Lack of community venues in residential areas – what the data shows

Back in 2014 when I stood as my former social media avatar Puffles the Dragon Fairy (89 votes, beat UKIP), the manifesto called for an audit of community venues in Cambridge

It called for:

A sequenced plan  of action including:

“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

It was part of a theme on public buildings and public spaces, which you can read in full here. So when I saw the map below just over two years later, I was more than pleased.

Above – from South Area Committee April 2016

When that happens, give credit where it’s due.

One of the reasons why this work has not progressed nearly as quickly as I would have liked is because of huge cuts to the grant provided for local councils – including Cambridge City Council here, from Central Government. Feel free to browse through the data sets from the House of Commons Library which is where the screengrab below is from.

If you want to know why council tax bills feel high, or that car park charges are high in Cambridge, it’s because councils have to find alternative ways of maintaining services in the face of continued austerity, and tight restrictions on how councils can raise funds. As this is a ministerial policy choice, you can either write to your MP requesting them that they ask ministers to justify such underfunding of local council services (See, or you make your views known either to their local party representatives to feed back, or at the ballot box. Historically, Cambridge voters have been absolutely brutal at the ballot box towards the local councillors of the party in government – whether Conservative, Labour, or Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives got crushed in the 1980s-1990s, followed by the decline of Labour (esp over tuition fees and Iraq) under Tony Blair in the face of a dominant Liberal Democrat Party along with the emergence of The Greens, followed by the demolition of the Liberal Democrats (fees U-turn & austerity) return of Labour at and the re-emergence of The Greens after a decline in the early 2010s. (Will we see the return of the Tories for the first time since 2012 over the congestion charging furore?)

Cambridge City Council’s Community Centres’ Strategy

Following the consultation that I mentioned in 2016/17, the council published it in 2019.

“In 2017 we ran an evidence-based and strategic review of community provision, to help inform the development of a Community Centres Strategy. Following public consultation, we published our Community Centres Strategy in 2019.”

The map they published is below

Above – from p13 of the PDF

While it’s more than useful to have the data mapped out like this, it exposes a huge societal weakness in our city regarding community centres: Many of them due to local histories are church-based ones, or based in school buildings. If you are someone who grew up locally and stayed local for whatever reason and had bad experiences at one or both, that’s going to affect your accessibility to such venues. There are a whole host of other criteria that will have an impact too – not least the activities hosted by the venues, and the cost of using them. Is a high-end commercial gym a community venue? For those that use it, it might be. But for those unable to afford it or who cannot get there easily, is it?

Therefore when we look at the spread of our community venues, we have to look at accessibility beyond poverty indices. For example is the Chisholm Trail having an impact on people’s accessibility to Cambridge United Football Club? (i.e. more fans coming regularly by cycle?)

Above – by Ali Norden in the Cambridge Independent here

The Community Centres Strategy document allows you to zoom in on your part of town. For the purposes of the Cambridge City Council elections, I’m interested in Queen Edith’s ward – which was also where the video of the meeting above was taken (at St John the Evangelist Church Hall)

“Why does North Cambridge get all the fun stuff?!?”

Above – zooming into my part of town, the map shows neither Coleridge, Queen Edith’s, or Cherry Hinton have city council owned-and-run community centres.

The nearest council-run centres are either Ross Street off Mill Road in Romsey, or in Trumpington – built off the back of the huge housing growth. Although a new pavilion is being built on Nightingale Rec to replace the old one, the city council informed the Queen Edith’s Community Forum AGM that it could not afford to staff it – asking if any volunteers or voluntary organisations could do it instead.

“Yay! Big Society! Or something….”

I don’t know whether anyone actually found out what Big Society actually was – but what became clear was that David Cameron who came up with the phrase clearly didn’t understand the close links between small local councils and local community groups when unleashing austerity on the entire sector. Anyway, that’s the way Cambridge City Council seems to be doing things as a means of insulating communities from further budget cuts that Conservative Chancellor Jeremy Hunt warned about in his most recent budget. Hence the recent press release (*raised eyebrow at the timing*) on the Cherry Hinton Library states that a newly-formed society will run it.

Above – from Cambridge City Council. Normally local councils should not be announcing such things in the run up to local elections, lest it provides an incentive for voters to vote for the party in power.

You can find out more about the Cherry Hinton Community Benefit Society here. It is being run as a co-operative. Note Cherry Hinton Leisure Centre (which is essentially a large sports hall, gym, and a meeting room) is run by the outsourced leisure provider that also covers swimming pools and the ice rink, rather than in-house.

There were proposals for a Queen Edith’s community centre, but the reason why we didn’t get it is hidden in council meeting minutes and newspaper articles archived away somewhere.

I’ll be writing about it in a future piece after the elections are over. In the meantime, former Green Party candidate Dr Emma Garrett who is now in Oxford/The Other Place wrote:

This is thinking about the concept of the 15 minute city as a means of providing the sorts of services that don’t need people to get into their car to access. For some strange reason it’s acquired a life of its own where some think it involves imprisoning people in some strange system of ‘neighbourhood arrest’. It’s the opposite. The concept challenges governments and local councils to see how they can provide essential services within walking distance so that people live healthier lives, spend less time in traffic, and have more community interactions than being stuck on a train for over an hour each way just to get to work. Long distance commuting killed my social life and destroyed my health – physical and mental (or at least contributed significantly to it). I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

More green spaces for South Cambridge?

Some of you may be interested in the online exchanges I had over the proposed Cambridge Great Park. It’s not just the south either – it’s the north as well where a host of new planning battles are due to be had between those that want to take radical action to protect and enhance our green belt vs the property bubbles that want to let rip.

Above – see also the proposals for Wicken Fen halfway down here

My point about regional level facilities (concert halls, large leisure centres, a new urban centre for Cambridge now that the old historic centre has become too crowded for the multiple functions it has) remains. John Parry Lewis challenged Cambridge & Cambridgeshire Councillors in the early 1970s when recommending expanding Cambridge to a population of 200,000 people. You can read his proposals here. Radical is an understatement, but he gets the concept of an economic sub-region. But then he was working for the East Anglian Economic Planning Council – which city and county Tories despised! (They threw his plans out despite the huge expense that had gone into commissioning his work. Sounds familiar?)

Not everything needs to be in South Cambridge to benefit South Cambridge

Parkside Swimming Pool is a classic case – overcrowded, over-capacity, long overdue a sister swimming pool of a similar size in the north of our city. Hence my case for one at Milton Road Garage. The case speaks for itself. Hence one of the things I call for as well as trying to cover what Dr Andy Williams calls the ‘Infrastructure Gap’ (the infrastructure we have minus the infrastructure we need). He mentioned it in his talk citing that existing infrastructure had not taken into account the previous generation’s infrastructure deficit. This then bounced into an exchange between me and Dr Anna Clarke who specialises in housing research where she pulled me up on a similar point about the sequencing of housing and infrastructure – saying the state has a responsibility to ensure infrastructure is in place before the houses go in. As Dr Clarke states,

…which puts the ball back into the court of the dysfunctional governance structures that are supposed to be building the infrastructure – whether the water companies (Chatteris is not due to have its reservoir on stream until 2037 at the earliest) or the howevermany years of planning and consultation it seems to have taken the GCP to get even this far.

Hence why I sort of lost patience and put my name on an election candidate list for the Cambridge City Council elections calling for an overhaul on what are demonstrably broken governance systems.

Who can you vote for? Type your postcode into

If anything I’ve raised in this blogpost is of interest, feel free to contact ***all the candidates standing in your area*** and put your questions to them. Not least because I’m not aiming to be in a position of executive public office that signs off such big things. Therefore, if we want to get nice things, it has to involve lots of people getting involved. Democracy ‘ain’t no spectator sport – it involves participation!

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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