Reimagining Cambridgeshire at Cambridge University

What might the county of our future look like? Cllr Hilary Cox Condron (Labour – Arbury) of Cambridgeshire County Council took a big step forward with a number of activist groups

One of the big gaps in responding to the climate emergency that has persistently remained is the lack of visualising what a transformed city might look like.

So as part of the Cambridge Festival several groups and individuals got together to try this out with the most imaginative group of people we have in our city: Children.

“Can we have more of these events please?”

My thoughts entirely. And more resources to enable the younger children to hold onto those ideas as they move into secondary school. This means producing the materials for secondary schools to incorporate into their annual schemes of work – rather than having what happened to my generation where so much from primary school that was enjoyable, was forgotten. Yes. I still have that chip on my shoulder. It’s the anger from those days that still drives me.

The concept of an Imaginarium works. In terms of how to develop it further – both into residential communities and also towards different cohorts, a variety of approaches will be needed

The one group of people who seemed to be missing at this event were teenagers – and possibly young adults too. Recent analysis on consultations – not least on public art, have told us that these two cohorts are conspicuous by their absence. How do we change this? When I found some of the materials from the 1990s aimed at my generation of teenagers I was embarrassed by what I found. Going through the 1,000+ pages of newspapers from late 1980s Cambridge digitised by the British Newspaper Archive I find the context even more painful to read – to the extent that it’s almost triggering. Because this is the backdrop of my childhood. And following my second heart attack last December, I’ve vowed to myself that Cambridge will not fail another generation in the way that it failed my generation of children and teenagers. In a similar manner that either Cambridge will get this new large concert hall similar to the one we were promised in the 1960s, or in the failure to build it I will have died trying in the process.

So: challenge for those involved in secondary education – can you ask the relevant organisations (councils, Greater Cambridge Partnership, Combined Authority etc) and politicians to commission high quality educational materials that secondary school and further education students can use, where they can learn about what’s happening in and around their city? Furthermore, please can colleges and councils (along with Cambridgeshire Insight) put something together that enables students to use public datasets for their extended projects as many community social media pages every year get requests for the same surveys? Far better they crunch the data public authorities are using (and learn about their existence and powers at the same time) than using skewed data from a social media poll.

“I’m here for your old maps”

I laid out a copy of the big Holford Wright map from 1950 with their proposals for the future of Cambridge. (Read more on their proposals for post-war Cambridge).

More than anything else, this caught the imagination of passers-by, especially the parents who were able to engage their children in locating their homes on this very old map. I also had with me a map dating from 2015 so they could compare what was, and what was not built.

If we want to get the adults talking about the future of our city, county, sub-region, X-mile/kilometre radius, call-it-what-you-like, we need large-scale reproductions of old maps and past proposals alongside large-scale existing maps and current proposals for the future

…and then take them along to the community fairs in residential areas for people to engage with and start talking about. In Cambridge the three that immediately stand out are:

  1. The Arbury Carnival
  2. The Chesterton Festival
  3. The Cherry Hinton Festival

…and the massive Mill Road Winter Fair.

If you were brave enough and wanted to engage a younger crowd with many from outside of the city, you might go for the Strawberry Fair. They could also do with a new generation of volunteers too. (I was a steward back in 2003 and it was cool! Yes, I am getting old!)

And that’s before I’ve even noted the many town and village summer fairs that don’t get advertised round these parts. If there’s one thing an integrated public transport system could support (i.e. one with a light rail), it could be publicising seasonal annual events outside of Cambridge that could get city residents out to rural areas across our county. Even more so for those of us that don’t drive.

From my perspective, I’d have such a tent with allied campaign and community groups on either side – so a local history group on one side, and one of the transport campaign groups on the other side. At the same time – and as with all big public events of this nature, I also suggest having a big board that asks people to commit to one small one off action, or one small continuous behavioural change as a result of the conversations they’ve had and the people they have met on the day. They can either stick them up on the board or write them on a card / take a photo on their phones to take back with them as a reminder.

Reminding myself that most people have got better things to do than follow #localgov and politics 24/7.

Not easy when you’re stuck at home and not able to go anywhere far for a host of health-related reasons.

I recall this piece of research done for the DCLG way back in 2007 when I was working in Community Development in the Civil Service in London. It’s stuck with me ever since, and is something I come back to every so often. It encourages local policy makers to think about what approaches to use when encouraging local residents to get involved in local community action.

Above – The Henley Centre for DCLG 2007

I wonder to what extent different parts of Cambridge identify with these different cohorts, and whether there are any that have been overlooked completely. Furthermore, how do the percentages play out today, mindful of everything the country has been through since this was published – which was *before* the banking crisis and before the social media platforms we are familiar with today became mainstream? (I was a ***very*** different person then to who I am today – not least there’s 50% more of me weight-wise!)

“How do you engage people who do not have the right to vote?”

This is becoming much more of an issue – and rightly so.

Above – “Democracy Hoodlums” Cllr Dr Alexandra Bulat and Lara Parizotto outside the Co-op on Mill Road, in the People’s Republic of Romsey, Cambridge

Note Scotland brought in residential voting rights for Scottish elections – have a look at the explanation in their 2017 consultation document. As I posted earlier, my take is that people from other countries who live in and contribute to our communities (& not just through working and paying taxes) have a much stronger moral right to vote in our elections than those that bought ‘Golden Visas’ – which have been in the media of late. Back in 2020, Cllr Anna Smith (Lab – Coleridge), now Leader of Cambridge City Council, posted this:

“No taxation without representation” – a phrase that sounds familiar?

One I assumed was from Thomas Paine, but it isn’t.

“The Stamp Act Congress met on this day in New York in 1765, a meeting that led nine Colonies to declare the English Crown had no right to tax Americans who lacked representation in British Parliament.”
And finally…

Much as I’d love to crack on with lots of this myself…I can’t. I managed four hours on Saturday – the first public engagement event I had been to in months.

…and I still have not recovered over 2 days later. Chronic fatigue from a longstanding mental health condition combined with heart problems is not the best combination for pretending to be this all-action community activist. (Also, don’t ask me to lead anything. I’m not a leader, nor do I want to be).

…and just to add on a town planning & community-rebuilding point: Cllr Sam Davies MBE pointed this to me – it’s worth a read.

“Just Space is a community-led network of grass-roots groups influencing plan making and planning policy in London. Our aim is to ensure public debate on crucial issues of social justice and economic and environmental sustainability”

Just Space London April 2022

…and after you’ve read it, feel free to raise any points of interest with people who want your vote in the local elections – see – and if you are standing for election, upload your details to

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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