Five years on from Imagine2027 in Cambridge 2017/18

If you need a refresher on what the Imagine2027 series was about, see here. It was organised by the Cambridge Commons, part of the Equality Trust, with the events hosted by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, & sponsored by Sookio, who in those days were a small social media and marketing startup, but have been growing ever since!

The list of speakers was a very impressive one – see the list below. I also filmed and/or produced the videos from the talks, including the Q&As that followed. You can watch the videos listed here.

  • Zoe Williams – How we can fix our Media for a more equal 2027
  • Tamasin Cave – Corporate Lobbying: fixing the gateway problem for 2027
  • David Willetts – Fair Sharing across Generations in 2027
  • Laurie Macfarlane – Fair and Affordable Housing by 2027
  • Richard Murphy – Why tax can change everything by 2027
  • Hermann Hauser – Technology for Social Good in 2027
  • Ava Vidal – Intersectional Feminism for a fairer 2027
  • Faiza Shaheen – Class and Social Mobility, getting to a fairer 2027
  • George Monbiot – A new Politics of Belonging, for a fairer 2027
  • Guy Standing – Basic Income for a Fairer 2027
  • Kate Raworth – Rethinking Economics
  • Helen Margetts – Social Media Platforms
  • Sir Michael Marmot – Making Health Fairer
  • Danny Dorling – Education and Equality
  • Ann Pettifor – A Fairer Economy
“That’s quite an impressive list!”

And many people came out to hear what they all had to say on issues that have not gone away. It would be too much to ask for them to have affected the national politics of the 2019 General Election that led to a political tidal wave washing away many-a-progressive parliamentarian in the face of Boris Johnson’s three word slogans. Yet here we are, five years later and about to face our third Conservative Prime Minister in a row in such a short period of time. The pandemic hasn’t gone away, Brexit has hit the economy to such an extent that only the most die-hard of supporters could pretend otherwise, and the climate emergency is well and truly here – this week being the second Amber Warning for extreme heat this year. This current warning started ah hour or so ago and will be in place for the next four days.

Above – when the Daily Star starts publishing headlines about politics on a regular basis, it’s a symptom that The Government is in trouble.

Back in October 2021 when Cambridge medical student and county climate commissioner Rhiannon Osborne gave Cambridgeshire & Peterborough a masterclass on the climate emergency, I noted that 2022 would be a good time to do a progress check on who said what at Imagine 2027 – the halfway point.

Such a check would not need to be an expensive, in-depth take. It could be inviting the speakers to post a couple of paragraphs of comment, through to inviting researchers at Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University to write or film pieces to camera with their assessment in the context of what each original speaker said. I quite like the idea of the latter because it gets researchers not just thinking about, but participating in a public policy debate. All too often, research is published and forgotten about as far as public policy impact goes – despite more recent mainstream efforts to change this. But with the current evidence-averse administration in government, there’s only so much researchers can do if ministers insist on ignoring them and carrying on regardless because of things like their personal preferences, contacts, and ideology.

Would it be worth organising the same speakers to speak on their issues under a “five years later” banner?

I don’t know what the appetite would be for that, let alone whether the sponsorship would be available. Furthermore, the CV19 pandemic means fewer people might be willing to turn up to a packed lecture theatre.

Another alternative would be to get a different set of speakers covering a similar set of issues – or even a different set of issues given what we have been through collectively. For example, propriety and integrity in corporate and public office might be an interesting one to explore. Ditto the realities of the climate emergency and the local/civic response. Finally the structures of economies and societies in the face of the new challenges we face – does the public (or a critical mass of) accept that the current ‘business as usual’ is no longer fit for purpose? And that we are at a 1945 point in history where major institutions may need to be overhauled (eg central & local government), abolished entirely (eg privatised essential public services/utilities), and/or created from scratch? (eg International regulators of multinational corporations to greenhouse gas emitters). You could make the case for and against for each of those examples I’ve given.

Would a more radical alternative involve taking the debates out beyond the Centre of Cambridge and into residential neighbourhoods that don’t normally host such events?

This is something I would like to see happen irrespective of anything else. Extinction Rebellion Cambridge tried this with more than a fair amount of success before the first Lockdown, booking hall space in the newly-built housing developments. This is also something Acorn the Union has also started doing – and was something I went to find out for myself recently at one of their introduction sessions at Ross Street Community Centre off Mill Road. The similarities to what we covered in that introduction session to the texts and course outlines on political education for working class communities from the late-19th to the Mid-20th Century provided by the adult education movements was striking in their similarities. And very welcome.

In terms of subject matter, this is something that should be negotiated with local residential communities – what issues would they want to discuss and in what context? For example I suggest we have a theme of how Greater Cambridge responds to the climate emergency and cost of living crises as a series theme, and having events that cover practical actions from neighbourhood-to-county level (and being *very specific* on if any changes to the law are needed in proposed responses (and how we might go about this).

“Where are our community centres?”

Cambridge City Council put them on a map below.

  • Red markers: City council-managed community centres
  • Blue markers: Other community facilities
  • Green markers: Buildings with some community access

Above – Cambridge City Council’s identified community centres.

They also identified community-accessible venues in their Community Centres Strategy 2019 below.

  • Red dots are Council community centres
  • Green dots are non-Council community centres
  • Beige dots are other buildings which have some community access

Above – from Cambridge City Council’s Community Centres’ Strategy 2019, p13/14

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Back in 2014 I wrote a manifesto for the Cambridge City Council elections that year – standing as my old Twitter avatar of Puffles the Dragon Fairy – who went head-to-head with Cllr Lewis Herbert (Lab – Coleridge), then Leader of the Labour Group and who went on to serve as Leader of Cambridge City Council for the next seven years.

Above – Cllr Lewis Herbert with Puffles at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign hustings 2014 at the Friends Meeting House – the only ward candidate he’s had to face on a public platform for over a decade.

Both endorsing the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s Making Space for Cycling manifesto. (*I’m a member of said organisation).

In Puffles’ manifesto for Cambridge 2014 were ten themes. (You can read them here)

Theme number 7 was on creating a map of where all the community facilities in Cambridge were. We didn’t have one back then. We do now. ***RESULT***.

Proof you don’t actually have to win an election to get what you want. But then U K I P also proved that a couple of years later despite only having won a single seat at a general election in its entire history. (It wasn’t their leader, and the MP concerned in Clacton quit their party two years later anyway!)

“What things need to be debated?”

This is where the input from local communities is essential. Do we take it for granted that everyone accepts that the climate emergency is here and now? Or does there need to be preparatory workshops/talks/Q&A sessions beforehand? No point in trying to run with the ‘how to deal with the problems’ if the people concerned have not been convinced that the problems a) exist, and b) need a substantial response.

Furthermore, some parts of the city will have more urgent priorities than others. For example the Victorian terraces of Romsey and Peterfield may have more difficult issues with designating segregated cycleways, communal e-car-rental, and the removal of rights to park motor cars, than more recently-built housing developments that may have some or all of these in place.

Other things might involve installing water butts to collect rainwater, or grey/rainwater filtering systems in community and commercial buildings. What systems are available for people and organisations to install that could help keep trees watered during hot, dry spells? (Mindful that austerity has hit tree planting efforts).

Retro-fitting a city

Much to my disappointment, there are hardly any adult education classes this autumn that deal specifically with retrofitting homes and communities to deal with the climate emergency. For example Adult Learn & Train at Parkside and Coleridge in Cambridge.

Their DIY introduction to carpentry course however is fully-booked already. Does this indicate that demand might be there for other similar courses too? The only one at Cambridge Regional College I can find for adult learners only starts in Jan 2023. In the meantime, Cambridge Carbon Footprint’s focus is on repair cafes – see their list here.

If you think our county needs to ramp up the knowledge, skills, and training offer on how to respond practically to the climate emergency, then you can either:

  1. Email your local county councillor to ask what improvements they or the Combined Authority can make in this area (mindful that the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council chairs the Skills Committee on the Combined Authority)
  2. Table a public question (via here) to the Skills Committee which you can put in person or have an officer read it out on your behalf for response by the Committee officers and chair. (The next meeting is on 05 Sept 2022 so try to get any Qs in a week before)

The Cambridge City Council representative on the Skills Committee is Cllr Sam Carling (Lab – West Chesterton) who was elected to the city council earlier this year. You can read more about him here. Note Cambridge City residents can also ask any of their city councillors to put their views to Cllr Carling to ask him to raise them at the Skills Committee. For residents in South Cambs, you can ask your local district councillors to contact their representative, Cllr Peter McDonald (LibDems), and Huntingdonshire, Cllr Sam Wakeford (Lab).

And finally…

There has been so much new development in Cambridge over the past few years that many people might not have had the chance to see for themselves what modern developments look like up close, nor will many have had the chance to meet the new residents, seen the new facilities, and perhaps learn more about what recent changes to planning laws and guidance has meant for proposed developments. I was fortunate a few weeks ago to be taken on a tour of Cambourne by one of the local councillors who kindly offered to take me out of Cambridge for the first time since Lockdown to see the progress made since the last time I was there nearly four years ago.

We know the building and construction industry has huge issues of trust to respond to. The Grenfell Inquiry exposed a broken and corrupted industry with corners cut, standards not met, and concerns waved away. In Feb 2021 Cambridge’s MP Daniel Zeichner tore into the industry in a speech in the House of Commons because so many of our fellow residents had reported problems to him across so many recent developments. Has there been any improvement since then? How can communities respond when such issues affect more than one person? What if the residents are not the building owners but are tenants? This (rights of tenants and renters) is something that Acorn the Union is campaigning on. (you can join them here – membership rates vary on income. Again, I’ve joined. I’ve boomeranged back into the house of Mum & Dad with no prospect of getting my own place in the short-medium term). Despite not being able to afford to live in the city I grew up in, I’m still contributing where I can to the life of my city – my first in-person public talk since coming out of hospital will be at Open Cambridge on Cambridge’s unbuilt concert hall on Wed 14 Sept 2022 – details here.

Because one of the things we also need for our city in the face of the house building and the demand for new science lab space (apart from new water/electricity infrastructure and public transport infrastructure) is civic & leisure infrastructure. Hence one of the conversations we must have in our neighbourhoods is what we could be demanding that serves not just neighbourhoods, but beyond, such as:

…to name but a few.

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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