Have you seen Mill Road’s very own rock garden just outside Ditchburn Place?
Transforming a hitherto derelict pocket of land by the entrance gates to Ditchburn Place, the Mill Road Rock Garden has been developed by local resident Fiona Smith and volunteers from the Mill Road Fringe, and is brought to you thanks to Love Mill Road – the charity which nurtures and celebrates the Mill Road community – and the generosity of Scotsdales Garden Centre.
Over the last few months local community groups, including Ditchburn Place residents themselves, have been painting rocks which are featured in the recycled frames. You can spot all sorts of different designs from slogans of encouragement, to cartoon characters to birds and animals and flowers. The Rocks are painted in acrylic paint and sprayed with varnish to keep them from fading.
Rock painting has been around for centuries but saw a revival during lockdown. It is something which is accessible to everyone and at every age. Rock painting has been proved to support mindfulness with positive benefits for mental health. It is also a great family activity.
Besides the residents of Ditchburn Place, Mill Road based Lifecraft, The Edge Café and Romsey Mill have taken part. From further afield Rowan Humberstone – Arts centre and forest school for adults with learning disabilities – Arts and Minds – using the arts to help people living with mental health challenges – and Cambridge Manor Care Home have all painted rocks for the garden. Mill Road Fringe thanks everyone involved including the volunteers who have put it all together. The site awaits its permanent sign which we hope will be designed by someone with local connections.
There is room for the garden to grow!
Just help yourself to one of the blank stones near the end by the gate, bring it back once you’ve painted it and place it in one of the frames. If you know of a group that would like to take part, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Displaying the rocks at Ditchburn Place will enhance the local environment and improve a piece of land that was previously barren. It is visible, so people walking along can enjoy looking at them and long lasting, as we can encourage anyone in the community to add their own rock. We hope it will be a feature of interest along Mill Road for everyone to look out for and enjoy.
It’s down to all of you, in the Mill Road community: if you would like to help local activists in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library, email email@example.com.
On Wednesday 10th August 2022, local community groups received notice from Cambridge City Council that Cambridgeshire County Council intend to sell the former Mill Road Library building.
City Councillor Mike Davey (Petersfield ward) convened a meeting on Wednesday 7th September 2022 which was attended by over 100 local people.
The Grade II listed building, where community and cultural activities have always taken place, is on the City Council’s list of ‘Assets of Community value’ detailing buildings or land which are felt to provide an important service to their community.
More discussion will need to take place, but two local community groups have registered an interest in making a community bid under the Community Right to Bid rules, which means that it cannot be sold until February 2023, to give the local community a chance to compete with commercial groups. There is much work to be done to make this project succeed but also a large number of people eager to make it happen.
Many suggestions for how the old library could serve the community were mooted at the 7th September meeting. There was also warm welcome for the new Mill Road Community Centre which will be opening soon, on the Ironworks (former Mill Road depot) development and a determination that the two centres should work in close conjunction.
Suggested uses for the old library included:
an arts cinema, theatre, and venue for local musicians and literary activities
an art gallery and exhibition space focussing on local artists
a cultural space for Community Arts
a venue for the Cambridge Literary Festival
Speaking later to Mill Road Bridges, Piero d’Angelico, Mill Road Traders’ Association Ambassador, saw the old library project as analogous to running a business: “As a trader, I know what my outgoings are, and how much business I must do in order to cover my costs and make a living.” D’Angelico stressed that finding uses which generate a reliable income stream will be key to mounting a successful bid.
It is worthwhile noting that Mill Road Fringe – an offshoot of Mill Road Winter Fair – will showed three films in September 2022. However, as these were free, they wouldn’t pay the bills!
Jordana Learmonthe from Cambridge Art Salon, a hub of local artists, has written to Councillor Davey to pledge the Salon’s support by committing to use the exhibition space, if the facility is provided, and thus some rental income will be ensured.
Another commentator was in touch with Mill Road Bridges to suggest that the building be divided into two floors, with one floor being rented out to an organisation, or to small firms, that can pay a market rent. That could leave the other floor for any community-related functions that complement the new facilities being built, rather than competing.
A number of attendees observed that a brand new, purpose-built community centre, immediately behind the old library, is scheduled to open late this year, seeing it as essential that activities pursued in the old library building be complementary to the new community centre, providing a different type of activity. The general feeling at the meeting seemed to support this aim.
John Franks, Chair of Petersfield Area Community Trust, told Mill Road Bridges, “Using the old library as a generic community centre won’t pay the bills; we have a really good purpose-built one next door!”
Asked if there is now a clear plan, Franks told us, “It’s more the case that people are still open and looking for other ideas.”
It’s complicated… Here’s the view of local historian, blogger, and former civil servant, Antony Carpen.
I’m not going to go into the party political issues. I imagine this would have been a very tough negotiation between members of the [County Council’s] Joint Administration. I can’t believe that Labour councillors would have wanted the building to be sold off if there wasn’t a hope of putting together a bid for community ownership. But ultimately the past 12 years of central government austerity has meant councils across the country have had to take similar decisions because ministers and Parliament have not given them powers to raise revenues through much wider means.
Mill Road Library, most recently in use as a Hindu temple, and now to be sold by Cambridgeshire County Council, was opened on Wednesday 2nd June 1897, by the Cambridge City Council. The library passed to the County Council’s control when all of England’s local government was reorganised in the 1970s, finally closing in March 1996.
In 1998 the Indian Community and Cultural Association became the new tenants, and erected some beautiful carved stonework inside. However, all was not well…
The Indian community organisation that took over the library were granted a 25 year full repairing lease on a peppercorn rent in exchange for maintaining the building fabric. This building which is grade 2 listed was considered a financial liability to the County so this was seen as a zero cost way of maintaining the structure.
Unfortunately the lessees did not spend any money on external maintenance in 10 years allowing water to enter the building and cause extensive damage. The City Council which is responsible in law to ensure listed buildings do not fall into disrepair served notice on the County Council about the deteriorating state and the County sent in surveyors who […] estimated the repairs to be in the region of £300,000.
This blogpost is open for comments but, if you are able to help, getting in touch with the Mill Road community’s activists to help in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library is much more important. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Wednesday 10th August 2022, local community groups received notice from Cambridge City Council that Cambridgeshire County Council intend to sell the former Mill Road Library building. Full text of this letter is shown below.
Dear community group,
I am writing to advise you that the owner of the former Library, Mill Road Cambridge, has notified us of their intent to sell the property. This property is on a list of ‘Assets of Community value’ which is kept by the City Council. This list has all of the details of buildings or land which are felt to provide an important service to their community and as such, if they are sold, community groups should have an opportunity to raise the funds to purchase the asset. You can see the full list of Assets of Community Value here: Community Right to Bid scheme – Cambridge City Council
The owner of the former library cannot sell the building for a period of 6 weeks from the date they notified us of their intention to dispose of the property. This is called the ‘interim moratorium period’. The interim moratorium will end on Friday 16th September 2022. You are advised that should your community group wish to be treated as a potential bidder for the asset you must notify us of your intent within this period, at which point we will inform the owner.
If you do wish to be treated as a potential bidder you will have until Sunday 5th February 2023 in which to develop a proposal and raise the money required to bid to buy the asset, so long as you have notified us before 16th September. Please note that the owner can sell to whomever they wish – this process is simply to allow community groups time to consider whether they wish to bid and if so, to have time to raise the funds for the purchase.
You should be aware that in order to be treated as a potential bidder, interested parties must qualify as a community interest group by a) having a local connection with the land, and b) falling within one or more of the following definitions;
a company limited by guarantee that does not distribute any surplus to its members;
an industrial and provident society which does not distribute any surplus to its members and is registered or deemed to be registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965; or
a community interest company.
There is some useful guidance on whether a body qualifies as a charity here:
Amongst groups to receive the letter were Petersfield Area Community Trust whose chair posted:
We are disappointed that the building is being sold, as we hoped the County Council would find a new community use for this historic building on a lease that kept it within public ownership. However, this process gives community groups a chance to assemble a bid, and we would love to hear from any group who would like to do that. Cambridge City Council manages this process for any community asset in Cambridge, so we or any eligible group have until Friday 16th September to advise them if a group would like to take this opportunity. Giving the City Council a notification of an intent to bid would cause a moratorium on the sale until Sunday 5th February 2023, in order to give the group the chance to assemble the bid, although this is still a tough goal in just six months. We are sure there would be huge community support for an effort to buy the building, and its location just behind the new Mill Road Community Centre may provide new opportunities for community collaboration. PACT would be happy to hear from any group which is not sure of their own eligibility to trigger the moratorium.
John Franks, Chair of Petersfield Area Community Trust Read the full Petersfield Area Community Trust news release here.
If you would like to help Petersfield Area Community Trust in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library, email info@PACTcambridge.org.
Local historian Antony Carpen, blogging as Cambridge Town Owl, posted on Friday 12th August 2022, in support of Petersfield Area Community Trust, giving some of the background to the library, and its recent travails.