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The future of the Howard Mallet Centre?

HowardMalletCentreWorkingGroup | 21.11.2005 18:13 | Culture | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Cambridge

A growing and diverse group of Cambridge people are starting to put together a proposal to make use of the (very nearly empty) Howard Mallet Centre.

Since Cafe Afrika closed down, Star FM moved out and Dawe Media Ltd took advantage of a break clause in their lease, most of the Howard Mallet Centre has been standing empty. Some community and sport groups are currently using the gym at the back.

So the centre is back in the hands of the Cambridge County Council. They're backing a plan to sell a 125 year lease to Citylife, who in turn wish to develop a new 'Cambridge Community Innovation Centre' on the site.

There's some local opposition to this plan, as most people have good memories of when it was a community and youth centre, some feel that the citylife plan doesn't fulfil local community needs.

A local residents group, PACT, which formed in response to the County Council selling the lease to Dawe Media back in 1998, have discovered a dispute over some of the land, placed preservation orders on the trees in the park and submitted a planning application to knock the building down and return it to park. In the past, they've stated that if a 'true community use' was found for the building, they would back it.

So we've meet quite a few of the 'stake-holders' involved in the building; local residents, people from PACT, councilors for the area, youth workers for the area, city life people and various other characters...

It seems that nearly everyone sees the madness in leaving a building such as 'The Mallet' sitting there empty whist there's an obvious need for more 'community spaces' in Cambridge. Most people seem to suggest the building could be sitting there empty for at least a year or two before anything will happen. Plans and planning law as they are.

So some people started talking and putting together a 'propsal' for the space. At the moment it's looking something like this.

- A short term (1yr?) plan for the building, to 'make use of the space' while everyone else makes up their mind.

- Facilitate the use of the building by youth, community and sport groups.

- Open an 'Independent Media Centre' in the old Star FM space, to host 209 radio (Cambridge community radio) alongside open internet access and workshop space (including a recording studio!)

- Open up a 'Community Cafe' (not a venue) in the front bit, pretty straight forward and nothing too grand. A "nice-open-community-space" of sorts.

Anyway, if you'd like to know more / get involved / have a group that would like to use that kind of space / have skills / time / stuff to donate... Drop me the group a line at

More info:

209 Radio
Cambridge Community Radio station, hopefully they'll be the proud holders of a 'Community FM license' by early next year. Very much a grass-roots community project and they're involved in workshops and lots of lovely things. They've been looking for a space to work from for over a year...

Petersfield Area Community Trust - Interesting website with info / background on the whole thing.

"Citylife works with communities to regenerate social, economic and intellectual capital. It does this through partnerships with business, government and the voluntary sector, and a network of individuals."



A brief history of the Howard Mallet Centre

22.11.2005 14:20

1898 – Common land is drained and St Matthew's Piece is given the to residents as open space "for ever" (Cambridge Daily News article 24/6/1898).

1964 – Cambridge Education Committee propose the site for a Youth Club (later called the Howard Mallet Centre).

1968 – Howard Mallet Centre opened.

1974 – Responsibility for the Howard Mallet Centre is transferred from City Council to County Council, along with education and Cambridge schools.

1996 – Howard Mallet Centre 'in care of' Parkside Community College. Building is not properly maintained. Eventually the Centre is closed because it "is in poor condition and little used" (planning application for change of use).

1998 - Building leased by County Council to Dawe Media Ltd for use as a 'multi-media' centre. Local residents promised 'part community access' but it is felt that this is curtailed by Dawe Media to that which is 'in keeping with the overall project', e.g. no balls games in large sports hall. PACT, a local residents group, is formed in response to the lease being sold without community participation.

1998 to 2005 - The building is used for Cambridge Community radio for a short while, then Red Studios, then CC's bar, Star FM appears and Cafe Afrika gets going...

2005 - Cafe Afrika closes down, Star FM move out. Dawe Media take advantage of a break and terminate the lease. Cambridgeshire County Council are currently in talks with an organisation called Citylife who propose to develop a 'social enterprise incubator' on the site. To which there's some local opposition.

PACT placed protection orders on the trees surrounding the building, discover a dispute in the deeds over a 'slice' of the land and file a planning application to knock the building down and to revert the land back into green space.

Now... Most of the building stands empty, the gym is still in use by a large kick boxing group, a capoeira group and a local muslim group.