Trumpington Road is more important than Trumpington, as it has Waitrose on one end and all the private schools on the other…
Both in their early thirties, Jens and Wencke have a kind of pioneering spirit that’s admirable. They were the very first people to move into the state-of-the-art Great Kneighton development in Trumpington back in March 2013. On moving day, their house was still surrounded by diggers and piles of bricks. There was nobody else there apart from the builders and the sales team at the Countryside Properties marketing suite.
Over the next decade, 2,300 new homes – from one-bedroom apartments to five-bedroom detached luxury homes and penthouse flats – are due to spring up in the fields around the Kirschners’ new town.house. Along with the new houses on the southern fringes of Cambridge will come new schools, a community square with new shops, a library and doctors’ surgery, as well as a 120-acre country park. Across Great Kneighton, houses are selling for as much as £2 million. And they are being snapped up faster than they can be built.
And yet the Kirschners – who moved to Cambridge from their native Germany in 2007 – didn’t really intend to move to Trumpington at all. In fact, Great Kneighton’s very first residents bought their dream home almost by accident after they came on a shopping trip to Trumpington’s Waitrose at the beginning of 2013. Instead of groceries, they ended up buying a new house. Jens takes up the story:
“Originally, we simply went to Waitrose for shopping and driving past we saw the signs for Trumpington Meadows,” he says, with characteristically Prussian precision. “We were perfectly happy liv.ing in the house we were living in and had no intention to actually sell that place. But I said to Wencke I’d really like to have a look at those show homes because they do build some rather fancy things around here. So we went to Trumpington Meadows and it was a no...”
“Then we decided to have a look at the other houses in the Great Kneighton development,” he says. “We looked at the show home next to this house and really liked it. It was identical to this house but at a price we knew we couldn’t afford. So we thought, ‘nice place, but forget it’.”
Undaunted, as soon as the Kirschners got home from their shopping trip to their home on the north side of Cambridge, Jens got on the phone to his bank. And to cut a long story short, they ended up part exchanging their home in Orchard Park for a newer model on the south side of town when the developers agreed to drop the price. Jens and Wencke became Trumpington residents just a few months later.
It was the proximity to Addenbrooke’s Hospital that appealed to the husband-and-wife team, with their matching pinstriped shirts, cufflinks and silver-framed Prada glasses. Wencke, who works as a Business and Performance Advisor at Addenbrooke’s, was finding the one-hour commute across town from Orchard Park on the new guided busway tiresome. Now she can walk or cycle to work in less than 20 minutes. In fact, she can more or less see the hospital from their new top bedroom, which Jens has turned into his study.
Jens works as a forensic IT specialist – and has just a short commute from the master bedroom up to the top of the house each day, to a study without a chair and an old-fashioned dial-up telephone. Lined with carefully labelled files, the study also happens to hold one of the most impressively complex Lego model collections this side of Legoland – including a 12,000 piece shopping street complete with pet shop, an orange 1962 VW campervan and a rescue helicopter with working blades and a winch.
So what was it like moving into a new development when nobody else was living there? Do the Kirschners regard themselves as modern-day pioneers, especially since they were also the first people to move into their brand new home in Orchard Park five years earlier after another one of their Sunday afternoon strolls!
“Being the first to move into a house when someone else built it isn’t pioneering,” replies Jens, without hesitation. But the couple did rapidly become trailblazers of sorts in their community as neighbours started to move in around them.
As the moving vans arrived and the diggers retreated, Jens and Wencke put flyers through their new neighbours’ doors inviting people into their home. They didn’t discriminate between people in the apartment blocks and the five-bedroom luxury homes and those in the 40% of ‘affordable housing’ that is dotted throughout the development. Everyone was welcome. In the end, more than 40 people turned up to the first open house coffee morning. It was a kind of extended offering of the neighbourly cup of milk or sugar. And it was the first of many events designed to bring the new community of Great Kneighton residents together.
“We’re community builders,” says Jens, who organised similar events for Orchard Park residents too.
“We’ve seen what it’s like to live in a house with no community when we moved to Orchard Park," he continues. "Basically, when we moved here, we were the only house occupied. Then a couple of new people moved in. We weren’t even enough people to call ourselves a village. Realistically speaking we were some little enclave, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The nowhere being reinforced by the fact there was construction all around. As a consequence it was quite easy to get in touch with people, as the few people that were here actually were likely to communicate with each other. They certainly were after we started it. Of course that’s now sticking because once you know people you don’t ‘unknow’ them. Several of them have been to every single event we’ve done, the bigger things in addition to which we’ve also had a few smaller gatherings where we could sit around the table. Now I can’t stand outside my house for half an hour without having half a dozen people come by and greet me. It makes sense to know who the people are who live around you rather than sort of just live anonymous lives next to other people living their anonymous life.”
What the couple discovered was that their new neighbours seemed to be a mixture of young professionals like themselves, nearly all of them parents, most of them in their late thirties to early forties. Like the people who moved into the Trumpington local authority housing estate – back in 1947 – all the new residents were thrown together because they were in the same boat. Only they were a slightly different demographic from the residents like Joan Haylock, who originally moved into Trumpington after Second World War.
“There’s nobody younger than us,” says Jens. “Let’s put it this way, there are not many people younger than us who can actually afford to buy around here. How are they supposed to do that?”
Some of the new Trumpingtonians have come from other parts of Cambridge, like the Kirschners. And some have come from other places altogether, attracted perhaps by the marketing of the Great Kneighton housing development as “an investors’ dream” in “one of the most sought-after areas in south Cambridge”.
With names like Abode, Paragon and Aura, the developers are marketing the new homes as an ideal place to live: “Residents of Great Kneighton can combine the benefits of living within one of England’s most historic and vibrant cities with the convenience and enjoyment of modern living,” they write in their marketing blurb.
It’s perhaps not altogether surprising that Trumpington barely gets a mention on Great Kneighton’s slick new website. Trumpington is just not that big a draw for most of the new residents moving in here, according to Jens.
“I can’t speak for the entire development,” he says, with characteristically forensic attention to detail.
It makes sense to know who the people are who live around you rather than sort of just live anonymous lives next to other people living their anonymous life.
“But certainly for the bits that I know, I’m fairly certain in saying that those who were geographically motivated to move here were motivated by either the proximity to Cambridge, not Trumpington, or much more likely the proximity to Addenbrooke’s. If you challenged them to say whether the fact that this is technically Trumpington mattered to them or not I doubt you’d find anyone who’d say yes.”
“Trumpington Road is more important than Trumpington, as it has Waitrose on one end and all the private schools on the other,” he continues. “There is a very high proportion of private school attendants in this development.
A lot of money is being spent on school fees. That too sort of demonstrates how different that demographic is here.”
Similarly, the Kirschners fear they will have little in common with the existing Trumpington residents – some of whom, like Joan, have lived in the village on the outskirts of Cambridge since there were cows crossing Trumpington High Street four times a day, and acres of arable fields stretched uninterrupted from the village towards the Gog Magog hills.
“You’ve got people who have been living in Trumpington all their life, and all their life is 80 years,” says Jens. “And here you have people of working age. Generally speaking on a development like this, you’ve got people who are presently earning money. So it’s people of working age who haven’t just started out and aren’t about to finish. There aren’t many pensioners. It makes a new development by definition distinctly different to something that has had generations to develop, which is obviously what the rest of Trum.pington is.”
Jens is not entirely disinterested in his neighbours who live beyond the marketing hoardings of Great Kneighton. He once went along to one of the Community Forums that are being organised for Trumpington residents to find out about the new development. But he was the only Great Kneighton resident there – and he felt completely out of place.
“The place was packed and it was all old Trumpington residents, not anybody from here,” he says. “It was kind of ironic as the entire event was about this development. They were talking about plans for the community centre. They were talking about occupation progress. They mentioned they’ve had some residents since March so indirectly they were talking about us. I didn’t say a word at the entire meeting and sat there thinking, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ I haven’t been back since.”
“When I was at that meeting, a lot of people seemed to be afraid...,” says Jens, momentarily at a loss to find the right words. “In an attempt to summarise it, I can say that they seemed to be worried that we would not give them enough consideration for being the original residents. I’m sorry, I live here and they live there. I’m perfectly happy with them living there, as long as they’re perfectly indifferent to me living here. That’s perfectly fine. Some people seemed worried there would be an ‘us and them’. They seemed worried that we would consciously disregard them as opposed to just not thinking about them. The assumption that we would just not care very much would have been a reasonable one. But the assumption that we would go so far as to actively disregard them in a conscious fashion to me seemed completely over the top. They seemed to feel that we would look down on them when in fact we look in completely different directions… Realistically speaking, people are focused on Addenbrooke’s, focused on the city, but focusing on Trumpington? There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of point to that.”
For Jens, this ‘us and them’ debate is not entirely new. He sat on the Impington Parish Council when he lived in Orchard Park. But there was a different attitude towards the new development from Impington residents, he says.
“Trumpington is suffering from its edge of the city situation, whereas Impington is a standalone village,” he says. “They too took an interest in the development stuff but there it was always clear that Impington is Impington and the development is the development. At no point did the people in Impington ever appear like they expected all the new people moving into the development to invent themselves as ‘Impingtoners’, if I can invent that word. It was just, ‘Yep, that’s the development’.”
As for the new facilities that come with the Great Kneighton development, the Kirschners are looking forward to the new doctor’s surgery and they would like to use the guided busway more, when access to the bus stop is eventually improved. But the schools are of little interest to them, since they don’t have children. Jens is also sceptical about the new community square and surrounding shops.
And although much has been made of the 120-acre park that will soon be on their doorstep, Jens is not really interested in green space – nor is he sentimental about the 160 acres of farming land that was sold off by the Pemberton family to make way for the new houses.
“We originally both grew up in the countryside but we didn’t like it,” says Jens. “I used to describe the countryside as too green.”
Although the fields around Chaplen Street used to be filled with skylark’s song, the Kirschners have had only a few birds visit their modest garden since they moved in. One recently flew into their floor-to-ceiling windows and broke its neck.
“The pigeons around here are fat,” says Jens. “They’re football shaped and they sit on the aerials and the aerials bend. Pigeons and seagulls to me are flying rats.”
Unlike some of their neighbours in ‘old Trumpington’, Jens and Wencke are not especially interested in looking backwards at the history of what came before them. For example, their street was named after Thomas Chaplen, the Lord of the Manor of Trumpington in the early 1600s. (Chaplen gave Cambridge and the university rights over Hobson’s Brook – the picturesque stream that draws its source from the natural springs of Nine Wells). In fact, it’s fair to say that the Kirschners, in true pioneering fashion, are more interested in looking forwards than looking back.
“I didn’t actually know this place before it was a development,” says Jens. “It’s harder for people who move onto the site to actually know what it was and relate to it in any meaningful way. Plus developers these days do a very good job of obliterating it all.”
As we take a tour around the Kirschners’ gleaming three-storey home with its collection of toy cars and cuddly toys and rows upon rows of books and carefully ordered DVDs, it’s hard not to feel seduced by the idea of moving into a house that’s brand spanking new – somewhere where nobody else has yet made their mark. The Kirschners certainly know how to make an impression from the moment you walk through the door – with their his and hers stilt-walking suits on full display in the vestibule, all top and tails, white gloves and black top hats. Stilt walking is something they do in their spare time, not that they have too much of that.
“I wouldn’t mind buying an old house, but old houses don’t come with sales offices,” says Jens, only half joking. “It’s the convenience factor.”
So are the Kirschners happy with their impromptu decision to buy a house in Trumpington?
“When we moved, I was very excited because in the details, this house is very much better than the last one,” says Jens. “We were quite pleased about those details.” They were especially pleased about the size of the enormous windows, even though it was quite a challenge to find curtain poles and curtains that were long enough to fit… They also love the drive-in garage that leads straight into the house, with its push-button roll up gate. They were not so happy that the walls were calico rather than white, but they can live with that for the time-being. They did have a few teething problems in the first few months after they moved in. When a concerted email campaign to the developers didn’t have the desired effect, they eventually placed a prominent poster in one of their front windows in full view of prospective buyers complaining about poor customer care. And now, everything seems to be ticking along just nicely. The Kirschners even count some of their new neighbours as friends.
But in true trailblazing style, things can sometimes change more quickly than you expect. When we first met Jens and Wencke in late 2013, they didn’t have any plans to move out of their house any time soon. What they did say is that they definitely didn’t see themselves growing old in Great Kneighton. And that turned out to be extremely prescient….
Just a few months after we met them, the Kirschners put their house on the market. They moved into rented accommodation in central Cambridge while waiting for the sale to complete. Having been the first people to move into Great Kneighton by about a week, they have now become the first to leave. When asked about the sudden change of direction, they are guarded. But their ultimate ambition is to move back to Germany.
“Not wishing to be tied up in a house sale whenever the time does come, we decided to sell now and move into rented accommodation in the meantime,” says Jens. “Free to choose the location...”
Perhaps the attraction of living on the edge of the city began to wane. And perhaps city life holds a greater allure than the suburban streets of Trumpington. Perhaps the steep house price increases in Trumpington also had something to do with it, potentially allowing the Kirschners to make a tidy profit from their sale. But hopefully the legacy of Jens and Wencke’s brief time as Great Kneighton’s first residents will live on in the friendships that have been kindled between neighbours at the couple’s get-togethers.
I’m perfectly happy with them living there, as long as they’re perfectly indifferent to me living here…