Who are the regenerators?

There are phenomenal communities in Cambridge reimagining a better, fairer and greener future. In winter 2024, we had a chance to speak with some of them and hear their stories. These community members – who we call ‘Regenerators’ – take action in wonderfully diverse ways, from making local rain gardens, to clearing a city verge of overgrowth to allow existing seed banks to germinate, to repairing textiles and kettles in Repair Cafes or volunteering as a mentor and leader in youth sports groups. Remarkably, these Regenerators work as nature does: in connected networks, constantly learning and adapting along the way, reimagining possibilities and finding ways to restore and protect balance in our communities and landscapes. We are delighted to share their words with you. We hope their stories spark inspiration, ignite your inner activist and generate a feeling of freedom to explore actions that work for you, however big or small.

Stories gathered and edited by artist-writers Gabby Arenge and Emily Dowdeswell, Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination.

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Regenerator stories

Alice Willitts, On the Verge

Alice plants for pollinators along with a small group of committed people. They transform urban infrastructure like verges, parks, schools and roundabouts to increase biodiversity and make sure pollinating insects can access nectar-rich flowers across our city. On the Verge started with a text message from a friend, Ben, who was asking if anyone else was anxious about the desperate drop in pollinators because he wanted to do something. Alice and Jo instinctively responded and together they decided to take action. Their bold vision was to plant nectar-rich meadows throughout the city and they’ve been learning every step of the way…

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Clara Todd, Water Sensitive Cambridge

Clara co-founded Water Sensitive Cambridge with three other Cambridge residents after talking about how water could be managed differently. The group builds awareness and action to support the urban water cycle. For example, the group makes rain gardens using existing green spaces to put water into the ground instead of the drain. This supports trees, reduces surface flooding, and cleans the water when it does find its way to the river. Clara takes inspiration from many groups and individuals who bring the arts, sciences and economics together for restorative projects around water…

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Gina Barber, Repairer

Gina has always thought of repairing as an extension of a lifelong hobby working with textiles. Gina started making things when she was five. Growing up after the war, clothes were hard to come by and everyone had to make do and mend. Things had to last. Fabric was firmer and most textiles were woven. Nowadays, many of our clothes are machine knitted, requiring new techniques and materials to fix them.  Before television, people knitted by hand which meant you could just unpick and re-knit things…

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Guy Jones, Repairer

Guy’s got the repairing bug. In his view, you have nothing to lose when you find something that’s been thrown out. Even if you destroy it completely, it doesn’t matter, and that can be very freeing. That makes it a valuable learning tool to develop your investigative skills. If Guy finds he can repair something at the end of that, it’s an extra treat. Guy feels a responsibility to find what he repairs a new owner, somebody who will really value it and use it. That journey is enjoyable, and every fix is different, from LED candles, bluetooth headphones, and fairy lights, to kettles and toasters. He takes something seen as broken and worthless, and in a half hour or less, can often make it work again, giving it a new life…

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Harry Jenkinson, Right to Roam

Growing up in a village miles from Cambridge, in the East of England, Harry learnt that there was so little land that we can actually access. Our countryside has been so cultivated – ploughed and misused over the years – that today there are few places we can go legally.  Trespassing has become a way to access nature, and get out beyond the country lanes. Through this, Harry has developed a really close connection with nature, and in turn realised that there is something deeply wrong and unfair with how excluded people are from nature…

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Hilary Cox Condron, Artist

In her participatory arts practice, Hilary provokes creativity and playful exploration to reimagine the communities and places we live in. Her work builds and deepens connections to ourselves, each other, the natural environment and a hopeful vision of the future. Hilary often thinks of mycellium and how – as we share stories and weave connections – we are like these underground fungal networks that support the forests so that a new generation of trees can survive…

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Kenny McGregor, Arboricultural Officer, Cambridge City Council

Kenny’s job is to look after the city council tree stock – 33,000 trees and counting – and keep them in a safe condition, monitor their health, replacement and succession planting and deliver public engagement. In a lifetime of loving and working with trees, Kenny has found you just have to get hands on, there’s only so much you can learn from a book. But the moment Kenny talks about trees, or takes them on a tree tour, peoples’ eyes light up…

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Naomi Forster, Kinnerz

Naomi has learnt that in giving to her community, she is giving something back to herself. Whether Naomi is helping younger students with their work, leading football and multisport sessions after school, communicating with her hockey team or running first aid training, Naomi has the confidence to support anyone who is new or who needs help. There are so many different ways to help. And helping in the community is, for Naomi, not just about structured learning, but also about finding a way to relax and learn as you go. Naomi has found that it’s refreshing to approach learning like this, and it has helped Naomi grow as a person.

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Parkside Student Social Group

The Social Action Group at Parkside Community College started with a small group of students. The group is campaigning to reduce Parkside’s carbon footprint. For example, they work to reduce waste and the negative impact of food in the canteen, reduce electricity consumption, recycle papers and pens, and campaign for solar panels, better insulation, and alternative sources of heating for the school…

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Pushpanath Krishnamurthy

Push walks for global climate justice. Push’s first climate walk was 15 years ago, when he walked to the COP 15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Since then, he has taken over 40 million steps as a walking activist, walked across Europe, IN South and Western india and in Africa , to Glasgow and beyond. While walking, he amplifies the stories of poor communities who are severely affected by climate change but constantly adapt and peacefully resist unequal power structures. He believes it is essential to seek and speak truth to power…

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Sarah Stepney, Headteacher, Mayfield Primary School

Sarah and her former co-head, Paula, pioneered a schoolwide initiative called Out and About. Out and About is a rather simple but powerful practice. Once a week, each class spends part of the day learning outside no matter the weather, rain or shine (splashing in puddles is not off limits!). Sometimes classes use Out and About time to play games, to go for ‘wellie walks’ to the school’s conservation area and pond, or even to climb a tree…

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Steve Coghill, King’s College Head Gardener

As head gardener of King’s College, Steve’s best days are when the weather is good, the sun is up, and he can just get out there and enjoy the spectacular landscape. These are the days when Steve gets a chance to reflect, both on the space around him and on his team who work blooming hard to support and sustain King’s stunning landscapes. For Steve, gardening is consulting the genius of place and recognising that our landscapes have been here before us, are here for us now, and will continue long after us. There is a great deal of being humble in the presence of nature…

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“We just decided to look at the world around us differently. And once you put that filter on and look at the world around you with an insect’s eyes, you immediately begin to make changes to the way that you live in that space. We can all do that, we can all imagine ourselves into a different future”

Alice Willitts, On the Verge