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The Guildhall in Cambridge ‘should be opened up more to public’ argues councillor

The Guildhall in Cambridge should be opened more to the public and its history shared with residents, a city councillor has argued.

Cllr Elliot Tong (Gree, Abbey) said the building had “really interesting historical items” to which the public should have access.

The Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell

However, other councillors argued there was already an “open invitation” to members of the public to “observe and contribute to the work of the council” in The Guildhall.

Some councillors also said the building was “not a museum” and that work to open it up more should be focused on offering it as a “civic space”.

Cllr Tong said the “open invitation” was “not very valuable unless people know about it”.

He told a full council meeting: “The first time I actually came to this building was when I was elected a couple of months ago, even though I have been in this city for my whole life.

“I was absolutely fascinated by some of the really interesting stuff you have got on display.

“I particularly like the mace over there with signs of damage by supporters of Cromwell. The building itself also has a lot of interesting features, like the basement which used to be used as court houses.

“Why do I think this is important in a more broad sense? I think we need to stop thinking of history as something embodied by objects and more as something that is revealed through our engagement with them.

“If we are not going to allow the public access to this stuff, I don’t think it holds much historical value as history is revealed through them.

“But more importantly, The Guildhall seems quite inaccessible and I think that contributes to a lot of the us versus them feel in the city at the moment.

“There are accusations of a democratic deficit. I have not heard positive stuff said about the council recently, and I think trying to reach out would be a good way to show and encourage more engagement with the community.”

Hanna Warne from Cambridge Community Arts hanging ts summer exhibition, in the Allia space at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell
Hanna Warne from Cambridge Community Arts hanging ts summer exhibition, in the Allia space at the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Tim Bick (Lib Dem, Market), leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, agreed that The Guildhall needed to be opened up more, but said its role should be that of a “physical presence on the market square of a functional organisation vital to the loves of city residents” rather than as a museum.

He said: “It looks and feels like the council is trying to hide, which I don’t think is the intention of any of us here and I really think we could be doing better.”

Cllr Dinah Pounds (Lab, Romsey) said The Guildhall was not a museum or a “historic mausoleum”, and that the focus of opening the building to the public was through offering civic space.

She said since The Guildhall had reopened after the pandemic “positive action” had been taken to “welcome the public back into the building”, and said space on the ground floor had been used by community groups.

Allia, meanwhile, has opened a Future Business Centre at The Guildhall.

Cllr Pounds also highlighted that councillors were welcome to bring visitors into the building, and highlighted that the mayor also led school visits.

She added that work was ongoing to refurbish the building, and to look at how it can be “developed as a civic centre”.

Cllr Pounds said: “We have already reinstated many of the civic functions including mayoral and education events and encouraged residents to come into The Guildhall. We have plans to refurbish the building and plans to improve accessibility.

“We will establish The Guildhall as a community-orientated civic space in line with the pledge made in Cambridge Labour’s manifesto for the benefit of everyone.”

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