Chesterton Festival showcase for community values is quite the triumph
Community values rose to the top of the bill for this year’s Chesterton Festival, with groups and organisations from Cambridge Sustainable Food to Camcycle to Friends of Elizabeth Way and many others putting the case for sticking together, working together to build a better city, and looking after the people and ethics we love, value and respect.
The community event, which first kicked off in 2012, took place at Pye’s Rec, with the doors open around midday and the musical programme starting with the Chesterton Community College samba band. Just yesterday, the gazebos on the park would have provided shelter from the intense heat, but today they were fending off the rain which intermittently beset the afternoon. Undeterred, the fun zones, play areas, tents, food and coffee stalls, and community ventures were having a busy time by 1pm when the rain cleared.
The variety of stalls was remarkable. Just yards from each other were Cambridge Art Salon, Cambridge Museum of Technology, the Hundred House Society, Hope Church Chesterton, East Chesterton WI, CamSight, Winter Comfort, Cambridge Liberal Democrats, Cambridge Water, Healing Dogs for Deaf People, the 12th Cambridge Scout Group and the 1st Chesterton Girls Brigade. Plus tombolas, raffles, garden ornaments and a free hand reflexology stall.
While the Los Orejitos Cuban Salsa band played Oye Como Va by Santana, I was offered a piece of cake at the Eat For Our Future stand run by Cambridge Sustainable Food, who have started a new bid – supported by the Cambridge Independent – for a recognition as at a Gold Sustainable Food Place having won a silver in 2012. The UK-wide metric is designed to help create a local food system that is healthy, climate-friendly and fair for all, says Becca Smith, project and volunteer coordinator at Cambridge Sustainable Food.
“We launched our campaign for gold at the end of May,” Becca says at Pye’s Rec. “Today is to encourage people to adapt their diet. Half of what we’re doing is to focus on the climate emergency through food, the other half is food justice – so everyone has access to healthy and affordable food.”
Everyone knows about how Cambridge is one of the country’s worst cities for inequalities in wealth, but how bad is it getting, given the wider situation of food prices rising and global food insecurity?
“There are people who can’t afford to cook in Cambridge,” says Becca, “and people making choices between eating and heating.
“There are nine community food hubs in the city, with people going to them because they can’t afford food.”
Is she shocked about this state of affairs?
“Heartbroken more than anything,” Becca replies. “It is shocking, yes. However, in my opinion, there is quite a lot of community in Cambridge, and it’s working… There is a divide because of the inequality, but the community really came together during the pandemic.
“We recommend people find out where their local food hub is and see how you can help, or volunteer with us – we have 140 volunteers and have put in 10,000 hours of work for the community in the past year.”
Over at Friends of Elizabeth Way, Simon Fitzmaurice and Carola Schoenlieb were fronting the campaign for a 20mph limit on the city centre bridge.
“A reduction in speed is also a reduction in emissions,” said Carola, “but the quantity of cars is also a problem. It’s best if there are fewer cars let into the city, so yes we support a congestion charge too. Plus improvements to the infrastructure.”
The transport arrangements for the city are also the topic du jour at the Camcycle stand. The cycling campaign group’s administrative officer (and Camcycle Magazine editor) Rosamund Humphrey is one of four staff at the stand and she’s fired up because she joined just as the pandemic started.
“This is my first opportunity to do a stall event,” she says. “It’s been great. The rain has been intermittent but it’s been non-stop for us.”
So what are people asking about today?
“People are talking about safety on the roads, having wider cycle paths to separate cars and bikes more, roundabout safety and the Greater Cambridge Partnership [GCP] proposals of course.”
The consultation process to adapt the city’s transport infrastructure started in May.
“In essence the GCP is consulting with the public on the biggest changes to road layout since the 1980s,” Rosamund says. “The idea is to make space for sustainable travel, including active travel, so roads would be freed up to make more journeys by bike, bus and on foot.
“A lot of people are asking why not remove traffic further out, ie a wider ring road rather than rerouting roads. This is not support for a congestion charge, it’s a recognition that the GCP proposals put huge pressure on specific places, such as Mitcham’s Corner.
“People support anything that makes it easier for them to move around more sustainably, so any way we can help facilitate that is good, while remaining inclusive.
“We encourage as many people as possible to take part in the consultation – which ends on July 18 – and make their voices heard.”
Over on the main – actually the only – stage, Oakes Summerfield is playing. It’s just him and his guitar, and he sings a fantastic version of Let Her Go by Passenger, followed by commendable versions of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger, Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. It’s hard to work how old he is but he has a fan club – the entire front row is taken up with his mates, and I ask one of them how old their hero is.
“13,” says one, before explaining that they all go to Chesterton Community College.
Over at the organisers’ tent Rachel says she reckons 500 people have attended and it’s only mid-afternoon. Rachel explains that the festival’s steering group consists of St George’s Methodist Church, St Andrew’s Church, St Andrew’s Hall, the Brownsfield Community Centre, Chesterton Working Man’s Club and is supported by a Cambridge City Council grant. The bands are organised by Margaret Nimmo-Smith.
After Oakes has finished playing he is followed by Out of the Shadows choir, before a speech by the mayor, Cambridge Ukebox and a circus round off the afternoon’s schedule.
There’s something about the Chesterton Festival which is rather charming: it sustains and nurtures visitors and the team who put it together alike. It’s low-key and endearing. It’s a pretension-free zone.
On the way out I met deacon Ian Murray, the minister at Chesterton Methodist Church and one of the organisers. Ian was with Mrs Caroline Bewes, a deputy lieutenant of Cambridgeshire – “one of 41!” Mrs Bewes says modestly, while underplaying the significance of her role as High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire for 2021/22.
“It’s my first visit to Chesterton Fair,” she says, “ and there’s a real community spirit here, it’s absolutely fantastic, people are really enjoying it – and it’s a very well-run festival, with Ian’s organisational help.”
“And an amazing team,” adds Ian.