Sarah Brown – a Sense of Community in Cambridge

secret_garden_party09:35 Monday 7th April 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[A]NDIE HARPER: Today we’re asking if you feel part of your community. This on the back of a survey which revealed that things are improving in the East of England. .. A study commissioned by the BBC found 60% of us in the East feel more connected to our neighbourhood than we did say ten years ago. But is that reflected in Cambridge itself? Can a city with a transient and growing population create a community feeling? Sarah Brown is the Executive Councillor for Community and Wellbeing on Cambridge City Council and joins me now. Good morning to you Sarah.
SARAH BROWN: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
ANDIE HARPER: Nice to talk to you. So Cambridge is a city, a vibrant city, with so much going on. And it caters for every need really and every interest. But can you say that there is a feeling of community about it?

SARAH BROWN: It’s a good question. Certainly in Cambridge we do face some particular challenges in that regard. As you’ve mentioned, we have a lot of the population who are transient, students, young professionals, and the city’s growing quite quickly as well, so there’s a lot of development. And it is challenging to make sure that community spirit can build in new communities, can remain in communities, when a lot of people are only staying for two, three years perhaps.
ANDIE HARPER: I suppose, in a city, it sort of like has satellite communities, doesn’t it? Places like Newnham, Girton, Trumpington, well-established places, they have their own community spirit, rather than saying we’re part of Cambridge maybe.
SARAH BROWN: Yes, very much so. And also the villages nearby. So places like Milton for example. People who live there kind of regard themselves as living in Cambridge, but also there’s a particular village spirit going on. I think a lot of the nostalgia, I heard one of your callers mentioned the Northern spirit, maybe some of that is possibly rose-tinted I think. I have a confession to make. I’m a transplanted Northerner myself. I’m from Sheffield. And to be honest I don’t really notice that much difference.
ANDIE HARPER: Oh right. So that’s encouraging I suppose, because yes, it was me. I grew up (in) smaller places than Sheffield, I have to admit, and I do think that people I pass are more ready and willing to perhaps nod and say good morning. Cambridge of course as I said has so much to offer, but I imagine that to feel that you’re part of a community, you’d have to join a heck of a lot of things to see the same people, wouldn’t you?
SARAH BROWN: To an extent. I think maybe I’m lucky in the part of Cambridge I live in, near Mill Road. That’s quite special. There’s a big sense of community centred around Mill Road itself. There are lots of things going on in the community though, in which people can get involved. A lot of the places where groups meet, the City Council have a lot of them. Other groups have a lot of them. A lot of big buildings like churches rent spaces out, and various community groups use those, not necessarily religious, they’re just using the space. So there is stuff going on, if people want to get involved.
ANDIE HARPER: I suppose the point to make really is you can organise all you like, but really you can’t make people go along, and you can’t make people feel part of a community, can you?
SARAH BROWN: That’s right. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. And the opportunities I think are there. Some people have very busy lives. Some people want to get involved in things. Others maybe don’t. And in a city where people are living very very close to each other, you’re always going to face those pressures. It is going to be different to village life, but I think it has its advantages. It’s very vibrant as you say.
ANDIE HARPER: I said when I introduced you that you’re the Executive Councillor for Community and Wellbeing. Is there a sense of wellbeing in this city? There ought to be, because if there isn’t here, there won’t be anywhere, I’d have thought.
SARAH BROWN: (LAUGHS) Yes, there are some things in Cambridge we’re doing very well. We have a very healthy population. We have a very active population. But we’re also a great city, and we face challenges, particularly in new communities near Trumpington, in the North West of the city. And one of the challenges we face in the Council is trying to make sure that those people who move into those communities don’t feel like they’re disconnected from the existing communities, and vice versa. So that’s something we’re actively working on.
ANDIE HARPER: Sarah, it’s been really good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us. Cheers. All the best. That’s Sarah Brown, Executive Councillor for Community and Wellbeing on Cambridge City Council.