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Tributes after death of former Cambridge teacher and county councillor Claire Richards, 64





A former Cambridge teacher and county councillor who represented the Castle division has died at the age of 64.

Elizabeth Claire Richards, known as Claire, was described as an “inspiration to her students” and a “powerful voice for residents” by her friend, Dr Jocelynne Scutt.

Claire Richards at Shire Hall
Claire Richards at Shire Hall

Born in Wales, Claire began her career in the mid-1980s at Barry College, teaching the “motor vehicle lads”.

She arrived in Cambridge in 1987, where she taught at Cambridge Regional College. Ten years later she joined Long Road Sixth Form College as an English teacher and worked there for 18 years, moving into senior management. She held roles as head of English in 2000, curriculum manager for a range of subjects in 2003, and in 2011 was head of humanities, with cross-college responsibility for applied learning.

She spent a year’s secondment in 2010 to the Cambridge Area Partnership, working on improving links between different schools and colleges.

She later joined Hills Road, teaching in the English department until several years ago.

Praised by students and colleagues alike, Claire had a strong mentoring ethic, being supportive of fellow teachers, while her career advice was always sensitive to differing capacities and capabilities, inspiring confidence.

She was also adept at negotiating constructive outcomes from difficult circumstances – a quality particularly valuable during the pandemic.

In 2017, she took her passion for politics, feminist identification and determination to see better representation for women and stood in the Cambridgeshire County Council elections, winning Castle division for Labour, where it had never triumphed before at county or city level. It was reward for a campaign in which she was constantly out door-knocking, familiarising herself with local issues from potholes to social care and school catchment areas, and ran a film night and panel discussion with the campaign team in Arbury.

As councillor, she led work relating to a property in Richmond Road being used for short-term lets and it was eventually ruled as an ‘unauthorised change of use of the building under planning law’ – a first for the county. The owner’s appeal to the planning inspector was unsuccessful.

Claire also led the campaign to save Whitworth House, a residential home for young women in care and care leavers, which enables them to complete their education and live securely in Cambridge.

A former chair of the Whitworth Trust acknowledged her dedicated consistency and strength of purpose.

Working with former city councillor Sophie Barnett, who focused on city facilities, Claire took the Period Poverty campaign to county level, launching the project at Arbury Court Library with packets of pads and tampons available for women and girls whose school and working lives are disrupted by the cost of these products inhibiting their daily lives.

Campaigns to save children’s centres and fight what she saw as private sector exploitation of the schooling system through academies were not so successful but illustrated her belief in the right of every child to get a good start.

Her fight to have care-leavers given the right not to pay council tax when moving into independent living was taken into a committee, rather than being put to the full council as she hoped.

And she battled – in vain – for the register office to remain at Castle Hill, so that couples could marry or enter civil partnerships against the backdrop of trees and green space.

Labour also lost the fight to save Shire Hall from being turned over to commercial interests.

Claire Richards, left, with Dr Jocelynne Scutt, who fought a successful campaign to ensure preservation in perpetuity of public ownership of and access to Castle Mound and Shire Hall green space. Picture: Richard Swift
Claire Richards, left, with Dr Jocelynne Scutt, who fought a successful campaign to ensure preservation in perpetuity of public ownership of and access to Castle Mound and Shire Hall green space. Picture: Richard Swift

But Claire’s crowning achievement lies here. Together with Cllr Katie Thornburrow and then county councillor Dr Scutt, she campaigned to ensure preservation in perpetuity of public ownership of and access to Castle Mound and Shire Hall green space.

An application to make the area a Town and Village Green (TVG) halted county council action and a big public meeting was held at St Augustine’s to inform the public of the legal, archaeological, and historical issues embedded in this part of Cambridge.

Dr Scutt said: “Claire Richards achieved so much, but had so much more to do. She was planning a PhD on education – looking at developments in Kenya where her daughter, Helen, was engaged in international work. She was an office holder in Cambridge CLP (Constituency Labour Party) and wished to continue this commitment. As a panellist on Brilliant & Bold! the monthly international discussion between women from Canada to Cameroon, the US to the EU, Scandinavia to South Africa, Australia to the Andes, Claire expressed eloquently her hopes for a feminist future.

“She leaves with memories for her sister and daughter and three grandchildren to cherish.

“She leaves behind strong bonds of friendship and love.”

Claire Richards died on November 12 and her funeral was held on November 30 at St Giles’ Church, followed by a committal at the West Chapel, Cambridge Crematorium.

Donations in Claire’s name can be made to Whitworth House via the In-Memory profile online at peasgoodandskeates.co.uk or sent c/o Peasgood and Skeates, 617 Newmarket Road, Cambridge, CB5 8PA (tel 01223 415255).



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