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Community use for the Howard Mallett centre?

IMC Cambridge (Lizard) | 15.12.2005 19:37 | Culture | Education | Free Spaces | Cambridge

Aiming at making effective community use of the soon to be empty Howard Mallett centre, a group has been set up to put forward proposals for the space.

The centre, in Cambridge’s densely populated Petersfield ward on Sturton Street, has a long history of community usage and features a gym, radio recording room, café area and further office and community rooms. However, it is soon to be vacated by current lease-holders Dawe Media and the new tenants, charity Citylife, will take a long time to carry through their plans of knocking the building down to construct a ‘social innovation incubation centre’.

The new group is connecting with people with ideas for how the space should be used, which so far include a range of community media, arts, youth, sport and soup kitchen proposals.

New group list:
and their website

Indymedia articles on the Howard Mallet Centre: [ 1 | 2 | 3 ]

A Community Space

The Howard Mallett centre and its land are owned by the Cambridgeshire County Council (the neighbouring park is held by the City Council). Formerly a community centre, it was leased to Dawe Media in 1998 and housed Red TV and the radio station Star FM. During this period, local residents were meant to have use of other parts of the building, but there were complaints that this happened only in a narrow way and on Dawe Media’s terms. Dawe media pulled out of their original 14 year lease this autumn. The County Council had offered the building to Citylife on a 125 year lease due to begin December 23rd. Citylife plans to knock down the existing structure and use the site to construct a larger building for a new ‘social innovation incubation centre’. Prior to offering Citylife the site, the County Council did not make efforts to consult with local residents (who were already upset about their constrained usage during the Dawe media period) nor with the many existing youth and other community projects requiring space in Cambridge.

There are a number of unanswered questions relating to the council’s decision to take the building out of direct local community usage. Because there has not been adequate consultation with the residents or with organisations that could potentially be using the centre, the newly-formed group’s first action has been to make residents aware of the situation, to gauge their opinions on the centre’s fate and to take suggestions for using the space in the short term. Current ideas include housing Cambridge’s 209 community radio station and the Independent Media Centre, a soup kitchen, a community arts program, a community café and youth and sports groups. The working group is for anyone enthusiastic about the centre to connect with each other before this valuable resource is lost.

Unanswered Questions

The Cambridgeshire County Council has pressured Citylife into beginning their 125 year lease on December 23. This represents a time crunch for the charity, which has just had to bring their building plans back to the drawing board. The eagerness of the Council to rid themselves of the building has been evident from the start, as it was the council that approached Citylife offering relatively low rent rates on the site. The reasons for this are unclear; while the Council wants to get the property off of their hands, youth workers have stated that there is no shortage of social projects looking for venues in Cambridge. Currently, the centre is used by a kickboxing group, a capoeira group and a Muslim group as an overflow mosque, but their future in the space is uncertain.

The new group does not oppose Citylife or its project aims, but they are upset that the county council made such swift and behind-the-scenes moves to handover the Howard Mallett centre to the charity. The county council is intended to serve the community primarily and any plans surrounding community spaces should involve adequate discussion. The meeting minutes of the City Council’s Development Plan Steering Group of July 11, 2005 show that Cllr John Durrant of Abbey ward declared Code of Conduct personal interest in Citylife based on his working relationship with the organisation. The nature of this relationship is not explained. Efforts to discern the networks running through the County Council, City Council, Citylife and its partners have not proved fruitful. Questions about the Mallett’s future posed at Stephen Conrad, from the County Council’s property divisions and responsible for Citylife’s lease, are directed straight through to the charity who have not yet even begun their tenancy. Other County and City Councillors seem to have been left relatively ignorant of the plans. In the July 7 Development Plan Steering Group meeting regarding Citylife’s first building plan, Cllr Braddock stated concerns with the “lack of consultation on drawings and plans, which had been shared only with officers”.

Who are Citylife?

Citylife, it’s broad mission to build a stronger sense of community solidarity, was founded out of the Cambridge-based Relationships Foundation in 1995 becoming an independent charitable society in 1999. The Relationships Foundation in turn grew out of a Christian think tank, the Jubilee Centre, as a response to their belief that social issues such as high crime and unemployment are linked to deficits in an individual’s support base.

Citylife takes its theoretical approach from the Foundation, stating its overarching goal of its projects as building ‘relational cities’. Community-based funding is intended to build a sense of solidarity within the local area. Until now they have mainly acted as a fundraising channel using their community bonds scheme. Commercial companies, organisations and individuals can buy bonds- essentially granting Citylife a zero-interest loan- that are guaranteed to be returned in five years. Meanwhile, Citylife uses the interest made from the total sum to support themselves (about 25% according to an interview with CEO Tim Jones) and to loan money to community-based projects in the local region in question. They already have run this scheme in Sheffield, the Newcastle, and East London.

Citylife’s plan in Cambridge takes their work a step forward in the sense that they will be running a project directly for the first time. Their plan to build an enterprise support centre is aimed at helping unemployed people in the city to start their own businesses and is modelled closely on the existing St Johns Innovation centre, which is supporting the Citylife project. The available literature describing the Citylife proposal is a little heavy on rhetoric and light on specific details making it difficult to determine exactly what their finished project might involve. Their description of the ‘Community Innovation Centre’ includes social enterprise ‘incubation’-offices and start-up services-, arts performance, rehearsal and exhibition space, an ‘advice arcade’, a market, and an educational enterprise centre.

Local Opposition

While no one has attacked the Citylife plans as goals, the siting of the proposed centre has caused contention. Citylife is in a very early stage of their preparation, especially after having had to revise their initial plans for their building. After attending a meeting held by local resident group PACT (Petersfield Area Community Trust), who oppose the charity’s use of the site, Citylife became aware of a strip of land on the site whose ownership is contested. Furthermore, PACT has put protection orders on all of the surrounding hundred year-old trees, making the original blueprints for the social innovation centre unviable. Planning permission for Citlylife’s proposed centre seems therefore likely to become a long and involved process.

PACT wants to knock down the building to create more open park and have filed planning applications towards this end. Applications 05/1180/CAC and 05/1171/FUL were both submitted on November 7th and are respectively to demolish the Howard Mallett centre and to change to land use from sui generis to public open space as part St Matthews park. Their position seems to stem in part from their disillusionment with past experience of unfulfilled promises for community usage of the Howard Mallett centre under the Dawe Media lease. Citing a Cambridge Evening News article dating from 1898, they contend that the land that the centre stands upon was originally granted to the local community forever.

In a survey conducted by PACT, it was found that there is significant local support for a community centre. The council has said that such a centre can be built as part of a larger development of the area on Harvest Way by Newmarket road, but the plans are for quite a small facility without the many advantages that the Mallett offers. In January of 2005 PACT put forward a request for a grant and was given it from the City Council Community Development and Leisure funds to cover legal costs for their trusteeship of the new centre. It is however uncertain as to how far in the future any such building could be completed and put into use.


The Howard Mallett centre has had a strong identity as a space serving the community from its historical foundation. In their 2005 newsletter, PACT collected stories remembering the Howard Mallett centre. For one resident, it provided “a safe place for children in the area to play together, regardless of culture, income and family structure,” and its loss as a community space “inestimable”. Opening in the 1960’s the centre was a vibrant resource for youths before falling into mismanagement and leased to Dawe Media. See here for a full timeline of the centre

What happens next?

Meanwhile, Citylife is under pressure to prevent the building becoming vacant upon effect of their lease, a wasteful outcome that no one wants to see. The new group seeks to make productive community use of the centre and has informally approached Citylife with the idea. However, with the unexpected burden of their lease beginning early, Citylife have expressed to a member of the group that they also feel under financial pressure to find interim uses that will bring in revenue. The group feels that this kind of financial prioritising is wholly inappropriate for a community centre and feels that it is the responsibility of the County Council, as a body intended to serve the needs of residents, to enable Citylife to give the building to maximum community use as they proceed with their long-terms plans.

Currently, the outcome of all this is uncertain. Citylife are set to begin a 125 year lease on the 23rd of December for a project that they consider something of a test model without any finalised building plans or planning permission. PACT is awaiting the decisions on their plans to knock the building down. The new group is starting to receive responses from the leaflets they distributed around the area. And the County Council has not yet taken any steps to allay the confusion or address concerns of any of the interested parties involved, least of all the local residents and community workers.

Bellow are links to contacts including Cambridge’s MP, the County Council and the City Council.

New group and their website

Stephen Conrad, Strategic Asset Development Manager</ br>

David Howarth MP House of Commons
Phone: 01223 304421

Petersfield County Councillor:

Nichola Harrison
Liberal Democrat (Petersfield)
C/o Members' Services,
Cambridgeshire County Council
Box No RES1108
Shire Hall
Telephone: 01223 461636

City Councillors for Petersfield:

Councillor Kevin Blencowe (Labour)
Home: 01223 578665

Councillor Ben Bradnack(Labour)
Home: 01223 457240
Fax: 01223 570813

Councillor Victoria Phillips (Lib Dem)
Home: 01223 457243

Indymedia articles on the Howard Mallet Centre: [ 1 | 2 | 3 ]

A search from the Cambridge Evening News website also yields a number of articles and responding letters over the last six months)

More links to the organisations involved:
Relationships Foundation
Cambridgeshire County Council
and the searchable City Council planning applications

IMC Cambridge (Lizard)