Richard Swift for West Chesterton
City Candidate for West Chesterton
I have lived with my family in West Chesterton for twenty five years, and am standing for one of the three City Councillor positions in my ward this May.
I was born and brought up in Crawley in Sussex where my mother was a life-long State Registered Nurse (she started her training on day one of the National Health Service in 1948), and my father was an electronics engineer. I attended Hazelwick Comprehensive School and went on to study art and history of art at Reading University and the Courtauld Institute in London.
My political consciousness really started in 1980 when, fresh from art school, I moved to London’s Mile End. Living in blitzed-out houses and scraping a living in a succession of temporary jobs, I joined with thirty other visual artists to convert a derelict factory into Chisenhale Art Place – today a flourishing international centre for the visual arts and dance. Back at the start of the eighties, the deprivations of Thatcherism were beginning to bite in one of the poorest parts of the country, and our community outreach programme provided (and continues to provide) an important point of social contact and arts involvement for local residents. Since then I have continued to teach art and to paint, exhibiting my work in a series of solo shows including a number at university colleges in Cambridge and at ARU.
In 1996 I moved with my young family from the East End to leafy West Chesterton in Cambridge – where we still live. My children attended Milton Road School, Chesterton Community College and Impington Village College. I joined the local Labour Party in Cambridge during the first years of the Blair/Brown Labour government, and have been an active member of my local community ever since. The 1997-2010 Labour government achieved so much. On the domestic policy front I was particularly pleased about the introduction of the Minimum Wage, Sure Start, massive public investment in Health and Education, free museums, etc. There was a real sense of optimism and social justice and internationalism, underpinned by the wiping of much third world debt by Gordon Brown – in other words, the exact opposite of what we are experiencing today.
Cambridge City Council under Labour has also notched up major achievements during the past seven years – all the more remarkable at a time of unprecedented strain in the aftermath of the global crash, disastrous coalition austerity, and now the pandemic. I am particularly pleased about our success in three interconnected areas. First, in housing, with the construction of a new generation of 500 eco-council homes, as well as the offer of accommodation for every rough sleeper, and City of Sanctuary status to help address the plight of refugees. Second, maintaining the provision of key public services while extending the roll-out of the Real Living Wage and promoting Food Justice with funding for food hubs. And third, our excellent record on the Climate Emergency, including 170 hectares of new public space and new allotments; addressing the chalk stream crisis, and achieving a zero carbon Council by 2030.
At ward level, for me resident involvement is key to making a real difference.
After lockdown, I would like to organise residents’ meetings in the new Ascham Road Community Rooms to promote desirable initiatives while extending the use of single-issue petitions to prevent undesirable developments such as the Aparthotel. I have been involved in several successful resident-supported initiatives.
In Castle ward I co-founded the Friends of Castle Mound, and helped organise a well-attended public meeting and petition which is fighting to ensure that the ancient monument and Magrath Avenue cut-through remain free for public use in perpetuity.
In West Chesterton, Mike Sargeant and I organised a series of public meetings to address cycle safety after a cyclist was killed directly outside my house. This resulted in segregated cycleways along the length of Gilbert Road. I would like to extend cycleways to create a fully joined-up network throughout the ward and the city.
In the Milton Road redevelopment project I have worked with Councillor Jocelynne Scutt and local residents to resolve major teething problems, eventually securing the greenest design solution which will include grass verges and an additional 92 semi-mature trees, as well as segregated cycleways and pavements.