It was a far cry from the tiny flat she had left behind in Finsbury Park, where the view from her window was dominated by tower blocks. Carol had been drawn to the bright lights of London when she was 17 and had spent most of her adult life there, working as a social worker by day and hobnobbing with musicians like Elvis Costello by night. In fact, the famous singer even penned one of his ballads in the back of her 2CV! But after 20 years of fast living, she wanted to see what it was like to settle down somewhere other than London. She had moved around a lot when she was a child, following her RAF father from one posting to the next. For Carol, Trumpington seemed like the perfect spot to lay down some roots – even though, as she discovered after she moved in, some of her neighbours had their fair share of social issues to contend with, from drug abuse to domestic violence.
“It looked like a little rural idyll,” says Carol. “It was so delightful. It had such a lovely big garden. And it was close to the city centre and the countryside. So all of those things appealed to me.”
“Although it never was a rural idyll,” she admits. “It was a suburb of Cambridge. And it was one of the more deprived areas of Cambridge, as I discovered. The neighbours were a bit mixed, but having been a social worker and moved from opposite a huge tower block in London, that just didn’t faze me. Some of my neighbours were lovely. We all used to do our best to support each other and support the kids when the parents were going off on one.”
It looked like a rural idyll...
More than three decades later, Carol is still living in Trumpington – albeit in a bigger house around the corner, in a quiet cul de sac just off Scotsdowne Road that used to be the site of the dairy at Manor Farm. Walking into the airy and tranquil 1960s home she shares with her therapist husband Jimmy and cat Percy, it’s hard to imagine that this oasis of calm was once filled with lodgers and teenagers and the general chaos of family life. Jimmy now runs his therapy practice from a tastefully converted garage space – where he specialises in anger management.
Sitting in the secluded garden surrounded by birdsong, bamboo, potted plants, feathery acer trees and statuettes of sleeping frogs and other exotic creatures, it’s clear that Carol isn’t fazed by anything much in life. Reclining in the pebbled corner she and Jimmy call “the beach” (in a nod towards Jimmy’s Brighton background), she exudes an air of contentment, although she’s nursing a cough that’s the only outward sign of a recent bout of ill health.
Still looking trendy at the age of 62 with cropped blonde hair, an infectious smile and brightly coloured leggings, since she moved from London she has raised a son, got married to Jimmy (who moved from London to be with her), had a successful career in the social sector, paid off her mortgage and is now semi-retired – working just a few days a week at Addenbrooke’s as a Development Manager for Macmillan Cancer Support. And although she freely admits that her heart is still very much in London, she has no intention of leaving Trumpington.
“I’m a Londoner who lives in Cambridge,” she says. “Always will be. I miss London and I love it and I go back a lot. I have friends and family there and I still visit a couple of times a month.”
In spite of the strong pull towards the Big Smoke, Trumpington has been a fantastically convenient place for Carol to live and to bring up her son Tom (who’s now 23 and living in Waterbeach). And while some people might be fazed by the changes going on in Trumpington as 4,300 houses are being built on the new Great Kneighton and Trumpington Meadows developments, Carol is embracing the new opportunities – and the new neighbours – that the houses will bring with them.
“I’ve enjoyed living in Trumpington because of all the practicalities around ease of access – to the town, to the countryside, to London, to schools,” she says. “As a place to live, this has everything. And when you’ve lived somewhere and brought up a child, you do build up friendships and networks and we’ve done that. I’ve always been a neighbourly person so I’ve always made a point of getting to know my neighbours.”
“One of the things that Jimmy likes about living here, and I agree, is that you see the same faces. If you go out to Waitrose or go down to the garage to get a pint of milk, or you go into town, you see the same people. And you might never have talked to them, but it gives you a sense of belonging because there’s that sense of stability and history in the people around you.”
It’s giving us far more in terms of community facilities...
“But I don’t think Trumpington until now has had a very strong sense of community identity,” she says. “I think there are some people who have had that sense for themselves because they’ve been members of the residents’ association or the history group or the WI or the church. Those have been the main groups.”
As an illustration, she cites recent attempts to move her 91-year-old widowed father from Ipswich to a flat in the Crossways development for pensioners opposite the shops on Trumpington’s Anstey Way, which has now been converted into luxury flats.
“Trying to find things he could join in with was very difficult,” says Carol. “He’s an RAF officer and that’s his identity still. For him, Cambridge was dominated by academics and lawyers in the Mason’s groups that he belongs to. They were closed to him because he’s not an academic or a lawyer. The British Legion isn’t active around here. And he’s not a bingo person. Basically he felt he didn’t fit here and he moved back to his bungalow near Ipswich. And that for me just emphasised that Trumpington has its pocket of community but actually it’s not a place that’s easy to find your place in.”
Although Carol has lived in Trumpington for 25 years, she has never quite felt the sense of cohesive community spirit that she’s seen in neighbouring villages. And perhaps it’s fair to say that she’s never quite found a place where she feels entirely at home.
“I’ve always looked slightly enviously and probably rather romantically at Great Shelford, which has a much better sense of community in the kinds of shopping facilities available – and things like the am dram groups and singing groups and a wider range of social activities like the annual Big Feast, which Trumpington has never had,” she says.
And this is one of the reasons why Carol is so enthusiastic about the new housing developments going on around in Trumpington.
“While a lot of people are going to commute and not be part of the community, it’s giving us far more in terms of community facilities,” she says. “It will be much more of a tipping point in terms of size of the population and how we’re viewed when it comes to funding things. I think we’ll get a much bigger sense of community identity and community groups growing up out of that, as well as community activities. And I think we’re getting a greater sense of diversity.”
“You see far more South Asian people around in Waitrose than you ever used to!” she says. “You don’t see people of African or Caribbean origin around here very much. It will give us a much broader demographic mix altogether in terms of ages and people – and that for me can only be a good thing.”
I think we’re going to have far more access to wildlife space in the developments than we ever had...
Far from lamenting the loss of green belt land that she used to walk across to get to work two decades ago, Carol sees it as a positive that some of these fields will now be dedicated parkland for all residents to enjoy.
“I think we’re going to have far more access to that kind of wildlife space in the developments than we ever had because the fields were farmers’ fields and they had crops on!” she says. “You could cycle past the acres of rape [seed] and you’d start wheezing if you had asthma. But access was very restricted to that countryside. You could see it but you couldn’t do anything on it or with it or access any real wildlife experiences. Whereas now we’re actually going to have land that we’re entitled to use managed by the Wildlife Trust over on Trumpington Meadows that we can all get involved with. I think what we’re getting will have a much bigger appeal to a wider range of people. It will be fantastic!”
The only downside Carol foresees is the increasing pressure on Trumpington’s roads – although she herself prefers to use her bike and loves the new cycle path along the guided busway that takes her straight down to the station in less than 20 minutes.
“Traffic is a major issue,” she admits. “The idealistic view is that everyone has one parking space and they’re all supposed to use their bicycles and the Park and Ride. I agree with it in principle, but we’ve got a long way to go in re-educating people about how they get around. And we’ve got to have better public transport, quite frankly, if we want people to leave their cars at home.”
Another concern Carol has is the need for more shopping facilities to cater for Trumpington’s growing population.
“Waitrose can’t cope,” she says. “We’ve got to have more food shopping available.”
This problem may be addressed in part by the shopping facilities in the new community square that’s being built behind Foster Road. Although nobody quite knows yet what shops will be moving in there.
“I’m looking forward to having a square that has a sense of a community centre,” says Carol. “Having more community facilities, particularly a medical centre as I get older. And hopefully more expanded and diverse social opportunities that come with the new development.”
“I would love to see a community café [in the square],” she says. “I hope it’s not going to be completely taken over by chain restaurants, though we probably need one or two of those for the teenagers. And we need to somehow make sure it doesn’t become a no go area because teenagers use it. You need to have a little place where teenagers go that allows the rest of the space to be less scary for other people.”
With her social worker’s hat on, Carol also worries about catering for the more vulnerable members of the community as the area expands – particularly the older generation. And she will get more involved as a volunteer in this area, she says, as she finally retires for good in the next few years.
“I think the cross-generational thing is something we need to pay attention to and not do everything for children and families or teenagers, important though they are,” she says. “I think my particular interest and emphasis will be on older people, bringing the old and new community together. I guess most of the new community will be younger, but they will age. So they’ll need something as they age.”
“Crossways did give us a focus for the older generation,” she says. “They were a visible presence as a group. We still have the annual outing to Hunstanton and things like that. But I think it’s actually about setting up some schemes so we have more organised visiting of older people and fetching people to get involved in things – helping people to attend events.”
“I think the stuff Philippa Slatter is doing around events as part of the Trumpington Residents Association is great,” she says. “I think that group needs to think about how to include people who are socially excluded. And we need some sheltered flats. We haven’t got anything now Crossways has gone.”
As Carol herself approaches retirement, it’s clear that she won’t be spending too much time sitting around admiring the tranquillity of her garden. She plans to get out there and join local groups and get more involved in local politics, things she has never had time to do as a busy working parent.
“I never wanted to sit in the garden,” she says. “I always wanted to get involved in other things. I love doing all sorts of craft things so I’ve been going to lots of different groups and learning new skills. Basically with lots of people sitting around and nattering and making things. I’m a very sociable person.”
“I can now get a bit more involved in local politics, which I haven’t had time to do until now. I’ve resisted getting involved in the residents association because I’ve had so many years of my working life going along to meetings with long agendas and detailed minutes. But I am interested in being involved in other ways.”
Carol used to help out with the soft play group at the Trumpington Pavilion for a while. And she goes along to Trumpington Stitchers, a local sewing group, when she’s not singing in a local choir on Mondays. She shows me an upstairs room in her house overlooking the garden that she calls her craft room. In this zen-like room that was once her son’s bedroom, she gets to try out new craft skills while her husband Jimmy rediscovers the graphic design skills he left behind when he followed Carol up to Cambridge after she fell pregnant. And it’s clear that they’re both looking forward to the prospect of settling into retired life together in Trumpington – and perhaps to finally finding a place they’re happy to call home.
“We both feel very settled here now,” she says. “Although Jimmy has many friends and colleagues through his professional networks, he’s more introverted and I’m more extrovert. The new facilities, services and opportunities for local activities will be great for both of us as we grow older here. I might join groups and Jimmy might just enjoy walks in the park and a coffee in the square. We’ll both enjoy the new community in our different ways.”