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Tributes for Allan Brigham - one of Cambridge’s greatest ambassadors




Allan Brigham gets his honorary degree Picture: Geoff Robinson
Allan Brigham gets his honorary degree Picture: Geoff Robinson

One of Cambridge’s greatest ambassadors, Allan Brigham, has died.

Tributes were being paid to the former road sweeper, local historian and tour guide from across the city.

Daniel Zeichner MP said: "I am so very sorry to hear the news about Allan Brigham.

“Allan was extraordinary, always enthusiastic, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Cambridge, a man of unswerving principle and a fine trade unionist to boot.

“Allan was one of the first people I spoke to about becoming the MP for Cambridge and he helped inspire me to stand.

“Cambridge is the poorer for his passing. My thoughts are with Janice at this hugely difficult time.”

Former Cambridge mayor George Pippas said on Twitter: “Alan was an amazing person. It was a privilege to have met him and served the Cambridge city with him! RIP.”

Wendy Blythe wrote: “Allan’s championship of environmental commons & what makes Cambridge special is such a loss. But above all I’ll miss his humanity.”

She quoted Allan, adding: “Sometimes I feel my barrow is a mobile confession box, all sorts of people feel they can tell the council road sweeper their problems.”

Born in 1951 in Hertfordshire, Allan studied at university in Sheffield but moved to Cambridge in the 1970s when a friend offered him a room in a house, eventually finding work with the council.

In a book about Allan’s life by Alan Macfarlane, Allan said: “I was living in Newnham in Eltisley Avenue. It was autumn, and there were some road sweepers at the bottom of the road with a huge pile of leaves. I told them that I couldn't find a job and they asked if I had tried the council.

Allan Brigham at Relevant Records in 2017
Allan Brigham at Relevant Records in 2017

“I went to the council depot and asked the foreman for a job. He said that if I was there by six o’clock the following morning he could give me one, otherwise he never wanted to see me again.”

Allan got the job, which he continued for years, saving money so he could travel and discover more about history.

In 2011, Allan said: “I never thought that I’d say I was lucky to get up each day at 4.30am to clear up the rubbish others leave behind. I never intended to stay in Cambridge, and planned to leave as soon as I’d saved some money.But I’m still here, and I still haven’t saved any money.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that Cambridge has become ‘home’. Cleaning the streets and parks - from King’s Parade in the centre to the estates on the edge of the city - has allowed me to get to know Cambridge and the people who live here.”

As well as road sweeping Allan took on extra jobs, including working as a tour guide where he got to pass on his passion for Cambridge’s history - focusing on the lesser known parts of the city and its back streets.

He would also visit schools to talk about litter and recycling.

The University of Cambridge gave him an honorary MA for his community work - despite him highlighting his concerns that Cambridge was becoming a city for rich students and unaffordable to people on lower wages.

Leader of Cambridge City Council, Cllr Lewis Herbert, paid tribute to Allan, saying: “Along with so many former of his work colleagues and councillors, and hundreds across Cambridge, it is a sad day today hearing that Allan has died.

“We will miss his love for Cambridge, the decades he worked for the city and the city council, the support he gave his work colleagues and his union, and miss his multiple contributions to the city. Our thoughts are with his wife Janice and all his family.

“Allan cared so much for his adopted city. He probably knew more Cambridge people and more about the city than anyone. We all remember talking to him as he worked so hard cleaning the city centre, we can relive his amazing walking tours and gained heaps from his local history, recall his wise advice on future issues affecting Cambridge and valued him freely giving so much time to visit schools and share his passions for cutting litter and expanding recycling.

“Allan was a wonderful colleague and a real Cambridge character, and we will all miss him so much.”

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