Over fifty people – including the Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird, took part in Be the change – Cambridge’s community action gathering at Anglia Ruskin University.
A first review by Antony Carpen
The Mayor opened our event which saw students representing Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge Regional College and Chesterton Community College all making an important contribution to an afternoon of discussion, debate and problem-solving. The students also took part in an intensive cross-examination of Cambridge City Council’s planning and communities policies in a workshop with Cllr Richard Johnson, executive councillor for communities.
Jane Paterson-Todd, chief executive of Cambridge Ahead speaking on behalf of the host sponsors Anglia Ruskin University & Cambridge Ahead highlighted the importance of community groups and young people working with businesses and local councils in shaping Cambridge’s future – something that was reflected by the active participation of all that took part.
Open-space – participants designing the agenda
The event was expertly facilitated by Jennifer Jones, a community media researcher at the University of the West of Scotland. With extensive experience in community action and digital media, Jennifer provided the much-needed external challenge and alternative perspective on what is happening in Cambridge. For many of the participants, this was the first time they had experienced an event where they were invited to shape the timetable and content of workshops.
A desire to learn about housing and transport planning
Cambridge City Council’s Patsy Dell hosted an inspiring workshop on housing and planning functions in Cambridge. In the spirit of the event, participants discussed how community groups could work with councils to improve citizens’ understanding of how the planning system works – and how to improve it for the benefit of the city. This reflected earlier conversations with student representatives of Anglia Ruskin University Students’ Union where they expressed a desire to work with Cambridge City Council to ensure any future plans for student accommodation meet the needs of Anglia students while remaining sensitive to local residential communities.
‘My Cambridge’ – the arts and culture offer for the city
Rae Snape of the Kite Teaching Alliance and Jane Wilson of the Cambridge Live Trust led a workshop on their proposals for ‘My Cambridge’. The project’s goal is that “every young person in Cambridge is able to confidently construct their own cultural life, drawing on and feeling connected to the whole of the city in which they live.” Important actions for institutions include:
- Establishing long term relationships between schools and cultural organisations.
- Effective local research takes place
- Decision-makers are given the right knowledge & tools to make effective decisions about their roles
The above are consistent with themes of long term planning – in particular ensuring co-ordination of events in both planning and publicity, along with the collection & sharing of information relevant to decisions that organisations need to make.
For those of you interested the plans that the Cambridge Live Trust has for Cambridge, note the Trust ‘goes live’ on 1st April with a series of events including a free musical extravaganza led by the Dowsing Sound Collective at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Get your free tickets here!
Youth engagement, improving transport & cycling, and ideas on how Cambridge should be run
Participants discussed how Cambridge could improve youth engagement. They identified a number of changes that local schools and colleges needed to make to their systems and processes in order to build a city-wide culture of civic action. In particular, our student participants cited the timely provision of information on what’s available when they are making choices on college extra-curricular activities – such as Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
On improving transport, cycling and the future administration of Cambridge, participants appreciated the opportunity to discuss the issues in depth. This included but was not limited to the possibility of a unitary authority. Ideas on removing institutional barriers between frontline workers included GP surgeries having social workers co-located in the same building.
The way forward?
At the end of an inspiring & intensive afternoon, participants mentioned one of the most beneficial impacts of the event – and of the project was bringing people together from diverse communities & backgrounds to solve shared problems. A number of the more experienced and longstanding community activists recognised the passion & potential the student activists had – making a number of exciting connections between local college campaigns and longstanding community groups. We look forward to supporting them, inspiring more of the people of Cambridge to shape the future of our city.
We will be presenting the findings to Cambridge City Council – who we’re incredibly grateful for their support & participation. Feedback from Patsy Dell’s introduction to the planning system was particularly well-received in one of the afternoon’s most well-attended workshops.
Local charities benefit too!
As mentioned early on in the project, we committed to donating some of the sponsorship money raised for the projects to two local charities – Disability Cambridgeshire & The Dosoco Foundation. £500 will be split between these two charities, both of which are making significant positive contribution to the lives of many people in and around Cambridge.
Professional photographs and a professional video-maker
We commissioned Cambridge photographer Lucinda Price to cover our event. You can see an early selection of her photographs here. We also had the multi-talented Graham Copekoga filming throughout the afternoon, giving participants the experience of being filmed using broadcast standard equipment. As well as creating a medley video of the afternoon, Graham also filmed the end-of-afternoon feedback sessions, ensuring that we captured a much fuller record of the discussions, learning points and agreed actions.
Are we going to be doing this all over again next year?
Certainly the feeling in the room was that we should – with the possibility of teaming up with the Cambridge Hub following their highly successful Volunteer for Cambridge event a fortnight earlier. Both Volunteer for Cambridge and this event were the first events of this type in recent times in Cambridge. In both cases the feedback we’ve heard is that between us we proved the concepts worked. With this learning, we look forward to creating something even bigger & better next year!