Sam Davies

Belonging

Do you feel like you belong in this city?

Do you feel like this city belongs to you?

I ask these questions because the last week has seen such a slew of announcements and consultations about all manner of significant changes and interventions that I really wonder how anyone is supposed to keep up – let alone feel like they have any degree of influence over what happens.

Just to recap some of what’s gone on in the last seven days:

It’s been positive to see the coverage of the majority of those stories in local media but this has to be set against the falling readership over the last two decades; the Cambridge News is selling around 4k copies a day in 2021 compared to 21k copies in 2011. And the increasing transience of the Cambridge population makes it even harder for people to ‘engage’.

Yes, there are now many online channels, with greater or lesser degrees of formality, but that actually makes it harder to discern any overarching narrative of the current state and future direction of the city.

Why does any of this matter?

And what can be done to change it?

It matters for all the reasons laid out in this article by Antony Carpen. If people don’t feel a sense of belonging, it’s bad for them and bad for the community they live in.

For example, I’m very disappointed (though not surprised) to hear that not enough volunteers have come forward to make it possible to run Cherry Hinton Festival this year. It’s a big loss and, unless we can find ways to nurture volunteering capacity, more events are likely to follow the same fate, especially given the impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s ability to contribute time and/or money towards making them happen.

As to what can be done to change things, I firmly believe the answer lives in our neighbourhoods, and in connecting people with place and with each other. In my opinion, Monday’s South Area Committee (comprising Queen Edith’s, Cherry Hinton and Trumpington councillors) worked better than usual in terms of scrutinising the GCP officer presenting about the impact of the plans on our roads; but I fear only a handful of people were watching, and only one member of the public asked a question.

Instead, I’d like us to move to a model of more frequent and ward-specific meetings, with officers from across a range of City and County Council teams on hand to answer residents’ questions and explain their approach.

Yes, it will take officer time and I understand all the reasons why that’s in short supply right now. But if we care about a joined-up approach to the lives of current and future residents in our city, then this is an investment that we need to make. Otherwise we run the risk that people detach still further, and the vision of ‘Our Cambridge’ transformation programme, with its reliance on greater partnership working, will be dead in the water from the start.

I add to this blog weekly if there’s something important to report. Get these posts by email by adding your name to the list, using the form on this page.

Don’t forget a regularly updated list of local planning applications can be found on this page here.

Sam Davies

5 comments

  • Hi Sam.

    I totally agree that the answers mainly lie in neighbourhoods but getting a cohesive grouping is not easy. The majority don’t have time or the energy to get heavily involved as much as they’d like.
    To add to it people are feeling the hardship of life/money/stresses at the moment and don’t necessarily have the emotional energy to fight planners/councils/companies.
    An easier method of delivery would be news delivery – if the local rag actually held any readable news. I despair about the grammatical writings of those whose job depends on words.

    It would possibly be more effective if those from the city and county council were to grace areas with their presence and be willng to answer questions from (often disgruntled) residents. It’s hard not to come across as blaming them – they are the front line of a system that doesn’t work. If they can’t work together effectively (despite some good apples amongst them ) and seem to be selling the city from under the residents how can they expect those residents to willingly contribute!?

    Ooh not too sure where all that came from but Sunday rant over!
    I love this city and especially this area of ours and like others do aim to get more involved if I can.

  • Dear Sam,
    as usual you hit the nail on the head. The ‘consultation’ processes are designed with an overwhelming number of fine words to ensure strong agreement. Who can be against ‘better safety’, ‘more homes’, ‘sustainability’, ‘resilience’ etc? A ‘majority agreement’ then gives authority for pressing ahead although the costs, priorities and unpalatable details remain hidden. Neighbourhood scrutiny should help but one needs scrutineers with the time or energy (and importantly the expertise) to master the details of the plans dished out to us. It is then essential that they have a feeling that their scrutiny is taken seriously. There appears to be a complete lack of understanding amongst plan makers that growth is exponential and incompatible with sustainablity. Cambridge city will not be around in another 500 years if we carry on expanding. [1% per annum →14,000% in 500 years; 2.5% pa →23,000,000% in 500 years], Why worry?-Leave the future problems to our children’s children? Not good.

  • As ever, thank you Sam

    Yes, there is a lot going on and it would be a full-time job to be involved in everything. But your weekly posts, Queen Edith’s News and blogs from Chris Rand and others are all very helpful as guides to what is going on. And although printed newspapers are less and less available and valuable, it’s easier than ever to access reports, information and comments though the web. I guess we residents just have to be selective in deciding whether and how to get involved.

  • I learn more from reading your blogs than I ever learn from the Cambridge News, so thank you.
    Unfortunately with the local council it sometimes seems that the locals really don’t matter. I live in the Cherry Hinton ward and unlike the Queen Edith News letter that my Mum receives we have nothing like that, at least I haven’t received any news letter if there is one. So thank you I do look forward to reading your blog.

  • Informative article enabling me to see the whole range of consultations at a glance but as the rate of change is rapid in such a small City I wonder how anyone can keep up. What’s coming next???
    I am in my early 20’s and lucky enough to have a supportive family who were in the position to be able to put my needs before their own to move here. Other young people I know do not have this luxury and have had to move here on their own, have no family or support networks. It is so expensive to live here finances are really tight so the normal social opportunities to make connections may be beyond our age groups income.
    So many young people are encouraged and attracted in to work for our 5 big employment areas, what starts as an exciting opportunity can leave them feeling quite isolated.
    In these circumstance they tell me they feel quite lonely with many unsettled as they did not expect to experience the levels of anti social and low level crime they have been exposed to. So beyond work and keeping afloat my peer group often say they don’t feel they belong here in Cambridge.
    With 19 % the average of renting in the UK, 42% in Cambridge yet in my area 75% is rented often short term 3 months to 2 years they feel insecure and say they could be given a month’s notice reinforcing their sense of insecurity and fear of putting down roots as their may have to move on from their homes or jobs and could never afford to buy their own home.
    Creating a sense of community, encouraging engagement in consultations, developing a neighbourhood can feel overwhelming and near impossible.
    My experience has been more positive as I was doubly lucky as I was new to Cambridge and moved into Queen Edith’s where I came across Queen Edith’s Community Forum and Nightingale Community Garden group. Through them and UC Sir Colin Humphries who has been my Mentor since I was 11 years old I felt I was not on my own, they had my back, encouraging me and linking me to many networks with the Police, NHS, Councils, Councillors and voluntary/charitable sector.
    How can this be done for all, I believe every one here short or long term, sofa surfing, subletting, renting, owner occupier etc. should be as valuable as each other, as all contribute to the economy, vibrancy and success of Cambridge.
    Perhaps one option is the workplaces with vast swaths of staff could lead the way, or may be there are other ways others can think of.
    With the rate of change it would be good to see planned developments with infrastructure of playgroups, schools, GPs, shops, playgrounds, parks, youth services, community affordable accessible venues, transport that is affordable and connects easily for all – how to do all this I do not know do you?………………………………………….

Sam Davies

Sam Davies was elected to Cambridge City Council in May 2021 as a representative for the Queen Edith's ward, and is the city's only independent councillor.
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