There were more builders than neighbours on the estate when Georgie and David first started unpacking their boxes. But it was exciting seeing all the building work going on around them. And they loved the sense of community spirit among the new residents.
“When we first moved in everyone over the road came out and introduced themselves and said hello,” says Georgie. “Within a couple of weeks, we got an invitation to drinks and nibbles. And we went to a BBQ across the way.”
“Everyone’s friendly, even people you don’t know,” adds David. “Everyone’s on the same page.
Moving somewhere new, it’s the perfect chance to start from scratch. Everyone’s on the same level. It’s not like moving into an area where people have been living there for 10, 20, 30 years and you feel like the newbie. Everyone’s a newbie here so everyone makes an effort. Even the builders stop and chat. I cycle to work every day and I say hello four times before I even reach the roundabout. We wanted somewhere with some kind of community spirit.”
Their new flat couldn’t be more convenient for David, who works a few minutes’ bike ride away at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. But it wasn’t just the convenience factor that most impressed him.
“When we were looking for somewhere to live, we didn’t look here because we had a fear that it would be like every other new development we’d seen,” he says. “We thought it would be horrific, not somewhere we’d be interested in. It wasn’t on the top of our list. But as we found out more about this, we saw it had potential – to create something new, incorporating old values.”
“It’s really amazing,” he says. “This road is turning into that exact blueprint, with balconies, people saying hello, walking down cobbled streets...”
“I’ve lived in places before where every.one was shut down and no one spoke to anyone,” he adds. “It was horrible. There were communal gardens but they weren’t used. You’d go out there and there were curtains twitching… But even though we’re quite on top of each other here, it kind of works…”
When we first met Georgie, David and Felix, six months after they had moved in, their flat already had the cosy feel of somewhere well loved and homely. They had just bought an old-fashioned wooden fireplace on Gumtree and they were planning to get a fake fire too. The vinyl flooring looks almost like natural wood under cosy rugs. The open plan kitchenette living room is the perfect space for watching over a fast-growing toddler. The two double bedrooms are both a good size. There’s a balcony overlooking the street (and their neighbour’s living room). In the summer, Georgie took a paddling pool out onto the balcony for Felix to splash around in. And there’s a small study room plastered with posters that doubles up as a hub for the couple’s main passion – organising gigs (Georgie is the lead singer in an all-girl punk band called Beverley Kills and David has been putting on concerts in and around Cambridge for as long as he can remember.) The couple’s only gripe is that the bathroom doesn’t have a window. And the stairs…
“I’d prefer a house with a garden,” admits Georgie. “It is difficult, specially when you’ve got a little ’un and you’re on the first floor and you’ve got the stairs to contend with. I know it sounds silly but it’s quite a struggle, when you’ve got a child, a buggy and bags of shopping to carry every day.”
But stairs aside, David and Georgie already feel totally at home in their new surroundings.
The old English way is: I want my garden, I want my castle, I want my car…
“Coming here it definitely feels like home,” says David, who grew up in Chesterton, on the other side of Cambridge. “It feels like a proper place to live. Before we moved in, when I saw the pictures, I thought this is my dream. There’s going to be a country park and a plaza with a community centre. It’s amazing. There’s a huge potential for putting on concerts – and I’d like to be involved because organising concerts is what I do.”
“People who hear about it but don’t see it have preconceptions. But this seems to be well planned,” says David, who is at pains to point out that both he and Georgie are working and don’t receive any government money. Georgie works as an administrator for the Medical Research Council while David works as a facility manager for Cancer Research UK at Addenbrooke’s.
They pay a market rent of £150 per week for their flat, which is a little more expensive than the social housing that is also dotted throughout the estate alongside the affordable housing stock and the private houses.
“In Cambourne they had a social problem,” says David. “They almost split the town between those who bought and people who lived in social or affordable housing. Here they’re trying to do it the right way. Here they’ve tried to mix everyone together.”
“We’re not against people in social housing,” he says.” There are good and bad people. We just want everyone to get on. Life is difficult enough without making your homeland uncomfortable.”
So did the couple feel any antagonism from the existing residents of Trumpington when they moved in?
“It never even crossed my mind moving here that would be the case,” says Georgie, who admits that she hasn’t mixed much with Trumpington residents beyond Great Kneighton so far.
“We’ve walked along the High Street, to Waitrose, Grantchester,” adds David. “We’ve never felt anything. There are two sides – and this has created so much essential housing. Housing has to be built somewhere. But you see some people who’ve lived along Shelford Road for years who used to have a view towards Addenbrooke’s chimneys. Now they’ve got a view of flats right against their gardens. It’s a huge shock for people. No one wants that kind of change on their doorstep.”
David believes the fact that the new houses and flats of Great Kneighton are rising upwards rather than sprawling outwards mitigates some of the impact of building on former green belt land.
“Going up is frowned on in Cambridge,” he says. “I’ve lived in London and I’ve visited some places in Denmark where there’s social housing that goes up high. I think it works. There’s more space for greenery.”
“The old English way is: I want my garden, I want my castle, I want my car,” he adds. “We’re an island. We can only do that for so long before we run out of space.”
David and Georgie only disagree on one thing when it comes to Great Kneighton. While he likes the look and feel of the new houses, Georgie isn’t so keen.
“Some of the buildings are very blocky,” she says. “There are lots of straight lines and it’s not very aesthetically pleasing. But at least they’ve started putting trees in now.”
In spite of their artistic differences, David and Georgie both agree that they feel like Trumpington residents after just six months of living here. They’re looking forward to visiting the new country park, when it opens. And they’re already enjoying exploring their new neighbourhood.
“There are places we never knew existed because previously we’d just pass in a car,” says David. “You’d just see the façade of everywhere. I had no idea the allotments were there. It was a shock when we walked through there for the first time. We couldn’t believe there were lots of hens and chickens! And the guided busway is a huge deal – it’s like an artery.”
During the summer they walk up and down the path that runs alongside the busway into Cambridge and the railway station.
“It’s really nice,” says Georgie. “I mean, when we first moved here, it’s one of the first walks I took my parents on. I was like, come and check out the guided busway! It’s amazing. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
David is a little more circumspect, especially since he broke his pelvis a few years ago after being knocked off his bike. He’s alert to the dangers of the guided buses speeding through the neighbourhood at up to 55mph without any fencing as it whizzes past cyclists and pedestrians using the path beside it. (Already there has been one serious collision between a cyclist and a bus.)
We wanted somewhere with some kind of community spirit
“First of all, there should be a fence down the side of it because it’s dangerous,” says David. “If you come off your bike and go over that kerb, you’re not going home for Christmas. I’ve seen cyclists swerve in and out of it. The closer you get to Hills Road, the scarier it gets. You feel the rush when it comes past at high speed.”
The couple appreciate the fields and mini-lakes alongside the busway – even though they’re aware that some of these fields are living on borrowed time as more and more of the former farming land is flattened to make way for the community square, a new secondary school and the rest of the 2,300 homes.
Both Georgie and David’s impressions of Trumpington have now changed completely – from a place that they just used to pass through to a place they are definitely happy to call home.
“Years ago, Trumpington estate had the connotation that it was a rough place to go,” says David. “I was a huge BMX cyclist all around town and you wouldn’t go into the park in Trumpington because it was too rough. But now there are some beautiful houses. I wouldn’t mind living there.”
“I think Trumpington is such a strange design,” he adds. “The high street is so super busy. It’s a main road, so it’s not a place people want to hang out. But if you go beyond Waitrose towards Grantchester, that’s really nice around there. That’s one of our favourite walks in the summer.”
“On that farmland that goes down to Grantchester Meadows, when the sun sets it looks like the most amazing place to live,” he says. “It makes us feel quite lucky.”
The only thing that’s missing, they say, is a row of decent shops, which they hope will come when the new community square is built.
“It would be nice to have an independent shop, a bakery, a delicatessen – with fresh bread delivered,” says David. “Where we used to live, the shopkeeper at the corner shop used to put four bread rolls aside for me if I was a bit late on a Saturday morning. It’s little things like that that make a difference – they’re nothing but they’re everything. And they really make your day.”
In time, David would love to see the community square for Trumpington become as vibrant as Cambridge’s Market Square – giving residents somewhere to hang out that’s not just a thoroughfare.
“In Cambridge city centre, in spite of all the amazing architecture and the university, still the most amazing place to go is the market place,” he says. “Walk around the market place on a Sunday and people are talking to each other and saying ‘hello’, ‘how are you doing’. You’re discussing things, you’re laughing at things…”
“A market place would be incredible,” he says. “As a community, you can support these things.”
Georgie dreams of a thriving community hub a bit like the centre of Fulbourn, where she grew up.
“Fulbourn’s got the most incredible village centre that’s got something for everyone – from toddlers to kids who want to skate to people who just want to hang round and watch football on a Sunday afternoon and drink a few beers. They’ve got everything.”
But for now David and Georgie are content with building the community on their own doorstep – biding their time for the rest of the building work to be completed. And spending more time getting to know their neighbours.
“When the building has calmed down in this vicinity, I think there’ll definitely be a street party,” says David. “We used to live in an old street in the middle of Cambridge and they used to have street parties there. I think next summer we could well have a street party down here. I can see that happening.”