Pillars Of The Community

This was a series of interviews I did with various leading members of my community for our village magazine in 2012. I rather enjoyed the process of interviewing, transcribing the audio and then editing the final article together but ultimately the series was cut rather short due to time constraints and other commitments.

The whole series is reproduced below:

Peter Wood, Parish Priest

Image: Cambourne Church

Image: Cambourne Church

“I remember arriving in the snow…” says Peter Wood recalling his move to the village in early 2001. “There were only about 300 houses, but there was also a great sense of ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and build community’.”

It is this attitude, he says, which makes Cambourne a good place to live. “Community does happen wherever there are people, but how good one is depends on people’s attitude. There’s an openness in Cambourne which is great, and means that it’s not a difficult community for people to join.” He attributes this to certain key institutions which he sees as prime movers of the early days: the community development workers, the resident’s association, the doctor’s surgery, the Crier and the church.

This last, which started in 1999 and has been under Peter’s care since he arrived eleven years ago, is an important fixture for any community, he says. But it isn’t just for believers who need a place to spend their Sunday mornings. “We believe that Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. So as Christians, we want to offer people a space to pray, and have a good cup of coffee, somewhere for the young people so they are enabled to have the best chance in life. These things are why we have youth workers, why we have a café - it all comes out of the love of God, but it also comes down to very practical, concrete ways to say, ‘Let us show you that love in action’.”

Talking to Peter, it is clear that these two elements - spiritual faith and practical solutions - are very much linked in his mind. But he is quick to recognise that there are many people for whom the very idea of church might be a bit of a turn-off. “The church building is traditionally a very serious and reverent place and maybe a bit austere for some people, so we want the space that people walk into to be very welcoming. That’s why it’s a joy to have the community café here and also be able to use our buildings as a community resource: in the last few weeks we’ve had a fundraiser here for the Sick Children’s Trust and, before that, a craft fair.”

Looking to the future, he says that there are plans to open a chapel which he hopes will be accessible to all Cambourne residents. “Hopefully we’ll have it open as much as we can - just a place for people to be. To be quiet, to be still, to reflect, to pray, to cry, to think, all of that. It’s something which I’d like to think would be good for the well-being and the health of all the community.”

“The church wants to be good news for Cambourne, whatever that means to different people. It might mean a listening ear; it might mean a word of hope. Life can throw many problems into our way - be they challenges financial, or relationships getting tangled - and we believe as Christians that there is hope in and through all of that.”

And even if you’ve not once set foot in a church (or not been since you stopped going to Sunday School!) there are many ways you can help Cambourne Church to be that good news. “We’ve got plans to extend the building and if people can help with the fundraising for that we’d be appreciative because we’re wholly self-financing as a church. We’re not full of cash but we want to work with the community to enable this to be a meaningful resource, as well as a spiritual centre for Cambourne. There’s also always opportunities to volunteer at the café, or support the Vine School. Or any of the schools come to that.”

This little addendum is characteristic of Peter’s clear enthusiasm for Cambourne in particular and the notion of ‘community’ in general. He is so keen to see it happen, that he forgets about promoting his own special interests or anything which seems less important.

“Community isn’t about whether you’re black, or white or what your name is,” he says, at one point. “It’s us as human beings. How we work out what it means to live together. It’s really important. So...what was the question?”

- originally published in The Cambourne Crier, April 2012

Cath Hainsworth, Headteacher

Image: Jeavons Wood School

Image: Jeavons Wood School

In the entrance lobby to Jeavons Wood is a large, child-made collage of a tree entitled ‘Growing Together’, which visualises the aims and values of the school. Sitting behind protective Perspex, it was obviously made some time ago, but talking to Cath Hainsworth - on only her second day at the school - it’s clear that this principle of putting values front and centre is something she shares.<

“One of the reasons I wanted to work here,” she says, “is that the school’s philosophy and its approach to education is very much in line with mine. It’s all based on creativity, creative thinking and child-initiated learning - consulting with children about their education. At the moment, I’m caught up in having to think about the short-term because of the new building, but my long-term vision is to ensure that the core values we have now are still present when we move over into a much larger building and that as we grow this philosophy grows with us: through into Key Stage Two.”

With completion of the new buildings imminent and the move due to happen over the summer holidays, there is much for Cath to think about. Looking ahead to the coming months, though, she says that she’s up for the challenge. “The thing I’m looking forward to most is getting to know the Jeavons Wood community: meeting all the governors, the parents, staff and children and allowing them to get to know me as well. Then over the next six months my priority is to help manage a successful move across the road - ensuring that a;; those people are fully involved and that the transition is really smooth.

“But it’s sort of twofold: there’s also a worry about making sure that we manage that move as successfully as we can and that we’re taking account of everything we might need to take account of, including all the health and safety and the risk assessments. It’s exciting, but there’s two sides to it - if it doesn’t go successfully then I’ve got an empty school and that’s an issue!”

Cath has been a head teacher for thirteen years, and says that teaching is something she has always been enthusiastic about.

“I think it was in the blood, really - it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I did try a spell after my A-levels working for the Inland Revenue and realised that that was not for me so I got into teaching then - went straight to college and qualified and I’ve had a passion for it ever since.”

But it wasn’t just the teaching and the challenge of a growing school which attracted her to Jeavons Wood. Residents of Cambourne often talk about the ‘pioneer spirit’ of those who move in to the area and quickly get involved in the community. It seems that this is something which interests Cath, too.

“One of the reasons I wanted this job was that I was very interested in how this new community is growing and I’d like to be involved with that. A school has a huge role within any community, but especially here as Cambourne grows. We have a responsibility to help develop the children’s values of citizenship and in making sure they understand the community they are a part of. We would also like to open up the school in terms of allowing the community in as well, even down to little things like lettings. We want the school to be a feature of Cambourne and not just an isolated little island.”

But with everyone from local councillors right the way up to Michael Gove having an opinion on how schools should be run, it is important to have a steady hand on the tiller.

“I think you have to be true to your principles: that’s really crucial. We have very secure core values here which we hold very dear. And as long as you’re clear about those values then it doesn’t matter what outside pressures are coming at you, because if it fits those values then we’ll absorb it, if it doesn’t fit those values then you can reject it. So it’s being strong and about sticking up for what you believe is right for the children at Jeavons Wood.

“Above all, though, I really want it to be communicated to everyone that I’m really, really excited about being here. It’s definitely - hopefully - a fit for the children, staff, school and me and I’m looking forward to it.”

- Originally published in The Cambourne Crier, May 2012

Caroline Aldridge, Librarian

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

As you walk into Sackville House, the library’s shelves and spinners of books are very visible. And this, as Caroline Aldridge explained to me, is a big part of its success. “Because this is where the doctor’s surgery is, people are immediately aware of the library being in the same building. People often come to us first for information about the area and we have lots of information on all the various groups in Cambourne for them. They get to know us very quickly and we help them.”

This idea of being an informational resource lying at the very heart of Cambourne is key to how the library sees itself. Although when most people think of libraries their first thought is of books, a modern library has to be so much more than that.

“It’s a free service that provides many facilities: educational resources, free internet access, information on art and culture in the area. We also provide a space for them to use as well and let the medical centre do certain things here such as baby massage and first-time parent sessions. A library’s definitely not just about books: it’s about forging relationships with the community.

“For example, we run an ‘engage’ session in the library which is a monthly talk for residents on various topics. These sessions have proved extremely popular and following our talk on knitting another group has formed - the Crafty Old Ladies. We also have creative writing groups meeting here and we help to run book groups, etc.”

This last point is, it turns out, something of an understatement.

“We actually have about eight or nine book groups. They don’t all meet in the library, but we help them with their choice of books, order books in for them and help them to set themselves up. There is quite a wide range of material, too: both fiction and non-fiction. We have quite a highbrow group and then you go to the other extreme where people just want light reading. But we are very impressed by the reading culture in Cambourne, which is absolutely brilliant.”

Many of the members of such groups, no doubt, learned to enjoy reading to begin with in the local libraries of their youth, and this tradition of enthusing children while they are young is one which Cambourne Library proudly upholds.

“We have a children’s book group called ‘Chatterbooks’ as well, which meets here and goes from about eight to twelve years old. We also have rhymetime and storytime sessions here for children, which is actually run by two volunteers from the community - two ladies who’ve been with us from the start and whose support is fantastic.”

But what of the future?

“As we are all aware, local authorities budgets are tight and Cambridgeshire Libraries is currently going through a library service review. We are very fortunate that this is a growing community - still growing - and that we work well as a community hub, a place where residents can come to access information, advice and guidance about a wide range of topics and services. I can only see this library continuing to thrive and possibly expanding in the future: we are trying to get more into the ebook market, providing more electronic resources. That is something which we have been a little bit behind other counties but we are excited to be moving very much forward in that field. We also have self-issue now and you can order and renew books online from home and I think that’s probably the way to go. Also, we are looking to be even more community orientated - to use more volunteers from the community and to encourage more use of the library space by the community - not just the books and resources.

“We have a wonderful community here and they have been very patient and loyal to us in the face of the changes that we are now going through so I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ to them. The library is very much in partnership with the community and we are very proud to be part of Cambourne and to see and be part of its continual growth and development.”

- Originally published in The Cambourne Crier, June 2012

Clayton Hudson, Parish Councillor

Image: Cambourne Town Council

Image: Cambourne Town Council

Clayton Hudson is holding court in Green’s cafe. “I think in the early history of Cambourne everybody wanted to talk a lot but we didn’t actually get a lot done. Maybe that was because we didn’t have the funds or the wealth of experience, but more recently I’ve got fed up of the developers saying ‘We aren’t going to be able to do this or we aren’t going to be able to do that’ - we’ve got the solution, let’s move it forward. Sometimes you just need somebody who is able to be a cheerleader.”

This is obviously very much how Clayton sees himself. Moving to Cambourne in 2000 and becoming a Parish Councillor in 2005 in response to his growing frustration with streetlights not being illuminated, he has been the Council’s chairman on and off since 2008, as well as a District Councillor of the Bourn Ward since February of last year. During that time, he and his fellow councillors have helped to make the Sports Centre a reality, as well as spearheading the BT Infinity Broadband campaign which, he says, is both the greatest success and the greatest disappointment of his time as a Parish Councillor.

“I think that having BT Infinity in Cambourne will be a big sea-change for the village. The fact that everyone will have the ability to have high-speed broadband will be an ongoing legacy. And that’s something which possibly the Parish, District or County councils would never have been able to fix on their own so the big achievement was being able to cheer-lead enough people to go and sign that online petition which then told BT that they needed to go and spend the money. On the other hand, it should have been finished in April or May - if I could pull a few strings to get that delivered now rather than in the next few months I would.”

Is this, then, the role of the Parish Council: to galvanise the community into solving their own problems? There is, according to Clayton, a little more to it than that. “Cambourne Parish Council is really 13 members of the community who’ve stood up to try and represent the requirements of the majority so really it should be trying to do stuff which is in the best interests of the majority of the people of Cambourne. And that includes things like looking after our green spaces; making football pitches available; making meeting places available such as the hub, the cricket pavilion or the sports pavilion; and by giving grants to assist things like the youth partnership or even to a football club for footballs or training tops.”

If this is the case, though, how can members of the community make their voices heard to the members of the Council who seek to represent them? While one can stand for election oneself or attend a Council meeting - a right any member of the community is free to exercise - having your opinions heard may be simpler than you think. “With the expansion of social networking - the use of Facebook, Twitter, or the Cambourne Forum - it’s very easy to contribute in the background. If you’ve got a good idea, even if you want to remain anonymous, you can create yourself a user name, float an idea out there and start a conversation going. There are many members of the Parish Council: myself included, who openly declare who we are on the forum, but there are some who basically want to keep more in the background. But they’re still watching and posting on the forum and I think it’s very much a way in which an individual can contribute, have their say, without necessarily having to attend a meeting.”

“I’m always very interested to know what, if we had a blank piece of paper, people would ask for. I’m always very keen to hear from residents about how they see Cambourne developing - for example the High Street with the shops: what sort of mix of shops would they like to see? I think sometimes politicians (although I don’t really class myself as one) can hear what they want to hear. But I don’t subscribe to that: I really want people to influence how Cambourne develops, so I’m happy to receive emails or tweets from anybody. I’m never going to be able to represent everybody but I want to go where there’s a majority consensus. And I hope that those are the things that we can take forward.”

- originally published in The Cambourne Crier, August 2012

Jenny Mackay, Wildlife Trust

Image: The Wildlife Trust

Image: The Wildlife Trust


While almost every community in Britain can boast a church, a school and a pub, very few can name among their local conveniences the local headquarters of a major wildlife charity. Cambourne has that honour. But the Wildlife’s Trust relationship with the village predates its move here. Jenny Mackay, who has worked for the Trust since 2005, explains.

“The Trust got involved in the planning stage, making sure that any wildlife interest that was in the site before building started wasn’t lost. So we consulted about developments and planning applications and things like that to try and protect the county’s wildlife. I don’t know whose idea it was to get the trust to actually move here but at some stage someone put it forward. And the trust was quite keen at that stage to have a new office because we were in a very tiny, cramped office and so it was a good opportunity for the trust to come and get some new premises and to get involved. We wanted to try to encourage developers to put a lot of green space in and lots of provision for wildlife to show that it could be integrated with the new villages and use it as an example for other developments within the area and across the country.”

Jenny’s involvement with conservation began as a volunteer while at university in York. After returning to Cambridgeshire, she joined up with the Wildlife Trust first by taking part in their training programme and then as an full-time employee. Crier readers will be familiar with Jenny through her monthly Wildlife Review columns, and she believes in the importance of keeping people informed.

“We find that sometimes people have different expectations of how areas should look and be cared for than the way we look after them but once you explain the reasons generally people are quite understanding and appreciative of what you’re trying to do. For example, if we’re going to pollard a tree (a process which involves pruning a tree right back and allowing it to grow back to try and prolong its life and make it a more interesting habitat) I can write about it in the column, or we put up signs to try and get the message out about why we’re doing what we’re doing. If you try and explain people respect that. Whereas if you do something and they don’t understand that’s where the conflict arises.”

Jenny also stresses how the work of the Trust is not just beneficial to the wildlife of Cambourne, but also to its human residents.

“Its our responsibility to manage the wilder green spaces within the site - the country park, the boundary woodland, the meadows and so on: primarily for wildlife. But we maintain them as spaces for people to enjoy as well. So you’ve got all the bridle ways and cycle paths for people to walk or cycle around, and you’ve got the fishing lake which people can fish on, the community orchard which people can visit and spend time in, just enjoying being outside. It’s a great resource for schools to go out and use: teaching the children about the outdoors and the environment. We get a lot of comments that residents really appreciate having so much green space here and it makes a big difference, especially with houses having such small garden, to be able to get out into the countryside fairly quickly from their front doors. It’s something people really appreciate and enjoy. And, unlike a garden, you don’t have to look after it yourself - we do that for you!”

So, when you’re out in those wide open spaces, is there anything you should be on the lookout for?

“We get fantastic numbers of Dragonflies in the summer which have been attracted by all the water bodies that have been put in as part of the development - they weren’t here before. Out in the meadows there are lots of butterflies who you’ll still be able to see even into September. And around Crow Hill, we have a lot of ground nesting birds, such as skylarks, corn buntings and meadow pipits. Some of these are seriously declining in the UK and across Europe, but we’ve got quite good numbers of breeding birds. We do lots of monitoring of those across the summer. This year they’ve had it a bit tough with the wet and cold and we’ve noticed that breeding success has declined quite a lot which is why we put those signs up at the beginning to the breeding season asking people to keep their dogs under control and out of the breeding areas.”

So next time the wet and cold is getting you down, spare a thought for the poor old corn buntings. And why not go for a walk up on Crow Hill to cheer yourself up?

- Originally published in The Cambourne Crier, September 2012

David Jackson, Police Community Support Officer

Image: CopperConcept

Image: CopperConcept


“I’m pleased to say that as far as we know from reported statistics, the crime rate in Cambourne is very low,” says PCSO David Jackson. “But that’s not an invitation for somebody to go out burgling!”

For the residents of Cambourne, this is obviously good news - especially as those who have lived in the villages for a long time may remember when the picture was not so rosy.

“I am aware that perhaps ten years ago, when the very first families started moving in there were some problems. There were some burglaries and there was a fair bit of damage. However, my fellow officers have dealt with the people responsible for that and they’re now either in prison or they’ve been moved elsewhere.

One key to this, David says, is making sure avenues of communication between the service and the community are always open. And it is in this area that PCSOs can be particularly important.

“A Police Community Support Officer is here, as the name says, to support the community, make links within the community, and to be both the visual contact and a conduit up to the police officers should action need to be taken. So we try and be by the schools either at dropping off time in the mornings, or collection time in the evenings so, again, that’s an opportunity for people to see us. We also do Cuppa with a Copper - which is an engagement morning - an opportunity for people to come along and have a general chat about how they feel they feel about their own particular surroundings. Perhaps they feel unsafe, in which case we can perhaps give crime prevention advice. Or maybe they’ve seen people or vehicles in a particular place that they’re not too happy about and once we’ve got that information we can go and investigate a little bit further.”

Indeed, talking to David it is clear that engaging with people’s problems and seeking to find a solution is what attracted him to the force in the first place. Before becoming a PCSO eight years ago, he worked in retail and it was his experience there which inspired the move.

“In the shopping environment you’re always trying to give advice and resolve problems and it struck me that I could transfer those skills into the policing world where, although there is the added responsibility to enforce the law, at the same time you’re still giving the support and reassurance to people by your presence and finding opportunities to talk to, and engage with, them.”

“Cambourne is growing and will keep growing for some time and no doubt that will bring us some different problems. But, hopefully, by talking to the people who live here and in trying to resolve those problems in a pragmatic way, or offer some sort of solution, we can stop it at its early stages before it snowballs. I think, if nothing else, it would be great if that message could come through: we’ve always got time to discuss your issue and if we can’t deal with it then, we can make an appointment to come and see you later. Don’t be put off - we might be out there on patrol but please stop and have a chat.”

- Originally published in The Cambourne Crier, November 2012