Peace campaigner now speaks up for the Piece

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

Dorothy Runnicles

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.

Artist’s impression of the student flats hovering over the former Howard Mallett Centre like an alien spaceship

“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.”

Click the image to learn about Super Matt’s campaign

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.”


Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked (here) on Facebook.


And see the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece campaign video…


Learn more about Dorothy on the National Development Team for Inclusion website, here.

Watch video recordings of Dorothy on Legasee – The Veterans Video Archive, here .


Join the Great British September Clean!

Keep Mill Road Tidy

Click the image to visit the national Great British September Clean website.

CAMBRIDGE City Council has pledged its support for this year’s re-organised Great British September Clean, run by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, which takes place from 11- 27 September.

To support this year’s campaign in Cambridge, the City Council will be inviting groups and individuals to get involved and help clear up litter from their local streets, parks and open spaces. The council will be providing litter pickers, hi-vis vests, gloves, and rubbish bags for all those who want to do their bit.

The council will also be leading a programme of organised clean up events throughout the city, over the two-week campaign period, working with community groups and individual volunteers.

Click the image to view/download the full Cambridge City Council press release
Organised local clean up events in the Mill Road area are:
  • Sunday 20 September, Mill Road Cemetery – meeting at the Mill Road entrance
  • Tuesday 22 September, Parker’s Piece – meeting at Hobbs Pavilion
  • Saturday 26 September, Romsey Recreation Ground – meeting at Vinery Road entrance

All events will start at 11am and run until 12 noon.

Click here to read/download details of schemes across the city.

Volunteers will be asked to separate the litter they pick into two bags: one for recycling and another for the rest of the rubbish. The City Council will then collect these bags to ensure that they are recycled appropriately.

If you want to get involved in any of the above events or to organise your own – either as part of the Great British September Clean campaign or at any other time of the year – please use this link to email the Cambridge City Council’s Streets and Open Spaces Community Engagement Team, phone 01223 458084 or visit the Cambridge City Council Volunteer litter picking webpage for more information.

In line with the Government’s Covid-19 safety guidelines, the number of individuals/households that can attend these events will be limited, social distancing will be observed and enhanced personal protective equipment and cleansing will be observed at organised events.


To find out more about how to report litter and what action the council can take see the City Council’s Request a litter pick webpage.


Related items from Cambridge City Council…

Super Matt says Save St Matthew’s Piece!

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece have a new supporter – Super Matt the Super Squirrel in their campaign to protect their small Petersfield park.

Super Matt the Super Squirrel says, "Help! It's landing on the Piece! Your park needs you!"
Click on Super Matt to visit his Facebook page

Developers want to build a block of student flats that will crouch over the former Howard Mallett Centre like a spaceship landing.

Image of the proposed development.

The campaign’s new character Super Matt the Super Squirrel lives in one of the trees that will be destroyed if the developers get their way. He is warning neighbours in Petersfield about the threat.

And he’s urging them to sign up for the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece supporters’ email list. This will help co-ordinate community action when the developers put in their planning application.

“We want our beautiful trees, not a hulking block of flats,” says Janet Wright, of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

“Petersfield has less public open space than any other part of Cambridge, and very few trees. We can’t afford to lose any.”

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked on Facebook.


This post is open for (polite) comments.
But this is not an alternative way of contacting Friends of St Matthew’s Piece!


“These images are like a nightmare”

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece say, “The building is completely out of scale with its surroundings and shows no respects for the local community”

A proposed building that would tower over a Cambridge park is far more intrusive than developers’ illustrations show, say campaigners.

It would dominate the entire area around St Matthew’s Piece and throw neighbouring houses into deep shadow, new 3D images demonstrate.

“These images are like a nightmare,” says Janet Wright, a supporter of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece. “You can see this monstrosity crouching on top of the existing building, overshadowing ordinary little houses and filling the view from the Piece.”

Architectural projections skilfully woven into a newly released video [above] reveal the proposed student housing block, more than 19 metres tall, looming over St Matthew’s Piece. Local campaigners have likened the building, intended to house more than 100 students, to a ‘spaceship’ or ‘monster’.

“The building is completely out of scale with its surroundings and shows no respects for the local community,” says a local resident who has contributed key architectural skills to the production of this dramatic video. 

The video was made for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece by Mill Road TV. It marks the 122nd anniversary of the day the park was given to local residents “for ever”. Friends of St Matthew’s Piece celebrated the anniversary (23 June) with a socially distanced gathering, while calling on other local residents to join them in protecting the Piece.

Developers Federated Hermes have not yet put in a formal planning application, but have circulated their proposals to hundreds of local residents.

Press release from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece dated 6th July 2020

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted on Facebook, by email on Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com, followed on Twitter or Instagram.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development and Protect St Matthew’s Piece.


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Protect St Matthew’s Piece

Glenys and Dave from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece hold a celebratory banner

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece write:

Today (23 June 2020) marks 122 years since St Matthew’s Piece was given to the people of Petersfield “for the recreation of the inhabitants for ever.

Now the tranquillity of the small park is under threat from developers who want to build a large block of student flats on the northern half of the original Piece.  

The pandemic means Friends of St Matthew’s Piece, who oppose the development, can’t throw an anniversary party. But a small group will gather (safely) at 3pm on 23 June to mark the day with decorations and readings.

St Matthew’s Piece was opened in 1898 specifically to provide healthy public open space in a very crowded part of Cambridge. It is needed more than ever now.

Janet Wright, FoSMP

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted on Facebook, by email on Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com, followed on Twitter or Instagram.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development and “These images are like a nightmare“.


Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece has had a massive response to their call for action against plans to build a block of student flats on the St Matthew’s Piece.

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

More than 100 objections flooded in to developers Federated Hermes, before the consultation closed on 18th May.

The FoSMP leaflet (PDF) urging residents to email the developers and copy in local councillors, is hosted by Petersfield Area Community Trust, which backs the Friends’ campaign:

I make it 118 responses that I’ve been copied into – all negative, in varying degrees.

There is a significant groundswell of opinion in the local community against the development. There is already enough student accommodation in the local area and we would urge the developers to reconsider.

Petersfield councillor Mike Davey

Petersfield residents have spoken loud and clear...

The proposed building, on stilts above an existing structure, would rise 19.7 metres (nearly 65 feet) above the ground at its highest point. It would tower over surrounding terraces and the popular tree-lined public open space.

The worry now is that the developers will push ahead with this monstrous scheme anyway, or scale back only cosmetically – to something like the grotesque proposals provisionally floated and loathed back in 2014.

Friends supporter Valerie Neal.

St Matthew’s Piece April 2019, Google Maps

‘Stop development at St Matthew’s Piece and create a park’ says Cambridge PPF – report in the Cambridge Independent.

Read Cambridge Past Present & Future‘s response to the developers here (PDF).


Stay in touch with Friends of St Matthew’s Piece on Facebook follow on Twitter or Instagram, or email Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com.

You may also wish to contact your local Cambridge City Councillors:

If you would like to email Friends of St Matthew’s Piece with your three Petersfield councillors Cc-ed, use this link.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Protect St Matthew’s Piece and “These images are like a nightmare“.


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