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Our tourist information provision?

Famous local
people

How things change over time

University Master Plan Peterborough Embankment

Social Distancing

Westgate Market
a proposal

Peterborough Civic Society
Peterborough Civic Society
Peterborough Civic Society
Peterborough Civic Society
Peterborough Civic Society
Peterborough Civic Society

Café Culture for Peterborough?

Peterborough Town Investment Plan bid

Embankment Masterplan
we're still waiting

Living under the Coronavirus cloud

Our river - the Nene

Blue Plaques series
now concluded

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What has happened to our tourist information centre? - optimistic

This article was first published in the 20 January 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

A few days ago my grandson James and I enjoyed one of those bright, breezy marvellous winter days out at Wells-Next-The-Sea. Whilst we were there we wandered into the newly-refurbished Maltings Arts Centre. There, in the corner of the reception area, was a small but extremely well-organised and welcoming tourist information centre, with neat racks of leaflets, a table with items for sale and two friendly members of staff with whom I got chatting – one was part-time and the other a volunteer.

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Contrast this with the experience that I had the previous day. I had seen the bare windows and empty unit of our very own Visitor Information Centre in Bridge Street and had read the notice advising me that any visitors wanting information should now go into the Town Hall reception area. This I decided to do. Once inside the Town Hall I saw a rather sad-looking range of leaflets and other bits of information on a shelf and adjacent noticeboard. I went across to the reception area where three chaps (beadles in my day) were congregated looking at a computer monitor. I intended to ask them if there was any other material available. I waited for a minute for them to acknowledge my presence. None of them did so I left, a dissatisfied customer.

I must emphasise that I am not having a go or criticising the staff at what was the old Visitor Information Centre, many of whom I have found to be courteous and amiable. My beef is with the plain fact that my city no longer appears to have a physical visible presence extolling the virtues of Peterborough. Of course, I may just have caught the Town Hall staff on a bad day (it certainly wasn’t busy). It may well be that the Council has plans to relocate the information centre to another location. If so please let us know and I may well revise my views.

However, it does appear likely that the Council has little or no money to keep the Information Centre going so yet again Peterborough has a decision to make. Whilst we appreciate that the Council remains in dire financial straits, surely there is a need to publicise our city? Many now argue that any relevant information can be obtained online. That is certainly the case but I still maintain that there is a need for a physical presence, particularly for those who have limited or no access to the Internet.

A suggestion as to how to solve this would require some co-operation and goodwill. Why can’t the Visitor Information Centre be combined with the existing Cathedral information desk/shop? Directing visitors to the Cathedral would be easy.

In addition, the Cathedral already has volunteer staff who surely wouldn’t mind overseeing a few bright new leaflet racks in addition to their own. There would also be a facility for publications to once again be sold – examples include Chris Porsz’s excellent publications, Stephen Perry’s local history guides and our own Peterborough In Detail book, with any profits going to the Cathedral. Surely there is space to accommodate both.

The Council could make a monetary contribution to the Cathedral in lieu of renting a separate premises and Council staff/volunteers could assist in the new combined Cathedral/Tourist Information shop. It strikes me as a ‘win/win situation’. The Cathedral gets more visitors, the Council still has a visitor information presence and the Civic Society is very happy! Sorted! Or am I being too simplistic?

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Famous local people

This article was first published in the 20 February 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

The Society is always looking to promote and applaud improvements to Peterborough and surrounding area and to celebrate three eras – its past, present and future, probably in almost equal measures. The Society and its members spend a great deal of time looking at issues of planning, growth and development. We consider, and have plenty to say about, buildings, roads, townships and new initiatives including the proposed new university or the recent trend for building flats (if you stand still for long enough in Peterborough you’ll get converted into flats).

However, the magnificent west front of the cathedral, Ferry Meadows and its upkeep as well as the myriad of other splendid local places are nothing without people. It’s not the cycles in Bridge Street that get folks wound up, it’s the people riding them! So, for once, let’s celebrate Peterborough people.

In Victorian times there was no Netflix, radio or even Peterborough United to keep us entertained. I’m reliably informed that people sat round and invented parlour games to keep themselves amused. Well here’s a game for you – write down ten influential or memorable Peterborians, people that, for whatever reason – good or bad – have seeped into your consciousness, affected or influenced you. Here’s my list (in first name alphabetical order) – Charles Swift, Edith Cavell, Ernie Wise, Frank Perkins, Henry Pearson Gates, John Clare, Peter Boizot, Richard Paten, Ken Charlery and Wyndham Thomas. I can hear people screaming, “But you’ve forgotten …!” To misquote Lesley (as opposed to Al) Gore – it’s my list and I’ll choose if I want to.

I could also have gone all ecclesiastical on you by mentioning cathedral-related luminaries – Old Scarlett, Katharine of Aragon, Abbot Benedict, Abbot Kirkton, Bishop Bill Westwood or Stanley Vann. Perhaps I’ll save them for another day. My personal list is purely secular!

I could have gone all Paeda and Kyneburgha on you but not today. I could have been all educational – Jack Hunt, John Mansfield, Arthur Mellows, Thomas Deacon. I could have been Posh – Tommy Robson, Terry Bly, Craig Mackail-Smith, Robbie Cooke, Fred Barber, Bobby Doyle, Norman Rigby, Mick Halsall, Ken Charlery (again and again and again). On another day I might have trodden the literary path – Edward Storey, L. P. Hartley, Lotte Kramer, John Fletcher and William Morton. I might have devised my own women-only shortlist – Edith Cavell (again), Margaret Gibson, Audrey Chalmers, Katherine Clayton, Jessie Elborne, Florence Saunders, Lotte Kramer, Ethel Granger and Phyllis Stedman. Editor - visit our Peterborough Plaques pages to see notable local people we have recognised.

There are local people who have devoted their lives to studying, promoting and celebrating the lives of our eminent citizens. These include Michael Lee who is a renowned expert of the bell founder Henry Penn. Just visit the Voice of the City installation in lower Bridge Street to learn a little more. There are dozens more illustrious and industrious local people who spend hours researching Peterborough, its people and its history. I admire their endeavours.

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But there is one person I’ve left out – a man guaranteed to generate one of two reactions – newer Peterborians will look blank and say, “Who?”. Older citizens will remember him fondly with a smile and a tale or two. I refer of course to Walter Cornelius. He was Peterborough’s most famous immigrant in a city renowned for his friendly disposition and strong man feats. He embodies all that represents Peterborough – an outsider who moved to Peterborough and left the city richer than it was prior to his arrival. Walter was an ordinary man who became extraordinary. Walter was unique, an eccentric, unconventional, a one-off and certainly an original. His life and feats are briefly explained in my poem that accompanies this page. And if you want a visual reminder of Walter visit the Lido and read the plaque dedicated to him just inside the main entrance. Alternatively, when you walk past the lido, look up and see his Birdman persona immortalised by the weathervane on top of its clock tower.

There will be many others that we should laud and celebrate. Indeed the Civic Society is on the point of commissioning fifteen new blue plaques to add to the existing twenty-one in the city centre but, dear reader, I will tease you by writing that you will just have to wait for another day to hear about those.

Poem to Walter Cornelius

I’ll tell you a story about a man
Who lived without frippery or fuss;
A man with the heart of a lion
And the frame of a double-decker bus.

He was originally a son of Latvia
Then later one of us.
I speak of course of a character
Called Walter Cornelius.

He was famous for being eccentric
Unkind citizens called him a fool;
He spent a great deal of time living in a Ford Transit
Behind the Lido swimming pool.

A place where he gained employment
Teaching children to swim and dive
And he even appeared on Blue Peter
In the year after 1975.

He bent coins, metal posts and steel railings
And reputedly appeared in a song
And on telly (who remembers Opportunity Knocks?)
All for being strong!

He held various world records
Pushing peas or even a bus;
Skipped for 90 minutes with a 48 pound chain
All for the amusement of us.

Devouring three and a half pounds of onions in two minutes;
Huge numbers of sausages he would eat
Not for gluttony but for charity,
These masticating gastronomic feats.

His attempt to fly across the Nene
Fascinated the nation.
Had the Birdman of Peterborough stunt succeeded
He’d have been frazzled in the electricity sub-station.

But in September 1983
This king of oddity and quirk
Sadly departed this mortal coil
So he did not turn up for work.

A heart attack had taken him;
Perhaps one too many sausages I fear
And his death caused many a Peterborian
To shed a private tear.

We now live in a time of austerity
Of blandness and minimum fuss
But our lives were made cheerful and colourful
By Walter Cornelius.

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How things change over time

This article was first published in the 19 March 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

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All families have tensions as do local communities, villages, towns, cities and countries and dear old Peterborough is no different. One person’s progress is another person’s inconvenience. One person might look upon a development as a necessity, someone else as an unwanted luxury. You only have to look at the pages of each week’s PT to see what I mean. I’m reliably informed that the articles that include old photographs of the city are one of the paper’s most popular features. Whilst many might view these pictures with misty-eyed nostalgia, others might say that this is being stuck in the past. But, as the accompanying pictures show, often it’s the people that change more than the buildings.

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Peterborough is undergoing a great deal of progress/inconvenience* (*delete as applicable) at the moment. Take the bus station for example. It looks like we are going to experience and/or endure eighteen months of disruption while the new cinema complex is plonked on the top of John Lewis’s. Icing on the cake or blot on the landscape? This disruption will understandably cause ructions but there is one small benefit for this citizen – the number 63 bus that stops right outside my house now takes me down to right outside the Brewery Tap. Hallelujah – there is a god!

Our city is experiencing many changes. Despite what you might think the Civic Society’s view is that most of these are for the better image missing please notify webmaster despite the short-term upheaval and inconvenience. As the phrase goes – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. However it is up to all of us – individual citizens, community groups, councillors, our MPs – to safeguard and promote what we consider is best for our city. Even within the Civic Society there is vigorous debate and even disagreement about what is best. For example there are some (me included) who believe that a new football ground in a new location would be beneficial for the city. But there are others (mainly non-football supporters) who are unconvinced by the need for a move and resentful of the possibility of losing more green space in the city centre. There is also a great deal of debate and disagreement about the proposed climbing wall at Ferry Meadows. Even the new university is not universally accepted, perhaps because we all have different views of what a university actually is.

Similar levels of scepticism exist around other impending developments. Many Peterborians bemoan the loss of the market perhaps forgetting that the market itself replaced the livestock or cattle market in the 1960s. Presumably people exhibited the same feelings of loss when this happened. The hard truth is that the market was gradually dying because shoppers weren’t using it in the same numbers as 20 or 30 years ago. The same logic applies to Bridge Street. If consumers don’t want so many empty city centre units then don’t use Amazon or other online services and suppliers.

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University Master Plan Peterborough Embankment

This article was first published in the 17 April 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee members
Kem Mehmed and Peter Lee.

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One of the city’s most cherished open spaces is all set for a total transformation. OK, it’s not quite ‘all set’ and it might not be ‘total’ but you will certainly notice changes should the intensions of the Leader of the City Council come to pass. The April 2nd edition of the Peterborough Telegraph carried a story on pages 18/19 about the ‘University Master Plan’ which was gleaned from a City council document approved by Councillor Holdich. (It was intended to present this to the Council’s Cabinet, but all meetings have been suspended for the foreseeable future.)

This document is specifically about the setting up of a Joint Venture company to bring forward new buildings to house the teaching and some social elements of the proposed University of Peterborough (UOP). The partners in this company would be the City Council and the Combined Authority. Other partners could come on-board such as the Academic Body which will eventually comprise the UOP. A number of issues are raised which are of concern to anyone with the best interests of the city at heart.

Firstly, on a positive note we are pleased to see the progress being made on the first phase building on the former Wirrina site which would probably have been receiving full planning approval by now but for the Coronavirus lockdown.

Here are the Civic Society Comments.

Once the current crisis is manageable and some normality resumes there will, no doubt, be a good deal of soul searching and re-assessment of priorities in all aspects of life. Perhaps, one such rethink should see the City Council instigate work on setting out a vision and framework for the Embankment to make the most of its open and riverside character, as well as its role in enabling new developments which will enhance the city.

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Social Distancing

This article was first published in the 20 May 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph when the country was in the grip of the first COVID-19 lockdown and control measures were in place to prevent the virus spreading. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

The phrase ‘social distancing’ is certain become one that will come to define 2020. Much has been written about the dreaded lurgy and I’m not going to repeat the valuable messages that we are all so aware of. Instead I would like to muse about what I am likely to do when this whole thing is finally over. So, for this column, I shall write nothing about Civic Society views on planning or new developments, just individual thoughts about the future. I have not been able to meet my Civic Society chums in person so what comes next is purely personal.

When this thing is over I’m going to:-

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Westgate Market Hall - a proposal

This article was first published in the 11 June 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee members Kem Mehmed and Toby Wood.

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The recent closure of Peterborough’s first ever department store, originally operated by Peterborough Cooperative Society and latterly by Beales, is a huge disappointment to many people. Built well over a hundred years ago it has imposing frontages along Park Road as well as Westgate (see comparative photograph). Adjacent to Queensgate it stands at the heart of Peterborough’s shopping district and deserves to be saved.

The intended redevelopment of the combined sites of the Peterborough Market and Multi-storey Car Park and the closure of the Beales store in Westgate House requires some in depth analysis and imaginative thinking.

The Civic Society feels that here is an opportunity to put the two changes to positive use by promoting an exciting partial but major repurposing of Westgate House, which would have long lasting benefits for the city centre. What we suggest is a relocation of the Market to a new covered market hall within the shell of the existing building on Park Road and Westgate. This notion was first suggested in the letters page on 21 May by Judy Jones, incidentally a member of the Society.

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It should be feasible to retain the existing frontage buildings on both Park Road and Westgate for a relatively shallow depth and remove everything else behind. The complete frontage to Park Road appears to have been built originally as a narrow strip of several separate buildings for the full frontage. The central area behind the retained frontages as far as North Street area could become the basis of the ‘Westgate Market Hall’, a twenty-first century version of the Corn Exchange. Permanent market stalls of traditional size would be set-out around a central open space which would be ideal for ‘out-door’ eating and occasionally for performances. The whole would be covered by a roof allowing in much natural light, constructed in a form and style to bring some excitement to the street scene. It could, of course, look spectacular from within the hall itself.

The retained frontage buildings would be converted to small retail and food/drink units with further units on the North Street side. The first floor would have a balcony running around two sides, access being gained via one or more escalators. The upper level units would provide additional space for the more specialist services such as opticians, solicitors and other small offices, a gym and several residential apartments. Parts of the second floor and loft space could also be converted to apartments. The end result would be a vibrant mixed-use development of a cherished building.

This idea is illustrated (see right) in the accompanying sketch and cross-section drawings, click to enlarge.

If the existing market site is to be redeveloped the Market has to move, in any case, to enable redevelopment to take place. Why not build the new market on a permanent fresh site so that it does not have to move twice? The Westgate House site is ideally located to ensure a sustainable future. It is close to those things which will attract shoppers, and traders and close to the true core of retailing next to a ground level pedestrian access to Queensgate. It is also easily accessible to bus and train stations and large capacity car parks. There would also be space for ground level parking on the site. It is also on a route well known to existing Peterborough shoppers, many of Beale’s (and the Co-op’s) old customers being well used to travelling to the Park Road area.

There are many existing local residents living within walking distance and many more to come when North Westgate is eventually developed, with at least 300 new homes.

Implementing such a scheme, assuming it is financially viable, would require cooperation of a number of agencies; the owners of Westgate House; the City Council and the Market Traders association.

The Civic Society would like to see a feasibility study commissioned as soon as possible to explore this idea involving as wide a range of those individuals and organisations which have a concern for the future of both the Peterborough Market and Westgate House.

Update We have set up a Westgate Market Hall page, please visit to see how you can help us. Am sure you will agree that it makes a sound idea, and any updates will be published there.

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Café Culture for Peterborough?

This article was first published in the 16 July 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph when the country was in the grip of the first COVID-19 lockdown and control measures were in place to prevent the virus spreading. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

Over the past few years my wife and I have popped over (or under) the Channel to Belgium, a country that we have grown rather fond of. image missing please notify webmaster It has beautiful towns, wonderful buildings and a 65 km coastline with a tram system that takes you along the coast to any or all of the fifteen coastal towns from De Panne to Knokke. Bruges is gorgeous but can be a little busy, Ghent has marvellous art galleries and churches and the little coastal gem of Ostend is a working port as well as a friendly resort with a wide promenade and stunning beach. And of course, there are plenty of opportunities for moules frites, waffles and delicious and rather strong Belgian beers.

All of this was before the curse of Covid-19 struck. In fact my wife and I were due to travel on Eurostar to Ghent to see the Van Eyck exhibition but recent circumstances put paid to that. Belgium is currently very socially distant. In truth it might be a while before we visit again.

So why mention this now? The reason is simple. One of the delights of visiting Belgium is the wealth of restaurants, cafes and bars that adorn just about every street and boulevard. The majority of these have both inside and outside facilities, the outside areas spreading onto the pavements and walkways and covered by substantial awnings and sturdy umbrellas. Many is the time that Irene and I have sat outside, both in sun and rain, eating, drinking and watching the world go by.

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Belgium has roughly the same climate as the United Kingdom, has some sun, wind and a good deal of rain just like we do. But this does not put the Belgians and tourists off. Café owners ensure that the outside street area coverings and furniture are attractive, sturdy and, if necessary, heated. Look at the accompanying photograph (left) to see what I mean.

Now it just so happens that Peterborough is considering just this type of café culture. A couple of weeks ago Cllr. Marco Cereste was on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire talking about the imminent possibilities of café culture coming to Peterborough. In fact he hinted at some developments as soon as the following week.

Of course we welcome such improvements to the city centre but this really has to be thought through. There’s a big difference between cosmetic short-term actions and more considered longer-term improvements. I sincerely hope that we don’t end up with a temporary marquee on Cathedral Square or some sort of shed and temporary bar placed in the Guildhall selling ordinary lager at £5.00 a pint like we saw last Christmas. What a disaster that was!

Any longer-term initiative should ideally involve an extension in floor space of existing providers, not random ill-thought-through additions. Retailers need to be fully consulted and involved regarding feasibility. Pavements, walkways, traffic management and access need to be looked at as a whole so that diners and pedestrians can happily co-exist. City Council planners need to be able to control the type and quality of any awnings and coverings, particularly bearing in mind sensitivities around some of our listed buildings. Be under no illusion – these improvements are not cheap but once again, if the initiative is to be successful, we should expect high quality not short-term makeshift shoddy.

Yes, a street-based café culture for Peterborough is a wonderful idea and should be applauded. There is nothing I’d like more than to sit in a covered area outside a city centre restaurant. And if it is to work I have a simple message - do it properly.

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Peterborough Town Investment Plan bid

The following is based upon an article written by committee member Kem Mehmed that was first published in the 24 August 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It has been edited in light of the Government's decision to award Peterborough over £22m in response to the Council's Town Investment Plan. This decision is detailed in the Town Investment Plan Update paragraph which concludes this article.

Better times are coming for our fair city in the shape of a package of projects to be delivered not by Amazon but by the Town Investment Plan (TIP), part of a Government initiative to award up to £25 million to each of 101 towns and cities throughout England as part of their intention to level up the regions. Peterborough is one of those chosen and for the last six months a group of people drawn from the local business community, the City Council and the Combined Authority has been meeting as the Town Deal Board to draw-up a list of projects to bid for approval from the Government.

The TIP bid, sent to the Government at the end of July, seeks funding totalling nearly £25m to support a range of projects. If approved the money will be spent in one or more of the following key project areas.

 

Riverside Development and Connections

  • A foot/cycle bridge over the Nene to provide a link between the city centre and Fletton Quays. Something the Civic Society has been calling for since 2015. A similar type of bridge over the railway is needed to continue the link to Fletton and Stanground, but this has not been included.
  • A masterplan for the Embankment and Middleholme (the large open field to the east of Frank Perkins Parkway). This could include a site for Peterborough United FC stadium.


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Footbridge proposal

 

Visitor Attractions

  • The Vine - new library and cultural hub for the city in the TK Maxx (former Woolworth’s) building in Bridge St, adjacent to the pedestrian crossing on Bourges Boulevard. See photo right of the current building and a concept of how it could look (click to enlarge).
  • A National Bronze Age Museum - themed extension to the Town Museum.
  • Lakeside Activity/Climbing Centre at Ferry Meadows.

 



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The Vine proposal

 

The Station Quarter

  • Improved routes from the train station to the city centre, making this journey easy for visitors and to enhance ‘first impressions’ of the city.
  • Open up land for the development of new homes and offices.
 

Enterprise and Skills infrastructure

  • An enterprise, training and business incubation hub to support new city businesses and start-ups. Possibly part of the Vine.
  • A training centre for green technology skills, aimed towards the construction and automotive sectors.
 

‘Green City’

  • Creating safer, easily accessible routes for pedestrians and cyclists to the train station and city centre and elsewhere.
  • Enhancement of public realm and open spaces to support the wellbeing of residents and helping the city to move towards the goal of becoming carbon neutral.

The Government specifies how each Town Deal Board should be run. The Chairman and other members are to be drawn from the local business community, City Councillors, and Combined Authority officers, together with representatives of the local community and other civic bodies.

Government guidance emphasises the importance of community involvement and its input into the Plan. The City Council received £174,000 of Government funding to help set up and run the Board, some of which is to be used for organising business and wider community engagement.

Local communities should have a meaningful role in decision making for the future of their town, and Town Deal Boards should draw on local knowledge and insight . It is expected that this will be achieved by including representatives from local civic and faith organisations in the governance structure.

The Peterborough Town Investment Plan has been presented to Government during the most difficult of circumstances - lockdown has been challenging for us all. However, regrettably, no version of the Investment Plan has appeared on the Council's web-site. Let's hope that these documents soon appear so that the public can better understand not only the process but also the thinking behind them.

We have been assured that when lockdown ceases there will be consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, businesses, voluntary organisations and individuals. Hopefully this will ensure that Peterborough people can become fully involved in what after all is an exciting new development for the city. We don't know what form this consultation process will take, but the Civic Society will do its best to keep the progress of the Town Investment Plan in the public eye.'

Town Investment Plan Update

In late October 2020 the Government announced details of funding that had been awarded to seven towns and cities throughout England in response to their submitted Town Investment Plans. It is intended that, in broad terms, this money will be used to to boost regeneration, sustain jobs, improve connectivity and stimulate economic growth. Peterborough is one of the chosen cities and has been awarded £22.9 million which the Government states 'will be used to lay the groundwork for low carbon living, supporting healthy lifestyles and encourage enterprise and innovation. Planned projects include a skills centre for green technologies, an enterprise hub and a new pedestrian bridge'.

The Civic Society will continue to support the implementation of Peterborough's Town Investment Plan, and seek to ensure that, wherever possible, the local community is involved in the decision making process.

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Embankment Masterplan - we're still waiting

This article was first published in the 17 September 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by our chairman, David Turnock.

On April 16 this year, Kem Mehmed and Peter Lee, committee members of the Society wrote comprehensively about the future of the Embankment in an article entitled University Master Plan Peterborough Embankment. The article proffered comments about the absence of vision and of a framework plan for the whole Embankment, the University body and a stadium/events arena.

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Still no framework for the embankment

Five months on and a great deal has changed – or has it? We now have more detailed plans for the University although these have been scaled back since initial publication. The owners of Peterborough United have come up with a proposal for a new stadium on the Embankment although there is no mention of this relocation in any PCC plan. A major change since April is the handing back of recreational, sporting and cultural services from Vivacity to the Council. This of course includes the Key Theatre the future of which, at the time of writing, is far from secure.

In the past week or so we have heard that the Council wishes to demolish the Regional Swimming Pool and build a new one on the Fair Meadows car park site, ironically the main car park for both home and away fans currently attending Posh matches at London Road.

Towns Fund Bid

In the meantime we have had a major Towns Fund bid for £25m submitted to government, with five major strands, mainly targeted at the city centre. One of these (Project 1) entitled Embankment Masterplan states, “it will be important to protect public realm areas … Peterborough United has also declared plans for a new Stadium and Events arena. This represents a departure from Local Plan Policy”. Let’s hope that the overall Towns Fund bid is successful for the good of our city. Once the outcome is more certain we can argue about the detail.

At this point let’s be quite clear and unequivocal. We are always seeking the best for our fine city, an aspiration that has been at the heart of every one of our Peterborough Telegraph articles and will continue to be so. The Society exists to celebrate and promote the city and to strive for a high quality of life for its citizens. Consequently that does mean that we sometimes have reservations about certain new developments, and sometimes these reservations can become objections.

Proposed football stadium and loss of valuable green space

We are in favour of a new stadium if that’s what it takes to assist the club to become an even more successful part of our growing city. In addition we would like to see a stadium that can cater for concerts and large events in a venue that attracts visitors from all over the region. But we must counterbalance this aspiration with a number of wider interests. Is the Embankment the right place for a new stadium bearing in mind concerns around the potential loss of precious city centre green space, problems of access, the impact of traffic flows and car parking and the negative impact of an 8-storey structure on views of the Cathedral? Other parts of the city should be considered, Fengate, Dogsthorpe or sites closer to the A1 with the advantages of excellent road access. It is surely not essential for a large arena to be situated in the centre of a city and take away the green space that has been protected for the people of Peterborough for many centuries.

But most of all is the concern referred to at the start of this piece - our original premise – there is no vision and framework published so far that includes proposals for the Embankment. We must avoid piecemeal development and come up with an overall plan that takes account of all the individual pieces of the Embankment jigsaw.

Lungs of the city

One aspect that must not be forgotten is that the Embankment area is a vital green space in our city. It is the lungs of our city. By all means look at how the area adjacent to the river can be improved (and a new footbridge as part of the Towns Fund Bid would help enliven the area for families and visitors) but do we really want our green space to disappear? We believe not, and once lost we will never get it back.

Give us a voice!

The opinions of our influential local decision makers on the future of the Embankment need to be known. What are the views of Paul Bristow MP, Shailesh Vara MP, Mayor James Palmer, Cllr John Holdich and others? But perhaps most importantly the city’s leaders need to urgently explain how the people of Peterborough are going to have a say, individually or collectively, on the future of the Embankment. We do not wish to be presented with a fait accompli, something that suddenly appears from nowhere without any apparent consideration of the views of Peterborough people.

We await a strategy for gathering public opinion so that thoughts and ideas can be sought, collected and collated and, perhaps most importantly, how can these views and opinions be incorporated into any final decision. Peterborough City Council and other local decision-making bodies must address these questions if they wish to gain and maintain backing and support from Peterborians. These are important issues. Let’s us hope that as many Peterborough people as possible inundate the Peterborough Telegraph with views. Over to you!

If you are not a member of the Society, please do join us. The larger our membership the more influence we can bring over matters of concern.

Editor's prerogative could not resist including these photos supplied by Toby, taken from same location as the willows above.

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Living under the Coronavirus cloud

This article was first published in the 15 October 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by Toby Wood.

Lockdown has given us far more time to think and ponder on life in general and Peterborough in particular. Between March and June I managed to undertake a daily walk whilst listening to a classic album daily for three months, many of which were from the 1960s, still by far the best decade for popular music (queue avalanche of differing views). This was my way of managing and coming to terms with the temporary loss of freedom caused by Covid-19.

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My grandson James is a teacher in China and, despite a strictly enforced lockdown earlier this year, is now out and about with seemingly very few restrictions. However he does report that many cinemas and theatres are still closed. This demonstrates that the arts are suffering all over the world. Many creative people live from hand to mouth and cannot currently go on the road and perform either now or in the immediate future. Through my connection with Baston Folk Club I am aware of musicians who are still active and creative but who are unable to make a living from performing or touring. Many of these good folk also teach music but, due to current restrictions, are not able to do that. In short they are well and truly stuck!

Thinking of James, in 2013 he was involved in Eastern Angles’ superb play, Dark Earth, which was so atmospherically staged at Flag Fen. This acting experience provided him, then a sixteen-year-old, with the confidence to go on to spread his wings even further. Whilst at university in Nottingham he directed a most successful student production. All of these experiences within the arts gave him increased confidence to try new things and to explore the world.

James’s grandad is also partial to a spot of performing. The legendary Gaslight Club provided me with the opportunity to perform stand-up poetry on the same bill as comedians, Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Milton Jones, Eddie Izzard and Paul Merton. I was able to hear sublime music from Ali Farke Toure, Pierre le Rue, Ezio and Booga and the bonkers John Otway as well as learn from stand-up poets such as Henry Normal, Atilla the Stockbroker and John Hegley. image missing please notify webmaster Years later I have been lucky enough to attend events where I can listen to, and learn from, such local spoken word performers as Keely Mills, Mark Grist, Pete Cox and Charley Genever, all of whose work is thoughtful and innovative.

We can all look back to our own past experiences with a mixture of nostalgia, fondness and, in some cases, trepidation. Looking back is fine – indeed there is a great deal in the pages of this newspaper – but the real test of the value of these experiences is what we learn from them and how we adapt in the future.

And here is the nub of the problem. I’m lucky. I’m retired and do not have to worry about my current and future finances. But there are thousands of writers, performers and contributors to the creative arts industries who are suffering big time at the moment and, in addition, audiences are being starved of entertainment. Many of the organisations that I have performed for are older people’s groups – Women’s Institutes, Friendship groups, U3A groups and the like. Speakers are missing them and they are missing the speakers. Many of these older group members rely on these events for social interaction and stimulation. Sadly 2020 has brought us increased loneliness, isolation and anxiety. We all miss getting out and about!

The Civic Society is not just about bricks and mortar, planning and architecture. It’s also about the celebration of people, their welfare and their sense of place within Peterborough. As the city’s cultural life gradually revives, and it will, the various authorities must consider how they can work together for mutual benefit. The city’s theatres, performers, musicians, indeed all entertainment providers must talk about cooperation not competition, expansion not contraction and those in power must look at ways to encourage audiences back into safe, secure, friendly environments. Perhaps we must look at doing things differently – a permanent performing space in Central Park, a drive-in theatre, ways of taking the arts into streets and local communities. All ideas gratefully received!

There’s only so much telly I can stand. I want to see real people again – this boy can’t Zoom for ever!

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Our river - the Nene

This article was first published in the 19 November 2020 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by Toby Wood.

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It’s easy to take things for granted, whether that be at home, local neighbourhood or the city in general. And so it is for our river, our very own river Nene that flows through our city centre. Our river isn’t a loud, uncouth, raging torrent that crashes through the city, it’s more of a grand old lady serenely and almost silently gliding unnoticed through Peterborough. Maybe that’s it’s problem – it isn’t loud enough, it doesn’t stand up for itself and fight its corner. Well all that could be about to change.

If our river is a shy creature then we had better stick up for it ourselves – so I am forming a new pressure group – the RNDs – River Nene Defenders (Civic Society branch).

But why does the RND need to exist? Well I’m afraid the river is currently generally sad and unkempt (the obvious exception being the excellent way that it is looked after just a couple of miles upstream at Nene Park/Ferry Meadows). Old boats lie rotting, banks are grubby and goose-poo littered and many of the banks are currently dangerous or inaccessible. image missing please notify webmaster

But wait a minute! Help is at hand. Cllr John Holdich’s 7th Cavalry (or Navy) may soon be riding to the rescue. The Peterborough Telegraph has reported that, “Full Council has agreed that any future consideration of council owned land on the Embankment area of the River Nene should be part of an area-wide masterplan.” Please can we include the river itself as part of any future deliberations?

At this point let’s big up our dear river and have a look at a few facts. The river Nene rises in Arbury Hill near Badby, Northamptonshire, five miles south-west of Daventry and meanders and grows as it flows through Northampton, Wellingborough, Thrapston and Oundle and on to Peterborough, from whence it flows through Wisbech until it reaches the Wash at Sutton Bridge. At Sutton Bridge it passes a pair of lighthouses, one of which was owned by Sir Peter Scott, son of Antarctic explorer image missing please notify webmaster Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who lived there from 1933-39 and was the founder member of the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

Incidentally from its source to Thrapston, the Nene is incorrectly pronounced by those who live nearby. They pronounce it ‘Nen’ which is clearly wrong since these same people would not say ‘obscen’ as opposed to ‘obscene’ or ‘seren’ as opposed to ‘serene’. By the time the river reaches Peterborough common sense has prevailed and the river is pronounced correctly – ‘Neen’.

Another of the Nene’s claims to fame is that Rolls-Royce, as part of their tradition of naming jet engines after rivers, named a 1940s jet engine Nene. This engine saw little use in British aircraft designs but was sold to the Soviet Union where a version of it powered the famous Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter aircraft until 1947. Bet you didn’t know that! Incidentally Henry Royce was born in Alwalton, close to the river Nene, but that’s another story!

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The Customs House (see our Customs House plaque) which stands next to the town bridge (see our Town Bridge plaque) is a proud reminder of the Nene’s commercial past, a time when Peterborough was an inland port with boats transporting corn, potatoes, coal and timber from the larger port of Wisbech. This trade greatly reduced with the coming of the railways to Peterborough in 1845. At one stage there was even passenger traffic on the Nene. In 1756 the fare from Wisbech to Peterborough was 2s 6d, in 1820 the service was three times a week each way in the summer and twice in the winter. As recently as 1938 a sea-going vessel, the Constance H, sailed as far as Peterborough, clearing Guyhirn Bridge by an inch. In 1951 some seagoing barges, laden with corn, sailed from London to Peterborough.

I once travelled on a small narrow boat from the Embankment to Ferry Meadows, a journey that took an afternoon. It was a magical experience and I was able to view my Peterborough surroundings from a completely different viewpoint.

There is much talk about the current and future development of the centre of Peterborough and what could be a more central issue than the river itself. We must never take our river for granted. It’s a natural feature that needs valuing and protecting and using well. In all the talk about developing the Embankment area we must take great care not to overlook its beauty and ignore its needs.

Editor's prerogative, could not resist reusing these photos from earlier article about the future of the Embankment area, and protecting this key asset of the city from adverse development.

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Blue Plaque close up series

Our weekly close up series which was first published in the Peterborough Telegraph, and expanded on the information that could be contained in our Blue Plaque booklet (due to space restricition), is now concluded.

In some cases they further extended the information and photos that appeared in the Peterborough Telegraph articles, but they can all now be found on our Peterborough Blue Plaques pages

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page last changed 20 November 2020