“Here is the clock, the Trumpton clock. Telling the time steadily, sensibly, never too quickly, never too slowly. Telling the time for Trumpton.”
The clock tower would chime nine o’clock – the sign for the townsfolk of Trumpton to go about their daily business: Mr Clamp showing off his fine display of vegetables, and Mrs Cobbit arriving with her freshly cut flowers. Then the day’s events would unfold sleepily with the arrival perhaps of the carpenter Chippy Minton in his truck, or Policeman Potter.
Trumpton had a grand town hall with just two employees (a mayor and a town clerk), lots of small independent shops and a fine market square in the middle of which stood a statue of Queen Victoria. The town also boasted a picturesque park with an old-fashioned bandstand. It was in this bandstand that the Trumpton fire brigade (remember: Pugh, Pugh, Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble & Grub?) would play us out at the end of each episode, while the good folk of Trumpton looked on.
If I was looking for this sleepy vision of small town life, I certainly didn’t find it in Trumpington when I moved here in 2005. By the time I arrived, most of the small village shops on Anstey Way had long closed down after Waitrose moved in. The cows that used to cross Trumpington High Street twice a day to be milked were also long gone. The only outward signs of village life were a few stray thatched cottages dotted along the busy high street among the petrol stations (there used to be two) and the few remaining local shops. The new community square planned for Trumpington was just a twinkle in the town planners’ eyes.
Until my daughter started going to the local nursery at Fawcett Primary School, I found it hard to break into the social fabric of Trumpington. We lived right at the end of Bishops Road – the very southern tip of Cambridge – overlooking fields and not much else. Behind our garden fence was an overgrown pathway that nobody ever used. We were buffeted by the same wind flurries that today blast the new houses of the Novo development on Glebe Farm. I can distinctly remember, at one of my daughter’s earliest birthday parties, her cake being showered by dust and hay blown in by wind eddies as a combine harvester lumbered noisily around the fields behind our back fence.
Perhaps it was because I had other things going on in my life that I didn’t have much time to integrate into the local community. One year after moving to Trumpington, my husband died of cancer. I was left to raise our one-year-old daughter Jenna alone and was so busy making ends meet and trying to be a good Mum that I didn’t really have much time to stop and chat with my neighbours, let alone get involved with community life.
I did consider moving away to be closer to my family up North (it was my husband’s job that originally brought us to Cambridge). But there were many things that persuaded me to stay in Trumpington – including the fantastically convenient location that so many of our interviewees have mentioned. I could be on the M11 in minutes; I could jump on the Park & Ride bus into Cambridge; I could catch the train to London in no time at all; and I could cycle out into the fields of Grantchester and imagine, as I picknicked by the banks of the River Cam, that I actually lived in the countryside. I figured Cambridge was a good place to bring up my daughter. Like many people, we started out looking for houses in the centre of Cambridge, but soon realised we could get far more for our money if we lived on the edge of the city. Trumpington offered a convenient (and at that time relatively affordable!) place for us to put down some roots. It proved to be a good choice.
Once my daughter started nursery, everything started to fall into place. Slowly, we got to know local parents and their kids and we began to feel more integrated into the Trumpington way of life. We went along to the school fete in the summer and the Christmas fair and carol concert in the winter. We went along to children’s parties at the Pavilion and the village hall. Slowly but surely we started to recognise faces in the local park and in the aisles of Waitrose. We even started going camping every summer in the Shelford campsite with parents from school. After leading a relatively nomadic existence for most of my adult years, it felt reassuring to know that there was a community of people around me and Jenna who might notice if we didn’t turn up at the school gates one morning. I even had the kind of friends who would bring soup round if I was ever too ill to make it down the road to Waitrose.
As estate agent Sam Cooke so rightly pointed out when I interviewed him for this magazine, you don’t really understand a community until you have actually lived there. When I first arrived in Trumpington 11 years ago, it did feel like a bit of an outpost on the edge of Cambridge. I didn’t necessarily intend to stay so long. But I soon realised Trumpington had its own history, its own identity, its own colourful characters and a strong sense of community in the ribbon of seemingly unconnected houses that I grew to appreciate and call home.
Then the developers arrived, bringing with them lots more dust to blow into our gardens and quite a lot of noise too – as well as hundreds of new people. The sound of reversing dumper trucks and the sight of hard hats and cranes has formed the backdrop for Jenna’s primary school years (so much so that she recently penned a poem called ‘Urban Countryside’ with one of her school friends. It talked of “builders’ hats strewn like autumn leaves across the gravel” and “cranes craning their necks like giraffes over a savannah of cement”. And no wonder. The fields that Jenna could once see from her bedroom window now have 286 houses on them.
Of course having one of the biggest housing developments in the region pop up on your back doorstep is probably not everyone’s perfect scenario. But in fact the new houses have brought with them many unexpected positives too.
First and foremost, our row of houses on Bishops Road is no longer the last outpost on the southern tip of Cambridge – buffeted by the wind and exposed to the elements. That baton has been handed over to the newer residents of the Novo estate (sorry!). Although admittedly we were sad to see the fields being built on, we are pleased that we now have two new country parks to explore. Jenna can play happily with her new friends in some of the new parks that are springing up alongside the new developments. And while there are undoubtedly more people to contend with on the roads and among the vegetable aisles of Waitrose, some of these people are actually really nice! In fact, I would now count some of my newest neighbours as friends…
Through the normal course of daily life and thanks to the Habitorials project, over the the last three years I have met some amazingly interesting people who have moved here from all over the country and all over the world. People who work at Addenbrooke’s, people who have moved here from Cheshire to work at AstraZeneca, Japanese translators, people from Iceland, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Germany, Holland… It’s almost as if the world has come to Trumpington while we didn’t have to move an inch. And, to coin a phrase used by our interviewees, David Plank and Jen Runham, we still have the best of all worlds. We have Cambridge, London and the countryside on our doorsteps. And where once the vibe used to be suburban, now the community has a more cosmopolitan and urban appeal, which suits me just fine.
But it wasn’t until I stood in a hard hat on the unfinished balcony of Trumpington’s soon-to-open new secondary school that I actually truly accepted the idea that this new area is my community too – warts and cranes and all.
Looking out over the building site in one direction where the four-storey community centre is being built and over the primary school where my daughter has been so well nurtured for the past eight years, for the first time I felt truly excited about the possibilities that these changes have brought with them – rather than afraid of the unknowns that lie ahead. I felt excited that my daughter, now 11, will have the opportunity to walk to her local secondary school and grow up alongside this growing community, rather than having to catch a bus to a community that is not ours. For the first time, I felt really excited (rather than daunted) at the prospect of meeting all the new people who are making Trumpington into their new community too. I even had the crazy vision of sharing a cocktail or two on the school balcony with new neighbours and old, watching the sun set over the emerging urban jumble…
Because at the end of day this community is what we make of it. It is more than just the buildings and the streets and the parks and the shops. It is about the people and how we choose to engage with each other and live alongside each other. Trumpington’s new community square may never be like the “fine market square” of Trumpton with its mayor and its statue of Queen Victoria and its independent village shops – although rumour has it that there will be a town clock on the front of new community centre! Perhaps I wouldn’t want to live somewhere like Trumpton – if somewhere like that ever really existed. But all the ingredients are there to turn Trumpington into a really great place to live.
Part of me wanted to end on this upbeat note, having tied up some of the loose ends of the journey I have been on over the last few years. But I don’t think I can leave you without naming the elephant that is lurking in the room – or perhaps on our new town square…
I remember asking an estate agent some years ago whether the building work would have an impact on house prices in Trumpington. I was worried that a flood of new houses might push prices down and perhaps make Trumpington a less desirable place to live. In fact, the exact opposite has been the case. House prices have skyrocketed more than 21% in the past 12 months alone.
Undoubtedly, the changing demographics of Trumpington reflect these rising prices, in spite of the 40% ‘affordable’ housing stock that has given families like the Wallaces the chance to make a fresh start. The subtle changes are noticeable in the expensive cars turning into the Waitrose car park and the scrubbed up pub and new estate agent on the High Street.
Of course, price rises sound like a good thing for existing homeowners, if we were thinking about selling up and moving somewhere else (up north or out into the countryside). But for people on modest incomes who want to move to Trumpington – like the Rayners, for example – even the smallest houses in Trumpington on shared ownership schemes are beyond their wildest dreams. There is no way I could afford to move to Trumpington on my single income if I hadn’t got onto the housing ladder ten years ago.
And this is one of the things that now worries me. Will Trumpington become an enclave for people earning six-figure salaries? Will the former council estate around Foster Road become gentrified as right-to-buy tenants capitalise on sky-high house prices and buy villas in Spain? Will pensioners and first-time buyers be driven out of the area by a lack of affordable housing?
I don’t claim to have the answers or a solution to this conundrum that is plaguing more and more cities across the UK. What I do know, though, is that we have to talk about difficult issues like these while trying to make Trumpington into a desirable place to live – hopefully a place where everyone (even the elephant) will eventually feel at home.