I was today years old when I discovered Cambridge once had a centre for unemployed and unwaged people similar to the one that I heard about in Brighton when I lived there in the early 2000s. I’d been asking on-and-off about this for years. Turns out we did have one – it was called the Andrew Murden Centre and was based at what we now call Anglia Ruskin University – then the Cambridge College for Arts & Technology, CCAT. It also received some grant funding from Cambridge City Council.
In 1987 it faced the prospect of closure. Following the digitisation of more recent newspapers by the British Newspaper Archive in the last week, I found a letter from Neil Kelman of York Street in Petersfield, calling for it to be saved.
“I WISH to protest at the proposed closure of the Andrew Murden Centre (the Cambridge Centre for unemployed and unwaged people)
“In the last six years I have had prolonged periods of unemployment and my experience of unemployment before the Centre’s opening was one of depression and desperation, boredom and frustration.
“The Centre gave me somewhere to go and something to do as well as providing me with information that Government Departments and the media distort or make inaccessible.
“The Centre gave me back a feeling of usefulness and my self-confidence and liberated me from the unemployed mind syndrome that is when thought processes have become dulled due to long periods of undisciplined mental activity
“The courses I have undertaken at the Centre have been both useful and interesting I have been involved in courses and workshops in English Literature photography basic computing and creche leadership
“The creche facility at the Centre is both useful and essential as some of the above courses would not have been possible had it not been for the creche facility It is also the only facility for under three year old children that is free and therefore that I can afford in Cambridge so my children who love the Centre will suffer at its closure.
“It is also the only facility for under three year old children that is free and therefore that I can afford in Cambridge so my children who love the Centre will suffer at its closure. The Centre organised a coach trip to the seaside last Summer and that was the only form of holiday I could afford for my family that year. So with the Centre closed who is there to organise a day at the seaside for my family at a price I can afford?
“Between October ’86 and April “87 I researched and produced an information pack entitled “Facilities for the unemployed in Cambridge” The work which was undertaken as part of the examination for AEB Communications Studies A Level at CCAT would not have been possible had the Centre not made available its office to me one morning a week. My research and finished artefact (500 copies of which have been funded by Cambridge City Council and will soon be available) led the fact that Cambridge is already behind nearby towns like Peterborough and Bedford in its facilities for the unemployed
“So the closure of the Andrew Murden Centre would only increase the gap The facility that the Centre provides for unemployed people to meet organise around issues exchange views and skills as well as gain advice and information should not be denied to us
“At present Cambridge has only one paid Welfare Rights Worker Sam McQueen at the Citizens Advice Bureau who although he may not admit to must be one of the most over-worked people in the City There are now 3700 people unemployed in Cambridge and only 800 job vacancies in the Job-Centre on average or so we are told.
“Even with the imminent change of Government the dictates of technology will cause large numbers of people to be unemployed With Central Government constantly eroding at benefits and claimants’ life styles by direct and indirect cuts they cannot justify the closure of the Centre if they really care about people as their ideology suggests.
Neil Kelman, York Street, Cambridge“
This was a very different Cambridge to the one we know today – yet the symptoms of poverty and multiple deprivation in the face of austerity and inequalities have not gone away
Nationally, the country had another decade to go before the change of government that Mr Kelman hoped for in his letter. It was also a time when Cambridge had a Conservative MP (The historian Robert Rhodes James – the last Conservative MP for Cambridge to date). It was also a time of three-party politics in The Guildhall, as the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats had a relatively equal number of seats, so it was a council of no overall control.
The Grafton Centre had just been completed a few years earlier, but Cambridge’s economy was still going through a painful transition as a number of its manufacturing industries had either closed or were in the process of closing – such as the PYE Works, and the Cambridge & District Co-operative Society.
In 1990, the leader of the Conservative Group spoke of how he was going to make the desperately unpopular Poll Tax work. A month or so later, Thatcher was gone, and in the following seven years, the people of Cambridge systematically destroyed the once-mighty Cambridge Conservative Association’s presence at the Guildhall, leaving Cllr Edwards (Cons – Queen Edith’s) at one point the only Conservative councillor in the chamber.
“Unemployed on video”
A month or so later, members of the Andrew Murden Centre which by then had moved to the Bath House on Gwydir Street made a video of life as an unemployed person in Cambridge. This was before the days of smartphones and digital camcorders, which made the editing of footage involving the actual cutting and pasting of footage to create the 11minute film titled “Unsocial Security”, with Bob Lilley of Ditton Fields being the man behind the project. I’d be interested to see how their experience compares with residents in similar circumstances today.
Above – Cambridge Town Crier 29 August 1987, digitised by the British Newspaper Archive.
You can also visit the Cambridgeshire Collection to see what materials they have about the Andrew Murden Centre. Furthermore, Anglia Ruskin University’s archives may have further materials.
Above – one of the items in the Cambridgeshire Collection for you to look up.
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