She defended her country in the Second World War — now Dorothy Runnicles is defending St Matthew’s Piece.
By Janet Wright
for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece
Developers who want to build a large block of student flats on the edge of this small but well-used Petersfield park slipped a consultation document out in April, while most people were preoccupied with lockdown.
“As a former local resident, now 95, I totally reject the proposed centre,” Dorothy wrote to developers Federated Hermes, along with more than 100 local residents who also sent in their objections. Though confined to her present home in Gloucester by the pandemic, she sent her support to Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.
After her wartime service in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, Dorothy became a pacifist, trained as a social worker and is still active in numerous community groups. In recent years she has advised the government, NHS and national charities on issues around inclusion and ageism. Due to represent the navy at the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Dorothy was instead phoned by the Princess Royal when all events were cancelled.
A founder-member of Petersfield Area Community Trust, she has studied the results of increasing inequality, 20 years after a survey found that 10% of the Petersfield population lived below the poverty line.
“The statement ‘We’re in it together’ has to be challenged,” Dorothy told Friends of St Matthew’s Piece. “The private business world is achieving what it wants. This area has a long history of continuous development, and of losing community assets.”
Petersfield, though densely populated, has less public open space than any other ward in Cambridge.
“There are lots of people in Petersfield without gardens, some occupying one room in a house,” says Dorothy. “If people haven’t got gardens and haven’t got much money, they need free access to some open space. That’s being deliberately taken away from Petersfield.”
The proposed student flats would be built above the former Howard Mallett youth centre – Dorothy notes that rates of youth offending increased after the centre was closed. Developers would also fell at least two of the mighty plane trees that are a feature of St Matthew’s Piece.
“Trees are extremely important,” says Dorothy. All the evidence shows there’s something important about the function of trees. Loss of trees is a health problem. Losing the big trees that are protecting our environment is extremely risky.”
And see the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece campaign video…