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Tea and empathy at Emmaus Cambridge for the monarch’s 70 years of selfless service



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It’s day two of four days of Platinum Jubilee celebrations and the pace is picking up.

Joan’s Coffee Shop has Union Jack cake offerings for the Platinum Jubilee. Picture: Jane Downes
Joan’s Coffee Shop has Union Jack cake offerings for the Platinum Jubilee. Picture: Jane Downes

Yesterday (Thursday) saw proclamations of tribute and respect for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II around the county: the town crier at Comberton provided a wholly enjoyable celebration of village life with multi-natured events for all generations.

In the evening, on Castle Hill, the lighting of the beacon was part of an even wider narrative – 3,500 beacons were simultaneously lit across the land – including at the Tower of London, Windsor Great Park, Hillsborough Castle, Lambeth Palace and the Queen’s estates at Sandringham and Balmoral – and in the Isle of Man, Channel Islands, the UK’s overseas territories and the cities of the Commonwealth.

The prelude to the firing of the beacon saw the Salvation Army band play to crowds gathering beneath Castle Mound, and a speech by the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, who reminded us – as if we didn’t know – that “tonight will go into the history books for many years to come”.

Rex Webb, town crier, opens the Platinum Jubilee with a proclamation at Comberton village green on June 2, 2022
Rex Webb, town crier, opens the Platinum Jubilee with a proclamation at Comberton village green on June 2, 2022

“A beacon chain, once a means of communication, is now a symbol of unity,” she said. “A song will be sung by choirs in 54 nations at the same time as the lighting of the beacons – it is the anthem of the celebrations, and I really hope you have an enjoyable weekend as we remember and celebrate the Queen’s momentous reign.”

There were a couple of uneasy moments: a drone flew above the crowd for about 90 minutes, sometimes just 20 feet above those on the ground, providing a slightly unsettling background noise which alarmed dogs.

It’s pretty clear that flying drones so close to people is illegal, but a security officer, when asked to clarify the situation with the drone owners – a group clearly visible in the crowd – said he was too busy to leave his station, because there were a lot of complaints about a photographer (not from this newspaper) blocking the crowd’s view of the beacon.

The drone is even visible on this video...

The county council, when asked today (June 3) about the incident, said that the Castle Hill area was “redesignated with village green status earlier this year” and was therefore nothing to do with them, and that the police would be the appropriate body to report the issue to. Cambridgeshire Police were asked about the legality of flying drones so close to a crowd: no response was available at the time of writing.

Otherwise, the event went well, people cheered when the beacon was fired up, an there was a sense of participating in something live that doesn’t come round too often: like Live Aid, the opening ceremony at the London Olympics, or England getting out of the group stages of the World Cup. Maybe a Royal marriage too, depending on the Royal of course…

Bucolic charm for the Platinum Jubilee garden party at Emmaus Cambridge
Bucolic charm for the Platinum Jubilee garden party at Emmaus Cambridge

Today, a lovely warm 20 degrees, with balmy winds, saw Platinum Jubilee cream teas being serviced at Emmaus. A massive crowd descended on the site off the A10, perhaps drawn too by the 50 per cent reduction in everything on sale at the community which is made up of formerly homeless people. That didn’t include the food at Joan’s Coffee Shop, of course, where cakes and hot food were being served.

Walking round the site, it’s astonishing how much work has gone into revamping the buildings. Maintenance manager John Baker is an absolute woodworking legend: he and his team have built an incredible array of new wooden outhouses which will do the charity – which celebrated its 30th birthday earlier this year – proud for many years to come. The latest work-in-progress is a new collection hub, which will replace the tent beside the car park. Also on the way are six modular homes, which will bring the number living at the community up to 50.

The garden at Emmaus Cambridge during a cream tea afternoon
The garden at Emmaus Cambridge during a cream tea afternoon

I’ll be honest: I never got to the cream tea. I had the full English with my companion, dog owner extraordinaire Jane Downes, and there was some dispute about whether it was possible to fit a cream tea in on top of that: I insisted there was, but by the time I had won the battle the cream teas were sold out, so I had a coffee and we settled down in the comfortable sofas dotted around the garden, having been joined by two other escapees from Cambridge, both Riverside residents, and the Cambridge Independent’s very own Adrian Peel who was there with his partner Maria, and a friend. (They had bagged a cream tea just in time, and very delicious it was too apparently.)

Maintenance manager John Baker outside the latest of buidlings taking shape at Emmause Cambridge. Pictures: Mike Scialom
Maintenance manager John Baker outside the latest of buidlings taking shape at Emmause Cambridge. Pictures: Mike Scialom

It was at this point, sitting in a lovely English garden on the Platinum Jubilee long weekend, that we had what is conventionally known as ‘a conversation’. In this conversation it was generally agreed that the Platinum Jubilee is a high spot for the monarchy, and that things are likely to become much more difficult in times to come, so it was deemed acceptable to put our differing views of politics, the economy, the monarchy, the state of the nation, even the state of the world, to one side, just for a short while, to breathe and appreciate the incredible nature of the service and dignity that the monarch has shown over her 70-year reign. Of course, the selfless nature of her service makes the current crop of politicians look like extras in a Benny Hill show – but perhaps that says more about the woman who has waved goodbye to every prime minister from Winston Churchill to Harold Wilson to Tony Blair to David Cameron than it does about anything else.

She has pulled off a trick few could pull off: she stands simultaneously above, to the side, and at the centre of, the fray. And so, for a few hours, as we celebrate her historic reign, do we.



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