

  • Cottenham
  • Royston
  • Soham
  • Waterbeach

Each of those settlements have long histories – I’ve often found that the civic histories of the villages is much more well accounted for in local history circles than that of the town and suburbs of Cambridge. It also goes to show that for all the city vs county split, in and around the city the two are actually interdependent on each other – for both our benefits. This is something I think that a future transport strategy should explore in much greater detail regarding community facilities and going beyond providing infrastructure/services for commuting only.

“Cherry Hinton has a festival, Arbury has a festival, Chesterton has a festival – why can’t we have one?”

Who’s organising it? Who’s paying for it? (Questions that will always apply).

I wrote about community building in Coleridge ward nearly six months ago – see my blogpost here. That covers some of the longer term issues more than anything, as well as identifying The Junction as having much greater potential as both a neighbourhood facility and also as a community facility for the south of the city. (I also made the case for a ‘sister’ facility for the North of Cambridge in a new development there).

At one of the previous brass-band-in-the-park events pre-Covid, a now former/retired local councillor (Amanda Taylor) and a future local councillor (Sam Davies) were conspicuous by the number of people on first name terms with the both of them. A road accident prevented the presence of two of our councillors this afternoon.

At sub-ward level, councils don’t need to spend massive amounts of money on big stages and things that you would see for something like the Arbury Carnival, which on a good day (i.e. not raining) is this incredible ball of life and creativity unleashed. (It dates back to the 1977 Queen’s Silver Jubilee according to Kettle’s Yard – which means only six years to go before it hits the big 5-0. Start planning now people!)

Adding things in small steps – getting people to talk to each other

One of the things that should be a default for the city council is to have a medium-sized marquee/gazebo with display boards and a map, inviting people to suggest things and also offer support for. (If you don’t ask, you don’t get). Part of the principle being that if they see and take part in something the council has put on, they might be more willing to reciprocate.

Ditto with information boards. Some of it can be to do with community grants – the council is calling for ideas on its website, and the trio of wards south of the river – Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, and Romsey are all listed as having funds available.

It doesn’t have to be the council that provides it all either. Civic society groups can also be invited. It doesn’t have to be campaign groups either. At the Chesterton Festival the Chesterton History Society regularly has a local history tent. Trumpington and Cherry Hinton also have their own longstanding local history groups. All three used to be separate villages prior to the industrial-era expansion of Cambridge.

I was also thinking about refreshments but then remembered the problem of fumes and engine noise. It only came to mind because halfway through I had a coffee craving. Then remembered the sun had just come out again (it was pouring a few hours before hand!) so wondered if someone on an e-tricycle could rock up with a massive cold box of soft drinks and ice lollies.

Doing the basics right – community notice-boards

I think I’ve been moaning about this for a decade. In fairness to the supermarkets and convenience stores, they’ve done their job in terms of putting up large boards for people and groups to put notices up. Unfortunately our local public sector bodies in particular have not responded consistently or systematically to what is out there now – things that were not there a decade ago.

I remember inquiring at one of the large Tescos in/around Cambridge about putting large notice boards up. At the time they only had one of those boards that took A6-sized note cards. The one up at Fulbourn (note this one has been curiously ad-busted by environmentalists!) now has space, and is routinely used by community groups, but not by the local public sector when for events it really could be.

Above – example of a community noticeboard in Fulbourn, Cambs.

Sponsorship and longer term involvement

Scroll to the foot of the table and you’ll see four sponsors for the Cambridge Music In the Parks programme. Two are multinational corporations. Which also makes me think that as a city we’re missing a trick here. Could some of the planning be done to cover a longer period of time so that the communities get into the habit of these events happening annually? And ditto with the same organisers, participating civic groups, and sponsoring firms? Given the close proximity of the Cambridge Science Centre to Coleridge Rec, that would make for an ideal longer term partnership for example. Or having one of the larger Tech firms sponsoring the presence of stalls by the Cambridge Museum of Technology, Museum of Cambridge, and the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge? Again, familiarising local residents with local history, supported by local commerce. Amongst other things, it would mean paid professional outreach people who are comfortable engaging with the public being on hand. Which amongst other things would complement any outreach that local councils and other organisations are doing.

Food for thought?

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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