The Cambridge show home that became a pub
Adrian Peel visits a unique social hub at Great Kneighton
Designed to provide a feeling of relaxed rural living while still close enough to enjoy the benefits of a major city, the Great Kneighton housing project in Trumpington has proved to be a popular and very much sought-after place to live. Countryside's Abode development is situated below the village square and the new primary school and is unique to the area in that some of its houses are modelled on barns.
A former show home on the site has been transformed into a pub, cafe and community centre, opening as the former on the third Thursday of every month, for nearly two years. Something of a first for this type of newly-built neighbourhood, the venture is entitled 'The Habitorials Show Home Project' (The Habitorials is also an annual magazine aimed at this close-knit community) and is a place where residents can meet each other and make new friends (there is also a community garden).
The brainchild of a small group of artists and residents, the project has gone from strength to strength (the cafe opens every other Saturday in the mornings), though sadly the house has been sold and tonight's the last night. German-born artist Britt Jurgensen, who divides her time between Liverpool, Cambridge and her homeland, was involved from the start and took some time out to sit down with me in the already packed garden (it was still quite early in the evening) and chat."I'm an artist and I work here, so I'm part of this public art programme and I've been living upstairs here in the show home for the last year and nine months,she explains."As well as the pub, we also open the place up for people to test their ideas and to have meetings."
What kind of artist is Britt - a painter? a sculptor?"This is it, this is my art,she replies confidently, looking around at all the smiling faces."It's the process - I'm originally a theatre maker."
Discussing what the future has in store for the concept, the friendly community-builder remarks,"We are basically in a phase at the moment where we are handing over... We went from this project called Habitorials: A Showground of Real Living, which was still quite curated and organised, to what we call the Public Home, which is what's happening at the moment - that's when this place really became public.
"The show home has been sold by Countryside and this was all we could squeeze out of them in terms of time because of course they have financial pressures. Even though the planning department would have liked this to continue, you have a sales department who will say 'This is the business plan and we need to sell it'."
Prior to the Public Home, I had never heard of anything like this happening before in a new build community and wondered if Britt thought the idea of a social space of this nature might catch on in other areas."I hope it does but only if it really gets the right kind of care,she states,"because you could easily just think, 'Oh we'll open a pub'. I think people sometimes think that community building just happens, like you pay for the bricks but you don't pay for the resources that get things going. It was right for this particular context but it wouldn't necessarily work everywhere. I think it has to be done by people who know how to do it, or it becomes a slightly flat, copied version of something."
How does Britt feel on this the final pub night at The Public Home?"It's sad to leave because I feel part of this community... This has become my neighbourhood."
I also spoke to Thury Agustdottir, a local resident and mother of three from Iceland, who was also instrumental in setting up the pub (artist and gardener-in-residence at the show home, Lisanne Doran, and local journalist Vicky Anning have also been heavily involved)."We were actually the second family to move into the area,reveals Thury,"so at that time it was a building site - nothing like how it looks today. We were told that the house was available to use and I immediately thought: 'What's the cornerstone of a community? It's a pub'. Gone are the days when we would knock on each other's doors and ask if they wanted to come out and play. We need these neutral places and I understood that in a development like this it would take time. I introduced the idea to Britt and she said 'Go with it, we'll support you' and gave us a little budget.
"It was important to me to keep it as local as possible, so I found a local brewer, Joe Kennedy, who owns the BlackBar Brewery down in Harston. He jumped at it. He said: 'That's great, I'm all for community building, absolutely'.
"I think I gave him about two days notice... It was all very ad hoc, the very first pub night. What pleasantly surprised me was how many people wanted it, so we've always been busy. We advertise it by word-of-mouth and we've done a bit of leafleting.
"It's grown - tonight we're working on one-hour shifts. We have lots of residents helping out - I believe that's what makes it really special. I believe we create a real pub atmosphere in a residential setting and that's quite an achievement."