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A place for peace and contemplation

The arts and culture
now and the future

Our vision for a better
Embankment area

John Holdich
end of an era



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A place for peace and contemplation

This article was first published in the 21 January 2021 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

Many years ago, in the last century when I was a headteacher at a local primary school, the staff experienced one of the first Ofsted inspections. One of the inspectors noticed that there was a boy sitting in my office playing with Lego and drawing on a colouring pad. She informed me that she was concerned that the boy was “not receiving equal access to the National Curriculum”. I informed the inspector that I suspected that the lad had come to school that morning having been exposed to illegal drugs in the household and that I was waiting for a social worker to come to assist me in investigations and to ensure that he was safe.

I mention this episode because I am reminded of the lad nearly every day as I take exercise in Eastfield cemetery near where I live. I pass the solid, black marble headstone on his well-kept grave and pause a moment. The inscription informs the world that he was fourteen years old when he died. image missing please notify webmaster image missing please notify webmaster

Eastfield cemetery, whose entrance is on the corner of Eastfield Road and Newark Avenue, has been a godsend to me. Since last March it has been the place where I have walked most often as part of my daily exercise routine. I have walked around it approximately five times a week for between 30 minutes and an hour. By my reckoning that means I have probably walked about 700 miles since Covid-19 struck. It is a place where I can walk safely whilst contemplating the world or listening to an album, radio programme or audiobook on my earbuds.

The cemetery is a much larger area than you might think. It is a series of wide tarmac pathways, each wide enough for a car to travel slowly down. These paths criss-cross the site and the walker doesn’t have to repeat his/her steps during a half-hour walk.

As we enter the cemetery we are immediately aware of Peterborough’s post-Great War history (the cemetery was opened in 1919). Civic dignitaries abound – freemen, aldermen, town clerks – Mellows, Hall, Hunting and Arthur Itter who died aged 35 having been mayor the year earlier.

Peterborough’s Robert Sayle/Perkins Engines past is perpetuated by names rarely heard these days – Constance, Stanley, Nellie, Albert, Violet, Horace, Gwendoline, Edith and Ronald. Newer graves plot the city’s brick work and factory era – Giuseppe, Vincenzo, Lucia, Maria, Giovanni and Margherita. Family names point to migration and newer Peterbororians - O’Reilly, Corrigan, Mulhern and McDonagh and more recently Hussain, Khan, Bibi, Bashir, Akhtar and Begum.

However the reminders of rich lives and long service are starkly contrasted by the dozens of smaller, much more colourful patches of ground poignantly punctuated by the word ‘Baby’ on little memorials, reminding us all of the tragedies that women and families still endure.

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On my walks I see familiar faces, the two women who push or ride their bicycles round and round, regular dog walkers or Barry, the wheelchair user whose speed and endurance might put Lewis Hamilton to shame. I also wave and exchange pleasantries with the sturdy yeomen of Aragon Services who look after and manage the cemetery, Peterborough’s modern equivalents of Old Scarlett. Thanks to you all.

I shall continue to visit Eastfield cemetery long after Covid-19 has been beaten. As well as recreation and quiet contemplation, it is a place that reassures me of my Peterborough roots and heritage, a place where I can be reunited with the girl I went to school with in the 1950s, the talented footballer I taught or my long-gone next door neighbour. It is also a place where I can see squirrels, woodpeckers, robins, and red kites high above.

Of course we are all advised not to travel far for our daily exercise. So we should be thankful that Peterborough has a variety of open spaces near to where we live. The older parts of the city have established areas – Central Park, Itter Park – and the newer townships – Bretton, Orton, Paston, Werrington all have networks of footpaths and cycleways. Even Peterborough’s newest developments, Hampton in particular, has plenty of open spaces – even lakes – for residents to walk around and enjoy. In these times of hardship and anxiety we must thank Peterborough for small mercies. Our open spaces should be cherished and valued, not just for now but for future generations. Those who are making decisions about the future of the Embankment please take note!

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Peterborough arts and culture – now and the future

This article was first published in the 18 February 2021 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

There are two sorts of people in the world, those who are already in Peterborough and those who ought to come and see Peterborough. No, dear reader, please don’t laugh – I’m being serious, very serious. And very serious is the situation that Peterborough might find itself in if it doesn’t adopt a strong, coherent vision for culture in the city from now until 2030.

Over the past few years there have been numerous attempts to promote and invigorate the arts in Peterborough and the City Council has created organisations to make this happen. Vivacity was the last of these – this disappeared in 2020 and many would say that some of its demise was down to a top-heavy and remote management structure.

Vivacity has now handed its services (and its virtually empty coffers) back to the council which has decided that arts and culture will now come within the remit of the City College under the leadership of Pat Carrington MBE. image missing please notify webmaster

There are many in Peterborough who not only wish Peterborough well but who also have a wide range of experience and expertise. Stuart Orme, currently curator of the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, has ideas that will certainly be of use to future decision makers. Kate Hall of Jumped Up Theatre has vast experience of engaging individuals and communities. Cllr Steve Allen, the cabinet member for Housing, Culture and Recreation, is Peterborough through and through and undoubtedly wants the best for the city.

However, Peterborough itself might not be able to solve its own problems. The city needs to bring in leaders from outside with proven track records in promoting the arts and giving them high visibility. The city also needs to involve citizens hitherto disinterested or even excluded. We know how people can become involved and motivated. I vividly recall the Polish family, newly arrived in Peterborough, enthralled as the English Civil War re-enactor showed off his musket at a recent Heritage Festival (see right). I have been in a room full of people mostly under the age of 25 captivated and entertained by local poets Keely Mills, Charley Genever, Pete Cox and others. My wife Irene fondly recalls her involvement in the fantastic community project ‘In Search of Angels’ from a few years ago. Demand and interest in the arts and culture is there.

Peterborough is full of people who could be involved in the arts and culture in the city in specific or wide senses – either as audience members of eager participants. In Peterborough we are ready to be challenged, incorporated and involved. People of Peterborough should be encouraged to frolic, not put out to graze!

We already know that Peterborough has a great deal to offer. Here are ten things off the top of my head – Key Theatre, Museum, Flag Fen, Lido, Cathedral, Longthorpe Tower, John Clare Cottage (below right), Ferry Meadows, Libraries and the Heritage Festival. There are plenty more so please don’t shout at me for omitting your favourited haunt. But have we made the best use of those places and locations? Probably not. And of course let’s not forget our new university and how that could enhance the city’s cultural offer.

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So, what do we need to ensure that post-Covid Peterborough becomes THE place to be? The solutions are straightforward but nevertheless challenging. We cannot escape the elephant in the room – funding. Sadly Peterborough is currently so strapped for cash that we can’t even afford the elephant. So we need people with entrepreneurial skills who can attract grants and sponsorship from arts organisations and businesses near and far. Time for Amazon to become involved? We need people who know how to consult with local communities to find out what is possible and what are non-starters. We need people who know how to successfully coordinate and market events. But perhaps most of all Peterborough needs a vision, not just for the next couple of years but one that looks further into the future – Peterborough 2030. Stuart Orme reminded me what Peterborough’s very own Frank Perkins once said, “Where there is no vision the people will perish”.

All of the above leads to one key word – leadership, political leadership right down to on-the-ground leadership. Wanted: leaders with flair, talent, charisma, empathy, ambition as well as realism. I know those words are easy to use but that’s what’s needed. Some in this city have power, some vision – we need people with both.

Culture and appreciation of the arts is what changes or lives from monochrome to technicolour and once we have that colour back let’s hope that we can go even further and become a High Definition city with the best surround-sound that money can buy! On your marks, get set, GO!

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We're setting out our vision for the future of the Embankment

This article was first published in the 11 March 2021 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Kem Mehmed.

An Embankment master plan is needed

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The Peterborough Civic Society would like to congratulate PT reader Andy Cole on his excellent letter about the future of the Embankment published in the PT in February. The Society echoes his opinions and particularly emphasises the extremely opaque way that the City Council has been approaching this. We should now concentrate our efforts on ensuring that the citizens of the city have a real say on the future of the Embankment. We can all agree that action is badly needed to rejuvenate this green lung in the centre of our city.

We at the Civic Society have been insisting on the need for a Master Plan to guide all development and enhancement works on the vast Embankment site. Various Town Hall promises have ben made with no real outcome apart from piecemeal proposals for the Anglia Ruskin University which have resulted in building work underway on site with Phase 1 and a very recent planning application for Phase 2. These two significant buildings do not appear to be part of a coherent plan for the University campus itself. As far as we can see there has been little ‘joined-up thinking’ despite the fact that, even though there is no plan for the entire campus, more than 13 acres of land have been transferred to the body charged with building and running the University.

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Site plan for the Anglia Ruskin University

Artist's impression for the university campus building

Perhaps that’s now water down the river. So, what should happen from now on? In our view we should embark on realistic local democratic process which involves the widest range of participants. Ask the people what they would love to see on the Embankment. What is your VISION of a future Embankment?

Our vision for a Brighter Better Embankment – how to get it

1.  Ask the People

2.  Discover what is Feasible

3.  Appraisal by the City Council of the ‘People’s Voices’ and the ‘Technical Findings’

4.  Publish findings

5.  Master Plan Options

6.  Select Best Master Plan and get it done

The Society has previously commented over the future for the Embankment area, they can be found at Peterborough Civic Society

The POSH Stadium

The Civic Society is not against a new stadium for the football club. We believe that a successful professional club at the highest level is a great asset to any city and if Posh gain promotion in May it will give a timely boost to our recovery from the Corona-virus lockdowns.

Our concern is to get the best outcome for the Embankment which may, given the process mentioned above, include a stadium or performance arena. This should not be taken as a given until all the implications of such a proposal have been explored and must be done in the context of a master planning process. It must be borne in mind that any proposal to place buildings on the Embankment at any distance from the Bishop Road frontage would be contrary to the policies in the Council’s own Local Plan, which was adopted only eighteen months ago.

The future direction of the football club is in the hands of the people who own and run the club, it is not for the Civic Society to tell the club where it should invest in a new stadium. Of course the club is more than just a business run by businessmen, it has a community of its own, the fans, and it also has responsibilities to the broader community of the city. However, it is vital that the City Council invests time and resources wisely in the interests of both the city and the football club.

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John Holdich: end of an era

This article was first published in the 15 April 2021 edition of the Peterborough Telegraph. It was written by committee member Toby Wood.

I’ve been looking back over some of the Civic Society columns from past years. ‘Peterborough University and our greetings cards’, 17 May 2018, ‘City Centre Revival’, 18 April 2019, ‘University Master Plan Peterborough Embankment’, 16 April 2020, ‘Café Culture for Peterborough?’, 16 July 2020 and ‘Embankment Masterplan we're still waiting’, 17 September 2020. All of these articles are available to read on this website, and have in one way or another, called for the City Council to have a planned, coordinated approach to the new developments that are happening predominantly in the city centre. Sadly little appears to have changed over the past few years. Perhaps, after the impending local authority and mayoral elections, things might change and any new administration might increasingly take on board some of our suggestions. We can but hope.

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At this point the Civic Society would like to pay tribute to the outgoing leader of the Council, John Holdich. Over the past few years John has been rather like Monty Python’s Black Knight, increasingly hampered by having limbs being cut off but stoically defending the bridge i.e. Peterborough. It has been a thankless task, running the council in the face of ever-increasing national and local cuts, not forgetting the pandemic. We all have views about how this could have been done better but the truth is that John had the courage and ‘balls’ to put his hand up and take on the task.

John will know exactly what I mean when I refer to him as one of Peterborough’s leading ‘good old boys’, ‘good old boy’ being perhaps the highest compliment that one Peterborian can give another. Enjoy your retirement John and I’ll see you down the A47!

Editor comment Toby also announced our new project of gathering photographs of the River Nene taken during 2021, the myriad of photographic opportunities that it offers. To find out more about the project, its purpose, the criteria for photograph subjects and what we are looking for, please follow link to River Nene photo project 2021.

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page last changed 15 April 2021