Romsey Art Festival

Romsey Art Festival posterThe first ever Romsey Art Festival starts on Saturday and will run until 17th August. The idea for the festival was developed by a group of artists at Cambridge Art Salon last year and over the last few months they have been busy organising and co-ordinating a whole host of events to run across the fortnight – including art activities, exhibitions and a market, as well as poetry, film screenings, music, workshops and talks.

Art Market PosterThis Saturday looks set to be the main day of activity, with events taking place throughout Romsey and along Mill Road. There will be an Arts & Crafts Market organised by LittleBiggs – local artists Ceri Ann Littlechild and Dan Biggs – featuring jewellery, ceramics and various art works for sale, as well as portrait artists on hand on the day and also a live mural painting which everyone can join in. The market runs from 10am until 3pm at Hope Street Yard and there will also be food stalls there courtesy of local ice cream extraordinaire Jacks Gelato and burger experts Steak & Honour. A little further down Mill Road you can find Cambridge Cinema Shorts presenting films at Romsey Labour Club, including a children’s screening at 11am and a 15+ screening at 2pm. There’s also a Bento Workshop at the Junction from 12-3pm and a Creative Writing Workshop run by Patrick Widdess at the Bath House on Gwydir Street from 2-5pm; and if you missed the recent Cambridge Open Studios exhibitions then you can catch artists Susie Olczak & Harry Gray hosting their own open studios at 53a St Philips Road from 10am-5pm.

Shindig closing partyDr Doodleys Drink & Draw is a fortnightly meet up for local artists which started last year, and on 6th August Sa’adiah Khan will be hosting their next event – ‘Collabradoodle’ will look at challenging ideas of control and restraint in art and is at Hot Numbers from 7-9pm. The Cambridge Map Project will also be hosting various events (see the festival blog for more info and a full list of events) and if you’re planning to head down to the festival then do keep an eye out for new art works popping up around you – the event organisers were recently looking for residents and groups to donate the walls of their buildings for art. Rounding off proceeedings on 17th August will be a special closing party, hosted by Shindig. If you haven’t heard of Shindig before it’s a collaboration of alternative music, arts and entertainment and they host regular nights across Cambridge, including Mill Road. The closing party will be held at St Philip’s Church on the corner of Thoday Street, 8-11pm.

It looks like there’ll be plenty going on and lots of new things to try – I love Japanese food and really want to go along to the Bento Workshop, but it’s on at the same time as the Creative Writing Workshop, and the Art & Craft Market… decisions, decisions!

Spring is in the air…

It may be a somewhat grey day today, but there have been some glimpses of spring recently. Never one to leave home without my camera, I’ve taken some colourful photos over the last few weeks – in both Petersfield and Romsey – and have posted most of them on the facebook page. In case you’re not on facebook, here they are for your viewing pleasure…

Billy’s

Giant avocadosIf you’ve been following me on Twitter you may have seen me tweeting about the giant avocados at my local shop and if you live in the Mill Road area then you may well already be a customer at Billy’s Mini Market. I met up with Billy for a coffee at Otto’s, to find out more about the man behind the Mini Market…

BillyGiven Billy’s interest in food, it was no surprise that the  conversation quickly got on to cooking. Most of the dishes he makes at home are a fusion of Turkish, Spanish and Indian influences and it’s clear he is passionate about his food as he excitedly tells me about the fresh dough he made for his pizzas every day – he ran a successful pizza restaurant in Littleport for four and a half years. He says it’s hard to choose a favourite pizza himself, but that it would probably be a combination of feta, onion, mushrooms, black olives and cherry tomatoes, with a little spinach and of course herbs and spices… I asked Billy if he would consider setting up another pizza restaurant in Cambridge, but he told me it’s not part of his plans at the moment.

SquashWhen Billy moved to England from Turkey in the 1990’s his first job was running a food and drink shop at Shoreditch’s popular Hoxton Market. He has fond memories of the bustling marketplace and his first experiences of living and working in London. Eventually he moved away from the area before going on to open his pizza restaurant. Many of the restaurant’s customers came from Littleport’s surrounding towns and villages and the nearby RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall bases; and although a successful business Billy had been thinking of opening a shop in the Cambridge area for some time, so when the Mill Road premises (which had previously been home to Balv’s Superette) became available last year it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Billy's Mini MarketBilly stocks a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs & spices, rices, pulses and chilled foods at his shop, not to mention household essentials. But what the shop may be less well known for is its selection of fish – including Tilapia, Red Mullet, Red Snapper, Kingfish, Saltfish and Broom Headlesses – which are kept in a frozen section. As Mill Road doesn’t have a fishmongers as such, I think this is a very welcome addition to the area. Billy’s also stocks a huge range of drinks – both soft drinks and alcoholic – and has saved the day when I’ve needed a good bottle of wine or some Havana Club Anejo Blanco for my daiquiri cocktails!

Billy'sI’ve been a regular visitor to Billy’s Mini Market since it opened in April 2012. The shop is very much part of the community and I usually end up coming away with much more than the usual pint of milk I went in for – just in the last few weeks I’ve debated the current care system, local politics and Mill Road art, all with other customers I didn’t know before; as well as found out about local events. I also usually bump into a couple of my neighbours when I’m in there, so it’s a good place to catch up with people and put the world to rights. Customers from as far away as London regularly visit the shop and one of Billy’s products even got a mention by T’Pau‘s Carol Decker – she had made a Twitter request asking shoppers to post pictures of unusually named products, so she was quick to respond when she received a copy of the above photo.

PotatoesBilly seems to have settled in very well to life on Mill Road, he likes the local community spirit and enjoys being on first name terms with most of his customers. This week Billy is celebrating his first year of trading on Mill Road – which as he himself admits, has flown by very quickly indeed – so if you haven’t visited the shop before now’s a good a time as any to pop in and say hello.

Billy’s Mini Market – 158 Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 3LP
Open seven days a week: Monday to Saturday 9am-11pm, Sunday 11am-10:30pm

We’re cool

Mill Road is one of the coolest places to live in Britain, according to an article in this weeks Times newspaper. Described as having a “vibrant array of independent shops and a strong community spirit”, Mill Road came in at No.26 in the top 30 list – beating the Somerset town of Glastonbury by one place, but coming just behind Brixton in south London. First place went to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire.

The article describes Mill Road as “the frontline for town and gown” before going on to say that it “divides smart Petersfield, a favourite with university staff, from homes in Romsey built for railway workers” – as detailed on Mill Road’s wikipedia page. Though having lived in the area for a long time, I’m not so sure this ‘divide’ is still in existence today.

Mill RoadThose of us that live, work, socialise and shop around Mill Road will already know what a great place it is – not just Mill Road itself, but also the local side streets and their exciting goings on. There’s far too much to list in this particular blog article, but it’s probably worth mentioning that Mill Road was part of the very first Eat Cambridge festival, earlier this month, and the first Romsey Art Festival will be taking place in the area in August. Also the Mill Road area was recently the location for the video to Mikill Pane’s new single – Good Feeling (released this week).

That’s just a little taster of some of the things happening around here. As you may find yourself saying, there’s something about Mill Road… .

Many hands make light work…

I’m normally the first to wince at early mentions of Christmas (so please accept my apologies!) but this is in fact a call out for volunteers to help organise this years Mill Road Festive Lights. The lights themselves aren’t installed until November, but the planning and organisation can take many months…

SnowflakeThis involves fundraising, planning, publicity and liaising with local traders, through to health and safety, installation, the switch-on event and take down after the festive season. In previous years this has been carried out by a handful of dedicated people giving up their spare time to make it all happen. But it is hoped that this year a larger committee can be formed – and of course with more people to share the load this should hopefully mean less work for everyone.

SnowflakeThe lights normally include decorations on the large trees on the Petersfield side of the bridge as well as the giant snowflake lights that can be seen along the length of Mill Road. Though there’s scope to expand on this and look at other lights and locations (there have been suggestions that Romsey could do with some more lights this year…) and there’s also of course the switch-on event.

SnowflakeGetting involved with a local project like this can be a great way to meet others in the community as well as be part of something that is appreciated by many and benefits the local area. If you’re interested in helping out with organising the Festive Lights, please contact Ceri Littlehcild – Mill Road Co-ordinator (millroadcoordinator@gmail.com) – and she’ll put you in touch with the existing team. You don’t need any previous experience, just some enthusiasm and a bit of time that you can commit over the coming months.

Local Plan for Mill Road

RomseyCambridge City Council are currently consulting on sites within the Local Plan area and asking all residents to make any comments they want to by Monday (18th February). The specific document that refers to sites (both available and future ones) within Cambridge is the Local Plan: Issues & Options 2 – Part 2 document. If you’ve already had a look, you’ll see that there are various sites in the Mill Road area that are under discussion. These include the Travis Perkins site on Devonshire Road (p 43), the Ridgeons site on Cromwell Road (p 49), 315-349 Mill Road (p 67) and the Mill Road Council Depot (p 45).

For the Mill Road area I would like to see some more green space, we have a particular lack of it in Petersfield and some of the sites could be used in whole or part to achieve this as well as have some usable community space. We also have a shortage of realistically affordable housing in the area and I think with the right design and considerations we need to look at residential developments on some of these sites. We have the opportunity to shape the future of the area and make sure that whatever happens to these sites fits with what the community wants and needs.

Argyle Street Housing Co-operativeMany of you will know my fondness for co-operatives and the role that I have played at Argyle Street Housing Co-operative (ASH Co-op) over the years. ASH Co-op is proposing that a fully mutual housing co-operative be built on the Mill Road Depot site and I think this could be really great for the area. It would provide affordable, sustainable housing (for people of all ages) which would be run by its residents and be community led. I see from the Local Plan document that there are potential issues with the site, such as access, cycling provision and a lack of green space in the area – I think a housing housing co-operative on the Depot site would be able to address all these issues and provide space that the whole Mill Road community could share. Having lived at ASH for some years, I know the many benefits that co-operative living can bring – such as having a real say in your housing, being part of a friendly community (I know all 90 of my neighbours here at ASH!), training to help run the co-op (which is also very useful in employment terms), experience of managing projects and equipping people with tools they can use to play an active and participative role in the wider community. For more information about what is being proposed, please visit the ASH Co-op website. Also here is a link to an article in the Cambridge News last year, that gives an insight into co-operative living.

If you want to comment on the housing co-operative idea or indeed any part of the Local Plan, please visit the consultation page on the City Council’s website. It explains how you can respond online or complete a form to deliver by hand. However you respond, make sure you do it by the deadline – 5pm on Monday!

Mill Road Shindig!

Shindig is a regular gig night that aims to bring together music and arts all in one event. It has been running since last year and this week it’s coming to Mill Road! Each gig is different and organiser Wesley Freeman-Smith says that the aim is to:
break down barriers between creative disciplines so that visual artists, musicians, spoken word and performance artists can work together to make something unique”.

Shindig PosterOn Saturday 26th January Shindig will be at St Philips on Mill Road and Wesley describes the event as “three acts of diverse heritage, all held together by the luminous thread that is narrative”. The show includes punk/folk/rock/pop film and book soundtracks from the Retrospective Soundtrack Players; psychological instrumental sounds from Subzar and their new EP ‘I Am Not Yet Here’; and folk/pop from Anglo-American duo Rue Royale. Fay Roberts, J S Watts and Emily Scialom will also be performing and other local authors, poets and wordsmiths are welcome to get involved – for more information please check out Shindig’s Facebook page.

We’ve got a lot of talented creative people locally and I think this sounds like just the kind of thing Cambridge needs. In fact, as Wesley himself says:
Cambridge has never lacked talent, but it has lacked an appropriate venue to showcase this, and some sense of cohesion between everyone’s creative bubbles”.
So if you’re free on Saturday and fancy a gig with a difference, why not pop along to Shindig!

Shindig – Rue Royale/Subzar/Retrospective Soundtrack Players + guests
Saturday 26th January, 8pm at St Philips Church (185 Mill Road CB1 3AN).
Tickets £6 advance/£8 on the door – see the event’s Facebook page or Wegottickets

Mill Road exhibition

Exhibition posterToday I went along to the Council’s Mill Road Exhibition  at Bharat Bhavan. I was immediately offered a lovely hot cup of tea – which was very much appreciated given the cold weather! There were a number of stands with information about many of the local community and residents groups in the area, as well as proposals for a traders association; and in the middle of the room was a giant map of Mill Road where people could jot down their ideas on sheets of tracing paper (which could be placed over the map) There were also some beautiful paintings and drawings of Mill Road by a couple of local artists.

Exhibition boardsIt was great to see lots of ideas from locals and there were all sorts of suggestions ranging from peoples ideas for more green space around Mill Road and a regular local market through to thoughts on the 20mph zone and improving the area for cyclists. I spoke to Ceri (Mill Road Co-ordinator and organiser of the event) and she told me that it had been well attended over the two days – and judging by the many post-it notes I saw this was most certainly the case! I jotted down my ideas, which included widening the pavement on the northern edge of Mill Road on the town side of the bridge (opposite Arjuna, Fagito’s, Nip-In et al) as it’s not currently wide enough for two people to pass each other without one of them having to step into the road. I’d also like to see cafes and shops being allowed to have tables and chairs outside (even if just one or two tables) as this would give people more of an opportunity to interact with and chat to each other and make the area even more welcoming in the summer months.

Exhibition boardI also drew a design for a new housing co-operative which could go on the site of the Mill Road Depot (which is moving at some point in the next few years). This is an idea that was suggested by a number of  people in the Local Plan consultations last year and I think it would really work for the whole community – especially as there’s a huge lack of affordable housing around Mill Road. I envisage something like a mixture of flats for single people and couples, and houses for families (little or no shared housing) on the back part of the site (furthest from Mill Road); this would have lots of green space and could house around 150 people. There would also be plenty of shared community space and at the front of the site a meeting area/hall that the co-operative would share with the whole community for free, as well as an upstairs area that could have free/low cost office space for local businesses/home-workers. There would also be a large outdoor area that could host community events such as barbecues, regular markets and other community activities. Bharat Bhavan, Regent College and other non-council buildings would of course be retained. By their very nature co-operatives are green and sustainable communities that are self-run, so the community would have the opportunity to shape and innovate their own housing and community space. In fact I suspect this deserves a blog post all of its own (!) so more on this another time.

I was glad I went along to the exhibition and I now have lots more ideas for Mill Road. If you missed out you can contact Ceri (millroadcoordinator@gmail.com) for more information. I will write another blog post soon about what will happen to the ideas and how to submit any other suggestions you may have. I think the exhibition was a really good idea and it has given people the chance to have real input into their local area.

Ideas for Mill Road…

There will be an exhibition on Mill Road later this month open to traders, residents and anyone with an interest in Mill Road. It is being organised by Ceri Littlechild – Mill Road Co-ordinator – and the main focus will be to look at forming a traders association for the area.

Bharat BhavanRather handily, the event is being held at Bharat Bhavan – which is right in the middle of Mill Road. If you haven’t been to Bharat Bhavan before, it’s the beautifully ornate red-brick building just next to the railway bridge (Petersfield side) and is currently home to a Hindu shrine. Various community groups also use the space and it used to house Mill Road Library (which closed over fifteen years ago). In fact Bharat Bhavan probably deserves a blog post all of its own, but I digress…

Exhibition posterCeri is keen to hear from both traders and residents what they think of the idea of setting up a traders association for Mill Road and their suggestions for how it could work. Part of her role involves developing an action plan of projects that will help promote and enhance the area and she is also keen to explore ideas for improving Mill Road in general. The exhibition will include a Great Table (the idea of 5th Studios, based at the nearby Dales Brewery) which will be an aerial view map so that people can visualise and discuss ideas; and the Cambridge Association of Architects will also be on hand to meet locals between 10am and 3pm on both days. There will also be exhibition stands with more information about Mill Road and some of its existing residents/community groups (there are many, and I hope to blog about each of them over the coming months…) as well as the Mill Road History Project and information from Visit Cambridge (the Council’s tourist information service).

Mill RoadThe event will be across two days – Friday 18th and Saturday 19th of January – and will be open from 9am to 7pm on both. I shall definitely be popping along at some point (probably the Saturday) and am keen to see the aerial map as it will help with imagining how some of the ideas could look if they were put into practice. If you’d like to find out more then you can contact Ceri by email (millroadcoordinator@gmail.com) or if you’re free on 18th/19th January then just drop in and say hello to her!

Shaken or stirred…?

Meze RestaurantWhen the Meze Restaurant on Mill Road closed last year I was sad to see it go – I had enjoyed many a lunchtime soiree there with friends and it had been a very welcome addition to the area. Given the blank frontage and window-covering blinds, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is still closed. However, it has actually been a cocktail bar for several months now. Mr Mill Road finally took me to ‘196’ (as it is fondly known) for the first time a couple of weeks ago to try their much talked about cocktails…

Row of cocktailsI had mentioned my impending visit on Twitter and received lots of different suggestions for ‘must try’ cocktails. I decided to start with a Strawberry Daiquiri – I couldn’t remember the last time (if ever) I had had a daiquiri, but this had been recommended to me by three different people so seemed a good place to start. The mixture of premium white rum mixed with fresh strawberries, strawberry puree and other ‘extras’ served on crushed ice was a delight just to look at. My first sip was beautiful and the richness of the strawberry puree gave it a lovely texture. Unsurprisingly this went down a treat and soon Mr Mill Road and I were ready for our second cocktail.

196 Cocktail BarA White Russian is one of my all time favourite cocktails and so I decided this had to be next on the list. I have made many White Russian cocktails in the past and am (rather annoyingly) quite particular about how I like them. I was not disappointed at all and this cocktail also looked amazing. It had generous measures of vodka and kahlua and tasted lovely and creamy (and the additional cherry really was the cherry on top!). Most of the cocktails are priced around the £6.95 mark. This may sound a little on the expensive side, but I really do think the sheer quality of them – not to mention the perfectly cosy yet unobtrusive atmosphere – makes it a price well worth paying. There are a handful of tables for two and also larger tables if you’re visiting with a group of friends; and there are also seats at the bar if you want to get closer to the cocktail-shaking action.

Homemade Strawberry DaiquiriI was so excited about my cocktails that I forgot to take photos of them. So for blog-photo purposes (ahem!) I decided to make my own strawberry daiquiri at home a few days ago. If I’d had more time I would have really pushed the boat out, but on this occasion I decided to make a simpler version. The key ingredient of a strawberry daiquiri is white rum. Both the Co-operative and Londis did the standard Malibu’s, Bacardi’s and own brands, but I wanted more of a pure high quality rum, so I eventually chose a bottle of Havana Club Anejo Bianco (£20 from Billy’s Mini Market in Romsey). Instead of blending fresh strawberries or using a puree, I bought a carton of Innocent Strawberry & Banana Smoothie (£2.85 at the Co-operative). I put crushed ice (£1.29 for a big bag, also at the Co-op) in the bottom of each glass and then poured my ‘stirred’ mixture of rum and smoothie on top (about 1 part rum, 2 parts smoothie – stirred well for a couple of minutes) and finished with a small squeeze of fresh lime and a fresh strawberry to decorate. It tasted delicious and I think using a high quality rum was key to getting this right.

Next time I visit 196 I plan to try a Bloody Mary. My own recipe of many years involves wasabi and tastes lovely, so I might just blog soon about how to make these at home too… until then, cheers!

If you fancy trying some non-alcoholic cocktails, I have just discovered that Innocent Drinks have come up with twelve delicious sounding suggestions.