Ely: A Local Perspective

Having been a listed writer here for a while I thought it was time I actually wrote about something… so it seemed logical to write about the bit of local life I’m most involved in, the Ely Perspective.

I got into it 4 years ago when I stopped work. I’d been using Ely as a dormitory – I worked in Cambridge officially but I drove to Birmingham or Heathrow to work a couple of days a week – so I decided that maybe, now I wasn’t haring up and down the country in my car, I should try to learn something about my home city. The Perspective seemed to be involved in all sorts of interesting things at the time and was always cropping up in the local press. Most of the ideas were great but at the time I thought some weren’t and wished I could be in a position to find out what their rationale was or even better change their view.

I kept thinking. “Who are these people? They’re not elected by anybody. How come they get to be involved in all this stuff and not me?” I rang up the council to find out more – or possibly to have a go at somebody about it if I could find the right person – and was surprised, and a little disarmed to discover that the only reason I hadn’t been involved in any of this stuff to date was because I hadn’t joined in. It was that simple.

What is it?

The official name for a group like the Perspective is a Market Town Partnership. In English, that’s a group of normal people who live in and around a district, who care about it and want to make it an even better place to live, for everyone. I suppose it’s a bit like a trade union. It represents the interests of a big group of widely differing people who all have one thing in common, in this case, where they live or work rather than a job. Some attend as individuals, some are representing the interests of other societies, businesses, organisations or groups, all are volunteers.

The Perspective is supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals in the city and beyond. It is completely impartial and independent, seeking to improve and develop Ely and the surrounding area in ways which will benefit residents, visitors and businesses alike. It has four main objectives:

1. Raise the profile of Ely locally, nationally and internationally to attract more visitors.
2. Encourage visitors to stay longer so they explore further and therefore contribute more to the local economy.
3. Build a thriving local economy through initiatives to support and encourage local businesses.
4. Ensure that the city is well cared for with the right facilities to make visitors want to return, especially well organised disabled access, car parking, public transport and tourist information.

Who is involved?

The Perspective has links with several partner organisations with whom it works to achieve projects or funding. It also relies heavily on the goodwill of the volunteer members who make up its working groups. There are four of these which meet once a month to develop and work on new projects and ideas. The output of the groups is coordinated and directed by an Executive Committee headed by the Chairman, Philip Eden. The four working groups are:

Business Group: Concentrating on initiatives which support local businesses, chaired by John Yates.
Design Group: Looking at the city environment, ideas ranging from transport issues and city walks to checking and reporting problems like graffiti and vandalism. Their latest big project is the current research into ways to improve Steeple Row, they were also the catalyst for the Ely Riverside Lighting project. The group is chaired by Sheila Friend-Smith.
Riverside Group: Working on some ambitious ideas to improve, maintain and plan for the future of the riverside area of the city. A new chair is being sought for this group.
Marketing Group: Aiming to promote the city across the board to anyone with an interest, I chair this one.

In 2005, after researching ways it could become even more self sufficient and open up wider opportunities for funding the Perspective became a company limited by guarantee.

So why join?

There are some reasons why I enjoy it.

1. I feel like I’m putting something back into the city rather than just existing here. As a citizen the Perspective provides me with a channel to make suggestions for improvements to the place where I live and in some cases, I can get involved in actually making them happen. I like that hands-on approach.

2. Anyone can join and have their say – after all, I did. The wider the range of people on the working groups the better the Perspective is able to represent the views of the whole community. We don’t always agree but everyone in the group has one thing in common; they care about the city in which they live. To me that’s a good enough place to start. If we all agreed on everything it would be boring.

3. You meet new friends. I was “new” to Ely and hardly knew anyone in the City before I joined the Perspective. Now I feel much more part of the community.

4. It’s fun. The Marketing Group meets at 6.00 on the third Wednesday of the month, at the Maltings or the Cutter. Most of the group members are called John but it’s not obligatory if you want to join, after all, I’m called Mary. The format is very relaxed, hence the pub venue and unless we’ve a huge agenda or a controversial debate planned, the business end of the proceedings is usually over by half seven. The debate is often lively but always good natured and those of us who have time usually hang around for another beer and a gossip before heading off home.

Events the Perspective gets involved in range from the Christmas Lights Switch-on to Ely in Bloom, city walks like the Eel Trail, strategic planning projects, for example, for the future of the Riverside area and Steeple Row, once a year regular features like the shoppers’ guide or the City Guide which were both sponsored by the Standard or straightforward details like the new Welcome to Ely signs.

The Perspective holds a yearly ‘open meeting’ and arrangements are in hand to make this year’s an ‘event’, in itself, with plans to celebrate the area’s local distinctiveness by creating our own ‘A, B, C of Ely’ and a short workshop which will show how we can make sure Ely captures as much local spend as possible – by exploring the ‘leaky bucket’ model.

The Perspective is always looking for new members because the more people get involved, the more effective it can be as a voice. It’s free to join and especially welcome are ideas for new projects so if you have an idea or if you just want to be part of it and have your say here’s how to get in touch.

Phone on: 01353 616386
Fax on: 01353 665240
Or E-mail: ask@elyperspective.com

3 replies
  1. Andy Lowe
    Andy Lowe says:

    All sounds interesting. I was brought up in Ely & was drawn away for about 20 yrs but have now returned. I like Ely very much but dont like the way the council are reaping the rewards from all the additional council tax and investing it in themselves! This could be a fantastic town if we had the enthusiasm – we need the shops, for both visitors and residents. The current council understands neither. Dont get me wrong, I’m not a politician & have no interest to any party, I’m just interested in the long term health of Ely. We should encourage new stores (especially a DIY store). We have empty shops – for god sake Mr Council – write letters to the likes of M&S, Next, Gap – what are you doing. Get off your arses and do something for the extra revenue coming into this town and open your eyes !!! If you cant see the opening here, then you need to retire now!
    I’m not even going to mention the lack of road-way investment at this point!

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