I was approached by Karen Thomas and Andrew Nairne about carrying out a community photography project in the North Cambridge area in December 2013.
Having spent almost a year now in the North Cambridge area (comprising Arbury, Kings Hedges and East Chesterton) the place is completely unrecognizable from the first impression I got and had anticipated from reading newspaper articles and blogs about it. From my East London studio, I had researched the history of the area before starting and from searches, I was anticipating a gritty, unfriendly and crime ridden estate. What I have found has been quite the opposite.
I’ve spent time with both young people and the elderly and met many amazing people who work hard to ensure that the area is a dynamic and pleasant place to live and work in.
When I first arrived in Arbury, my overwhelming impression was how green the area is; there’s a great sense of light and open space as well as many different trees – I saw my first Walnut Tree. Secondly I was struck by just how much there was to do and how many community centres there are. Trying to book in some time with anyone over 60 proved difficult. I was competing with lunch clubs, tea clubs, outings, etc.
I come from an area that has a long history of community and it’s well documented. My work often focuses on this community as it is now and what brings people together. I have never questioned how or why that sense of community was established. What has been absolutely fascinating in North Cambridge is seeing quite obviously how a new community was formed, the human needs and the people that have driven that development and made the area what it is today.
Community can’t be imposed, planners can’t force it, it’s something that develops and it’s something that is driven by the needs of the people and in particular dedicated individuals willing to try to make a difference and willing to give their time to this end. My work therefore in the area has focused on key people that I’ve been introduced to who have played a particularly constructive role in changing the area for the benefit of others.
The building of the Arbury Estate began in 1957 and now covers an area of around 100 acres. Prior to this the land had been open farmland. The estate was built with a couple of shops but little to no facilities for recreation or for meeting others.
It has taken the will and drive of certain individuals to come together in order to establish community centres and facilities that today are well used and loved.
The estate had been planned on paper with open spaces for recreation, cul-de-sacs to discourage cut through traffic and promote pedestrian access, but with no public consultation in planning at the time, as soon as people moved in, it became evident that there was a lack of community facilities.
It was not until 1969 with the publication of what was called the Skeffington Report: People and Planning (1) that Town Planners began consulting the public with planning matters.
In North Cambridge, the needs of the community quickly became apparent and these then helped to determine the characteristics of the area – many young mothers moved to the area and needed play facilities for their children, they sought each other out, set up groups like the ‘Grovebury Ladies’ and formed campaigns to provide a playground; the desire for more trees to be planted was another issue that soon raised its head and was pursued relentlessly by members of the community; an annual carnival was developed and still brings people together year on year; the church has played a central role in the development of the area and its infrastructure with them backing and sometimes driving local campaigns; the need for community meeting places was identified very early on in the areas’ development and a campaign was mounted to build a community centre. These factors were not planned for, they have been developed from a need and a desire for people to come together, to meet, to socialize and to live in a pleasant environment.
This exhibition will be a small recognition of the people who have helped shaped an area which most have described to me as a lovely place to live.
Part of the exhibition also includes work done with one of the groups that meets at Meadows Community Centre. The North Cambridge Girls group is a weekly group for teenagers, run by Amy Chapman, Youth Worker for North Cambridge. Their photos explore their own relationship with the area and contrast with the experience of the older generations.
(1) A. Skeffington (1969) People and Planning. Report of the Committee on Public Participation in Planning (‘Skeffington Report’). HMSO, London
I come from a place is on display at Kettle’s Yard until 26 October.