… to raise funds for local community-based Cambridge Sustainable Food’s food justice work across the city.
Cambridge Sustainable Food provide food justice work across the city. They work with residents, businesses, organisations and community groups to advocate for, and enable access to, healthy and sustainably produced food that is good for people and good for the planet.
Tackling food-related inequality is one of today’s most urgent challenges if we are to stem the rising tide of hunger, obesity and other diet-related ill-health such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Cambridge Sustainable Food convenes Cambridge Food Poverty Alliance, a multi-agency partnership which aims to reduce food poverty locally. Read more about this work here, the emergency food access here, and read/download the Covid-19 Emergency Food Response April 2020 – March 2021 (PDF) here.
Maurizio is on the run!
Mill Road’s godfather of pizza and pasta is taking part in the Cambridge Half Marathon on Sunday 17th October 2021.
You can help Maurizio raise funds for local community-based Cambridge Sustainable Food’s food justice work across the city and reach his £500 target by donating what you can via his GoFundMe page, here.
Eat for our Future Campaign
Food poverty is only one aspect of Cambridge Sustainable Food’s work. Food needs to be not only good for people and the planet, but also good for local economies, businesses and jobs.
As part of the newly launched Eat for our Future Campaign Cambridge Sustainable Food will be holding a variety of events across October to help Cambridge eat a Climate Diet, with in-person stalls where you can ask your questions and make a pledge, online events chaired by local sustainable food experts to guide you to a diet that is kinder to the planet, and running seminars for businesses to help them serve food for the future.
The recent death, aged 85, of former proprietor Gerd Browne (née Hamer) – Norwegian ski champion, intrepid adventurer, active member of the Buddhist community and anti-nuclear campaigner – has prompted us to publish some memories of the much-loved – now much-missed – Browne’s Bookstore, and of its proprietor and staff.
Born in 1936, Gerd completed an English and teaching degree at Oslo University and was working at a Norwegian ski resort when she met her husband-to-be Patrick Browne in 1960. The couple married in 1962 in Norway. They lived in London, before spending two years in Italy, with their eldest child, Cecilie, still a young baby at the time.
The family lived in Cambridge from 1965-1974 –during which time Gerd gave birth to their two sons, Alex (b 1965) and Anthony (b 1967) – before moving to a 10-acre smallholding in Fowlmere, half of which was planted with potatoes. Gerd threw her energy into vegetables, and chickens, and starting the Bookstore, as well as bringing up her three children.
Gerd moved to Cambridge in 1982 after separating from Patrick, becoming politically active in the anti-nuclear movement, including visiting Greenham Common. In 1984 she bought the house in Newnham where she lived for 37 years, until her death, this year.
Family get-togethers for Gerd and her three children may have been interesting, as her children have rather different political persuasions. Cecilie has been an environmental activist, Alex has been an animal rights activist, while Anthony was an adviser to then London mayor Boris Johnson before being elected as Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire.
Gerd died peacefully at Addenbrooke’s on 4th July 2021, following a short illness.
For 30 years Browne’s Bookstore – opening in 1976 as a husband and wife joint enterprise, before husband Patrick moved on to publishing – was a Mill Road institution, closing its doors to customers for the final time in 2007. When the Bookstore opened in 1976 it also sold potatoes by the sack, from the family smallholding in Fowlmere. Very Mill Road!
When Browne’s was extended to include the former tiny haberdashery shop – ‘Stitches’ – next door at 54a, daughter Cecilie was employed to design and paint the new double shop front. (See the photo at the head of this post.) She also designed plastic bags and bookmarks with the slogan: Come and browse at Browne’s.
For more than 30 years, Browne’s Bookstore flourished; an institution, a constant of life in and around Mill Road.
Gerd Browne loved her shop; and, perhaps because it was a small local enterprise and they were a small team, the staff all cared about Browne’s too. For many of them Gerd was a friend as well as an employer. She shared her ideas with them and listened, open-mindedly, to theirs. She was thoughtful, and generous.
In autumn a jostling stream of students arrived, needing course-books, advice and information – keeping everyone more than busy; then flowers for the workers came from Gerd. At Christmas there was an evening out together. And, after the New Year stocktaking, when friends and partners were invited in for a day of book counting, she took everyone to the Salisbury Arms, around the corner in Tenison Road, for a companionable meal.
Browne’s was never just any old bookshop. It was useful, regarded with deep affection, and familiar to so many people.
Do you want the latest novel by your favourite author? Browne’s will probably have it.
The big book shops have all told you that the book which you want is out of print, unavailable? Browne’s will somehow track it down.
You need an obscure come on pamphlet published in 1946? Browne’s will get you a copy.
There is a birthday coming up and you’ve forgotten to buy a card? Browne’s have a wonderful selection; and wrapping paper, too, if you need it.
You’ve been cooped up with the children for seemingly endless days of rain. Take them to Browne’s. They can choose a book and sit on the floor in the children section whilst you socialise and browse; then you can go home refreshed and read their choice till bedtime.
Do you want to put up a notice? It can be displayed on Browne’s free noticeboard. Where can you find the leaflet that’s going around? At Browne’s.
The list of roles played by Browne’s is seemingly endless. You met all sorts of people there. Local authors. Local artists. Eccentrics. Academics. Hippies. Three successive generations of the same family.
People on the street still stop to talk to one-time customers and one-time members of staff. They all say the same things:
Oh, I DO miss Browne’s. I STILL miss Browne’s.
Elizabeth (Mysia) Baggs and Sally-Ann Ball, former employees
Gerd was a joy to work for – very ethical and good to her staff.
Gill Wakefield, former book-keeper
Meet some of the Bookstore staff
Interior and exterior views
When Browne’s Bookstore closed its doors to customers for the final time in 2007, independent bookshops across the UK had been closing down at a rate of two per week for some time. Gerd had held out for as long as she could in order to keep her loyal staff employed, but with the rapid rise of internet book sales and the end of her contract with Norwegian libraries, there was no option but to close.
Customers’ memories (and memories of customers)
I have pleasant memories of browsing through bookshelves brimming with so much useful and interesting literature, in Browne’s Bookstore.
I suppose the most significant memory is that of negotiating with Mrs Browne’s son, c 1986, to set up an exchange system for A level (and O level added later) Physics & Mathematics text books, to help the relatively impoverished students of my Evening Class at what was then the Technical College. (Although I admit to also informing my students at St Andrew’s VIth Form College, where I was head tutor in Maths & Physics, of the arrangement!) He was very obliging and the arrangement was a great success, both for the students and for Browne’s, and ran for some years as the Tech morphed into a Poly, and beyond.
Ed Lloyd Jenkins, local resident
People would pop in for a chat, whether it was the two old ladies needing an ear for their woes, families coming in with their children, students returning to introduce partners and offspring, all were welcome.
Mysia Baggs, former employee
One day, a young woman took her time choosing which of two brand new, and very expensive, academic books was in the best condition.
Having made her choice, and paid for her purchase, she revealed that, with heavy books like these, she always cut them into sections at the spine, as this made it lighter to carry just the one or two sections needed for her studies on any particular day.
Sally-Ann Ball, former employee
I used to buy some of my undergraduate text books from Browne’s bookstore in the mid 1990s. It was especially convenient, because at that time we lived in Norfolk, so I travelled to Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, by rail.
I’d often pop into Browne’s to and from the station. They had a great range of academic books, including second hand texts, and the staff were always extremely helpful.
In 1998 we moved to Perowne Street, so I enjoyed a few years of browsing Browne’s on a very regular basis. Sadly by the time I took my Master’s degree, the store had closed.
Carol Ann Wood, local author and resident
At some time in the 1980s I read a review in The Observer of a first novel that sounded interesting. I meant to keep the review but forgot.
It was several weeks before I could afford to buy a book by which time I had forgotten both the name of the book and the author.
I went to Browne’s and explained the situation to Gerd and said that all I could remember was that the photo of the author was a woman wearing glasses and that the review had referenced King Lear.
Within 30 seconds I had Jane Smiley’s ‘1000 Acres’ in my hand! I was extremely impressed!
Andy Laing, local resident
I was a great fan of Browne’s Bookstore from its opening day.
I remember ordering an obscure academic book from them not long after opening as they were often quicker than the large established bookshops such as Heffers. (This was long before the internet!) ‘Computing methods in Crystallography’ by J. Rollett.
When it came in Mr & Mrs Browne said it is far too expensive (£21) and they could not possibly charge me that, so they gave it to me at wholesale price.
You may like to see these three drawings I made of Browne’s Bookstore over the years. For the eagle-eyed: the pavement A-board sign still exists outside Arjuna, repainted.
Sam Motherwell, local artist, and resident
And finally, which shop was which?
We were asked: “Did Browne’s take over the former Last Exit bookshop premises?” We checked. No. Last Exit was at Nº 54 and is now the premises of Mr Ho, Chinese restaurant.
Discover more about Nº54 Mill Road, in its incarnations as Last Exit, Bar Italia, Bosphorus and Tulip Restaurant – with a tiny glimpse of Stitches at Nº54a – on the Capturing Cambridge website.
And, “Wasn’t Andy’s Records at Nº56?” Yes, but… both shops shared the same street number, though entirely separate premises!
This post is open for comments. Please add your own recollections of browsing at Browne’s.
In the real world the relationship between cause and effect can be difficult to trace but that is the task that Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways and Transport Committee faced in deciding the future of Mill Road Bridge.
Nobody doubts that Mill Road Traders experienced hard times during the pandemic, but was their hardship the result of restricted access to Mill Road Bridge? Or could it have been part of a wider decline in trade, which caused huge retail giants such as John Lewis and others to teeter, with Debenhams, Top Shop and others vanishing from our High Streets and shopping centres?
The Highways and Transport Committee’s decision to reopen the bridge, which was passed by the acting Chair’s casting vote on Tuesday 27th July appears to endorse this correlation. A connection between poor respiratory health prior to lockdown and pollutants that exceed those levels considered acceptable by the WHO, was not endorsed by that majority of one.
The positive aspect of this decision is that there will be a consultation on the experiences of residents and traders and the impacts that removing the restrictions on the bridge will have on health, collisions and an upturn in trade. These are trends that must be monitored.
Meanwhile, there is a question mark over whether the abrupt ending of the scheme could have financial implications for Cambridgeshire County Council’s future central government (DfT) funding for active transport schemes.
In a sign of the growing frustration within government at some councils, both Conservative and Labour, which have removed active travel schemes in the face of sometimes noisy objections, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris is formally writing to the leaders of all English local authorities with transport responsibilities.
Cambridge Labour Party have published a short survey to measure public opinions about the future of Mill Road.
Whilst Mill Road Bridges have no political affiliations, we would be wrong not to draw this survey to local residents’ attention. It is noteworthy that the Vice-Chair of the Cambridgeshire County Council Highways and Transportation Committee is now Councillor Gerri Bird (Labour, Chesterton Division). It would seem likely that Councillor Bird will have the results of the survey drawn to her attention.
Please fill itin – the result is likely to influence the way that Labour councillors vote in the Highways Committee on this issue.
If, however, you would prefer to contact your local Cambridgeshire County Councillor directly their contact details may be found here:
This blogpost is also open for (polite) comments. We will contact Councillors Howitt and Shailer to ask that they monitor the post for comments, though we cannot guarantee that your comments will be seen, councillors being busy people not full-time public employees.
Mill Road independent shops are at risk of closure if this bridge continues to be closed. Please share this event with your friends and family members.
Don’t Kill Mill Road Facebook page
It is not known whether the protesters will attempt to physically prevent pedestrians and cyclists from using the bridge, or only the limited range of vehicles currently permitted to use the bridge.
These details are published here to enable those who support the aims of the protesters to join the protest. If you oppose the protesters, it might be better to avoid the bridge at the time of the protest and make your feelings known elsewhere.
This post is open for (polite) comments, whatever your view.
Is the Mill Road community an undifferentiated block, who agree on everything? Far from it. That’s why we adopted (borrowed) the phrase Community of Communities. Gather half-a-dozen Mill Roaders in a meeting and you’ll generate a score of differing opinions.
We are pleased to see the establishment of a new website and group trying to create a positive vision for the future of Mill Road.
Mill Road – A Street for People is a group of Cambridge residents working on a non-partisan basis to seek consensus to get the best Mill Road for everyone.
Note Mill Road – A Street for People is not controlled by, nor aligned to Mill Road Bridges. We exist to foster debate about Mill Road and will draw attention to all websites, protests, opinion surveys and events concerning Mill Road which come to our attention, on whatever ‘side’ of any ‘argument’ they stand.
It is a site which hosts a variety of (sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting) ideas.
There are endless discussions on Nextdoor, Facebook and Twitter, but not everyone has (or wants) an account on those social media. This site is open to all, as is Mill Road – A Street for People.
And what of the future?
Since June 2020 there have been restrictions on what traffic can lawfully use Mill Road Bridge – see Wider footways, barriers and bridge restrictions. Some claim that the restrictions are ‘killing’ Mill Road. Others point to the new businesses starting up in Mill Road as signs of change and growth. These include the Harvest Organic Supermarket, and the Eclipse Bakery on Romsey Broadway; whilst, on the Petersfield (city) side, Finn Boys Fish Butchery restaurant, a new Co-op, The Lads Piri-Piri, and another restaurant – Fancett’s – at 96A (Fabio’s former premises) have recently opened or are about to open.
Some want all restrictions on bridge traffic removed, to bring ‘passing trade’ back to Mill Road. Others insist that passing motor-traffic is just that. Passing. Not stopping. Not shopping. Would the return of the previous traffic congestion, air pollution and road traffic accidents be worth it for the alleged benefits to traders?
Access for Blue Badge holders? Difficult as the Blue Badge is a parking permit, linked to an individual (driver or passenger) not a vehicle. But could a means be found?
Delivery vehicles to traders? Which ones? What times?
Some blame any drop in trade to the current restrictions on Mill Road Bridge, while others point out that Covid-related restrictions on shopping, eating out, and socialising have hit businesses across the city and the country.
To renew the installation of a temporary real-ice ice rink with viewing platform and back-of-house/plant area; a family entertainment area with children’s rides & food concessions; and a christmas market with stalls & concessions, to one quadrangle of Parkers Piece.
Whilst the planning portal lists the ‘Neighbour Consultation Expiry Date’ as Wednesday 24th February 2021, the portal appears to remain open for comments at the date of posting, with the latest comments dated 15th March 2021. The Cambridge City Council Planning meeting at which this application will be considered is scheduled for Wednesday 24th March 2021 at 10.00 am.
What do Mill Road people think?
One local resident emailed us saying:
The Fair and Ice rink will run from 1st November to 31st January. That’s three months of repetitive loud Christmas music and high-pitched screams.
For local residents, hotel guests and students it’s extremely annoying especially for those now working from home. It will also be bigger this time (see application plan online). The organisers also pay a fraction of the rent which Mill Road’s traders pay. They have a Christmas market and food outlets that takes business away from local shops and cafés.
It also badly damages the grass: 14 months after the last North Pole nearly a fifth of Parker’s Piece still hasn’t recovered and that’s despite the council treating the area with new soil and grass seed last summer. It would obviously be a lot worse if the event had gone ahead at Christmas 2020. The area is not fit for its intended purpose – football, social gatherings, boot camps, etc – and looks and feels like scrubland.
This historic City park deserves better care.
Elsa, local resident
Elsa illustrated her objection with photographs. There are shown in the slideshow below.
Whereas a local trader wrote to us in support:
I am always cheered when I see the funfair there in the depths of winter. Seeing and hearing young people having fun is wonderful.
No-one would be using that bit of park in the depths of winter and, in any case, there is still loads more space to use. Presumably the larger and longer the attraction, the more money that goes into the council’s coffers.
I am in favour of the winter attraction in its larger, longer state.
Eileen, local trader
Here are a flavour of the comments on the planning portal.
The North Pole is not in keeping with the area and the direction in which the area is set to develop in, nor does it truly add to any Christmas spirit. In fact it is quite an eyesore.
There are other opportunities that could generate revenue for the council in a way, that is not as damaging to the environment and disruptive to the public, and would also be adding value to the city and community and liven up the park during the festive period.
St Pauls Walk resident
The ice rink on Parker’s piece is a very good thing for all of Cambridge. Children and young people deserve to be able to have some fun. It was sadly missed 2020 so it will be great to have it back 2021/22.
Mill Road resident
I object to this proposal because it is a poor use of what is normally a lovely open space. The noise it generates is awful – endless generators, music from the rides etc etc. Now more than ever, we need a peaceful environment in which to live and work – I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must be to live closer than we do.
It also totally destroys the grass, year after year. It never really recovers (the space where it was 2 years ago is now still mainly weeds). Local residents so value the ability to walk over the park, but it’s awful when it’s all mud, as it is for months after (& during – gets so muddy around the installation).
Nothing should be allowed to remain on the site for more than a few days (normal fairs/ concerts/ gigs are great – an excellent use of the space! ) but this lasts for months on end. It’s too long. People need to use the grass for sport and recreation and this Ice Rink prevents a good deal of that.
Please don’t allow this planning permission to be accepted.
Lyndewode Road resident
This application is for 3 months of the year. There are other various events which may amount to another couple of months making ~ 5 all told. Parker’s Piece needs be left clear and open. That was its reason for existence.
Equally, there is no doubt a reason for its creeping closure – profit. No doubt Star Radio and the Council coffers do not have to bear the consequences such as increased parking pressure in the area as people try to avoid paying car park charges, increased noise and occasionally an increase in local law-breaking. I suggest the creeping closure of Parker’s Piece be halted. Use other venues (e.g. Newmarket Road for a rink?)
Guest Road resident
It used to be relatively charming – a small ice rink where you could go with the children for a pre-Christmas skate to get into the spirit of Christmas & perhaps get a cup of coffee afterwards. However, over the past couple of years it has been allowed to expand physically, as well as in terms of time, and is now enormous and totally ruins the atmosphere of Parkers Piece for the majority of us, attracting light pollution, noise, litter and antisocial behaviour.
It is allowed to run for weeks and weeks and Parkers Piece and its residents/visitors have to bear the scars for many months afterwards. It totally ruins the enjoyment of what is supposed to be a haven in the middle of an already very busy, congested city.
Out-of-city (Withersfield) resident
To to view all comments – and add your own, for or against – visit the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning portal and enter 20/03552/FUL in the search box. (The portal’s reCAPTCHA setting prevents direct access to individual applications.)
You are welcome to leave comments at the foot of this post, but nothing published on this website will be taken into consideration at the Cambridge City Council Planning meeting at which this application will be considered, on Wednesday 24th March 2021 at 10.00 am.
Faraj Alnasser is a Syrian refugee who lives with a local family, off Cambridge’s Mill Road, who have taken care of him like a son. “Cambridge has become a home for me, because of this very kind family,” Faraj told us by email.
At just 14 years old, while Faraj’s family were refugees in Egypt, following an insurmountable family rift, Faraj left his family and made his way back to Syria, where he found his former family home bombed out.
After spells in Iraq, in Syria (again) and Turkey (where Faraj learned Turkish) he took the bus to Sofia, Bulgaria, followed a circuitous route through Austria and Germany, finally reaching the Channel coast, where he escaped to the UK by hiding in a refrigerated lorry, in which he nearly died from hyperthermia.
Faraj has now been living in the UK for over 5 years.
In 2016, following a spell in a refugee holding centre, Faraj was offered accommodation by a local family, has learned English at a local language school, and developed his cookery skills.
Faraj has been cooking at Honey and Co, after training at Ottolenghi in London. Thanks to lockdown – a very small silver lining – Faraj is now back in Cambridge and has started cooking his delicious Middle Eastern food for delivery to your house.
The menu includes some old favourites – after eating real Aleppo hummus you will never be satisfied by supermarket hummus again – and some less familiar dishes from his mother’s kitchen in Syria. All the dishes are from local ingredients and everything is vegetarian or vegan – and wonderful.
Bread – including challah and pittas – is freshly baked, and if you have never had pistachio challah, it is very highly recommended, for Shabbat or any day.
We welcome Faraj’s contribution to the abundance of worldwide authentic food to be found along Cambridge’s Mill Road. Why order from a mundane multiple? Mill Road can offer much better than their banal burgers and prosaic pizzas!
Announcing the 2021 Mill Road Winter Fair Annual General Meeting
This year’s Annual General Meeting will be held via Zoom on Tuesday 23 March at 7.30pm. Mill Road Winter Fair will be planning the 2021 Fair and exploring a range of exciting ideas for Mill Road Fringe events, which may take place during the summer months as the Covid restrictions lift.
This is the perfect time to join Mill Road Winter Fair’s team of volunteers and help shape the cultural life of Mill Road’s ‘Community of Communities’. Getting involved in the Fair is a great way to meet a fabulous bunch of people while also making a massive difference in our community.
In 2020, the Mill Road Winter Fair could not take place owing to Covid-19 restrictions. Instead, the first Online Fair featuring many of the local performers, artists, stalls and organisations who would have been there on the day, took place.
The Fair committee also coordinated an amazing community event to celebrate and showcase the identity and culture of Mill Road. Fun for all the family, the Mill Road Lantern Trail was funded by the charity, Love Mill Road.
As we negotiate recent changes to Mill Road it has become apparent that drivers subconsciously behave differently along different stretches of the road. Picture one shows how three car drivers chose to pavement-park opposite a build out.
While further down the road on a narrower stretch of the road, Picture Two, shows how a driver uses the build-out as protection for his parked car and helpfully stays on the road.
This allows pedestrians to use the narrow pavement unimpeded. Thank you grey car driver.