Cambridge’s Music in the Parks programme

Can Cambridge City Council invite community groups to have stalls at these community events? And can they even do some soft consultation outreach with display boards on their various plans?

Music in the Parks is on the look out for bands and musicians alike.

I reminded of this song by Fredrika Stahl (who some of you may remember from the extended nursery rhyme in the car advert over a decade ago). This one’s a little different.

Above – Deep breath, then dive. Fredrika Stahl

Reminded – why?

We Are Sound Music – formerly the Dowsing Sound Collective, 2010-2021

In the middle part of the last decade it was a huge part of my life.

…and as with many music groups, we simply could not regroup following the Covid hit.

Was it unexpected? Given the current public health, economic, and political context, not really. Has it hit me like a steam train despite not being surprised at the announcement? Absolutely.

Because I don’t think Cambridge will ever see anything of its like ever again. And yet through it many of us who participated may well have exceeded what they thought they were capable of – whether individually or collectively.

“Music has been too much of a solitary existence for me. One of the things I strangely hoped from university was to live with a few musicians in halls to inspire me to get back into it. It never happened.”

ADB 15 April 2012 – On music, a personal journey

Prior to joining in Spring 2014, my experience of music was a very bitter one as I wrote in my blogpost this time ten years ago. To summarise:

  • An exams-based culture limited to classical music
  • An upper-middle-class mindset of music in Cambridge both town & gown (despite the best efforts of some incredible people)
  • Having to go to church every Sunday to hear one of the worst choirs in the world (to the extent that one of the two Sunday services at the time scrapped hymns completely in the mid-1990s)
  • A school system that was starved of resources by the governments of Thatcher & Major – of whom my entire time in compulsory education (to year 11) was spent under
  • An education culture that judged you on how you performed in your exams, and furthermore what occupation you went into.

On that final point, as far as the ‘success’ was concerned, I ticked all of the boxes for what late 20thC South Cambridge considered as being a ‘success’ – a good set of GCSEs, A-levels, a 2:1 from a ‘good university’ and a high-flying career in the civil service. Until austerity hit.

And ten years later, with two mental health crises and two heart attacks behind me, here I am. Just not yet dead!

Above – from SPAMALOT by the Pythons. I saw the musical at (of all places) The Cambridge Theatre in the summer of 2007 while I was living & working in London.

“What’s all this got to do with Cambridge’s Music in the Parks programme?”


Because you can’t have a musical programme without musical groups. And given that so many musical groups have taken huge hits – not just because of the pandemic, but also because of the economic hit from things like leaving the EU, that network of musical groups and musicians (which itself struggled in the face of a decade of austerity and the closure of so many venues) cannot rebuild itself without help – and furthermore that won’t happen overnight.

At the same time, ministers are expecting societies in towns and cities are to rebuild after the shocks that we’ve already had – just with less money than was promised. And that’s before we mention the cost of living crisis, the fuel bills hit (that will leave the majority of people with even less money to spend), and the climate emergency (we’ve already had long, very hot summers with little to no rain – along with the flash floods from intense downpours).

For me it’s at these summer neighbourhood level events that some of the easy soft conversations can be had – without any of the hard sell or obligations. It’s not just Music in the Parks either.

…and they are the ones I can think of.

This should be where council officers start putting community groups and organisers in touch with event organisers and bookers. It may even help the latter if local public sector organisations – councils, local NHS, blue lights, and so on, book their stalls early (and pay early) to give the independent community event organisers some much-needed financial certainty.

Above – Coleridge Rec, Cambridge last summer.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some additional community groups with things like cake stalls as well as local public sector organisations there to listen to local residents who might not otherwise get the chance to have conversations?

Who is normally conspicuous by their absence? Where do you normally find those groups? Go there and do your outreach.

It’s a phrase that frustrated me during my civil service days: “Hard to reach groups.” Hard to reach for whom? Go to where the group of people happen to be, not where you think they should be. (Remember in those days I was stuck in a big office down the road from Whitehall, round the back of Buckingham Palace).

Obviously it’s easier said than done – although the Cambridge branch of ACORN – the renters’ community union has done superb work training up its members to become active in their neighbourhoods. And this matters given the high number of people who rent their properties in not cheap Cambridge. Given the inevitable higher turnover of tenure and residents in rented properties, it’s all the more important (not least for elections) that we have a basic routine in place to welcome new residents. We don’t even have that. (We used to – in the form of annual guides to Cambridge for residents).

We must get things right at our grass roots if we want to aim for something bigger.

In the run up to the 2001 general election when I was living in Hove, environmentalists ran with a slogan: “Think global, act local”. It has stuck with me ever since. For it challenges us to think what we can do locally and collectively that – if our fellow citizens where we lived did similar according to the needs and talents of their neighbourhoods, could have an impact on our towns & cities that is greater than the sum of our parts.

Cambridge’s ‘collegiate culture’ for centuries has encouraged generations of people (mainly men) to look out only for their own when acting for their institutions. (This is different to individual acts of charity, for which the British Newspaper Archive is full of who subscribed to what causes pre-welfare state when absolute poverty was on people’s doorsteps). How do we change the values of these institutions so that within their constitutions they have it written in that they will take proper account for the needs of our city (in particular those with the least/in the most need) as opposed to only the interests of their institution?.

As for aiming bigger, in 2014 We Are Sound as the Dowsing Sound Collective sold out the biggest indoor venue in Cambridge – the Corn Exchange.

…although I’m harder to spot in this montage.

As I pondered for a while, where do we go from here? It was only as I became more familiar with Cambridge’s civic, municipal, and political history – along with the various ambitions from wealthy and vested interests on our city’s future that the possibility of building a new, larger venue came into the frame. And that’s not forgetting the balancing item of doing so with the minimum of environmental footprints. Building the venue that I’ve called for won’t be easy. But I’d like to think a future musical collective inspired by what We Are Sound / The Dowsing Sound Collective achieved over the past decade in the face of what we’ve all faced, could be part of an opening concert. And maybe even some of the participants (and even Andrea herself) could be part of that.

But in order to achieve that, we need the support of the city. Including the politicians. And that means us as citizens being proactive in contacting them. Democracy Club has made it easy for all of us.

Above – if you’re interested in the work of Democracy Club, see

In the meantime, we have work do to – especially if we want to build a better city.

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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