Grinning from ear to ear with the sunniest smile you’re ever likely to see, Tatenda (who’s about to celebrate her 18th birthday) recounts the tale of how she ended up moving to Trumpington Meadows just over three years ago, with her dad, mum, sister and brother.
Sitting round the kitchen table over a mug of tea, she explains how she was raised by her gran in the bustling Zimbabwean capital of Harare. Her father, Stanley, had come over to the UK when she was three-years-old and was working hard as a healthcare assistant to save up enough money for Tatenda to come and join him and his wife Nancy, who was training to be a nurse. That moment came five years ago, when Tatenda was 12 and her younger brother Leon had just been born.
She landed in suburban Sawston one chilly May day with no idea what to expect. She had never travelled outside Zimbabwe before, but as far as she was concerned it was all one huge adventure.
“It was just coming into summer, so that was nice,” she enthuses. “But it was still a whole lot colder than Zimbabwe. And it was way too quiet! I was one of those people who just used to play out all the time, so it was a bit hard to adjust to.”
When she met her Year 7 form group at Sawston Village College, they were nearly at the end of their first year of secondary school and had already formed their friendship groups. But Tatenda remained undaunted.
“I am really a people person,” she says. “When I went to high school, I was introduced to people who were in my form and that was it. We were inseparable. I had a really good form group, so that helped.”
What also helped was Tatenda’s willingness to throw herself into school life. She had always loved singing, dancing and drama, but had never had the chance to have any drama lessons in Zimbabwe – so she joined the school drama club. Within the first few weeks of arriving in England, she got up on stage in front of the whole school and sang a song from High School Musical. She went on to perform in other school productions too, including playing Queen Margaret in Richard III.
Admittedly, she was homesick for Zimbabwe and her gran for the first few weeks – and she missed the gregarious lifestyle she left behind in Harare. But she soon adjusted.
“Back in Harare, everyone knows everyone, everyone’s friends with everyone,” she explains. “But here everyone has their own little groups depending on what you’re interested in and your personality type. So that was weird. But I kind of got used to it.”
Tatenda quickly made a new circle of friends. “I have a lot of people I know,” she says. “I have a lot of acquaintances and a small number of friends now. I like to keep a tight circle.”
When Tatenda talks about her family moving from their cramped two-bedroom flat in Sawston to the more spacious three bedroom new build in Trumpington Meadows, she becomes even more animated than usual.
“We’d been looking for ages and these houses came up and we snapped one up,” she says. “I think it was the space – there was quite a lot of space. And the distance from everywhere else – it’s 15 minutes away from town, it was 15 minutes away from my school at the time in Sawston, it’s near the Park and Ride, there’s a Waitrose. Everything was quite close by. And obviously it’s ten minutes away from the hospital, where Mum works as a nurse.”
“It felt great to be moving into a brand new house,” she says. “It was a new adventure. I was really excited about meeting new people! It was the fact that I kind of had ownership of the place. We’d be the first people who came here and whoever came next would look up to us. We’d be there to help them round and everything – we’d be tour guides.”
Tatenda is as enthusiastic about her own street as she is about the location of Trumpington Meadows, a 1,200 housing development boasting 40 percent affordable housing (Tatenda’s family rents their three-bedroom house from the housing association for around £165 a week). The new apartments and houses – ranging from starter homes to luxury properties – nestle between Waitrose, the Trumpington Park and Ride and a 148-acre country park that stretches out towards the rolling fields of Grantchester and the picturesque 13th century Trumpington parish church.
The Trumpington Meadows site used to be home to the Plant Breeding Institute – which, after a brief spell as a prisoner of war camp during the 1940s – went on to produce household names such as the Maris Piper potato. The institute was sold on to Unilever and briefly to Monsanto before the land was bought in 2004 by the Grosvenor property group and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) – one of the UK’s largest private pension schemes.
“I quite like the layout of the area where we live,” says Tatenda. “Compared to the houses by the marketing suite, it’s like walking into a completely new world. That area is quite dark and mysterious. I don’t like it. But over here, it’s like being in heaven. You should see it when it’s sunny. It’s so nice. All the greenery – most of the stuff is fake – but it’s quite nice to look at.”
Tatenda – whose name means “we are grateful” – is equally enthusiastic as she gives a guided tour of her family home, which boasts eco features including solar panels that are standard in many of Trumpington Meadows’ new builds (the houses have all been designed and built to comply with Level 3 of the Code for Sustainable Homes). She practically bursts with pride as she shows off the compact garden and the view from the small balcony, which is somewhat overshadowed by the corrugated silver roof of the John Lewis depot. She loves the kingfisher blue of the family bathroom. She loves the spacious kitchen where her family gathers for meals. And she particularly appreciates her own sparsely furnished bedroom, complete with boy band posters and cuddly toys. She planned to paint the walls turquoise but they ended up bright green. “I didn’t think it would be so bright!” she shrugs.
Tatenda has also been exploring the Trumpington Meadows Country Park, since it opened up its criss-crossing pathways that lead down to the River Cam and Byron’s Pool – where the poet Lord Byron allegedly swam 200 years ago.
“Near the back of the school, there’s a forest,” she says. “In summer, we went jogging and on family bike rides. It was quite fun.”
So how does her new home in Trumpington Meadows compare to the community where she grew up in Harare?
“I lived in a fairly modern bungalow,” says Tatenda. “It had four bedrooms and a bathroom, with a toilet and a shower next to it. We had a big garden with sugar cane, green veggies, two mango trees and a peach tree. And we also had a cottage in our yard that we rented out. There were two verandas around the house where we used to sit out…”
“It was never grey and it was always quite sunny and warm,” she remembers wistfully. “There were a lot of pigeons coming to our house. So my granddad put a little bird house and put food in and everything for them. But then he also took some and cooked them!”
It used to annoy Tatenda when she first arrived in England that people thought she grew up in a mud hut because she came from Africa. But in fact she lived in a middle class neighbourhood where she could walk to school and to the shops, just as she can in Trumpington Meadows.
“The first thing people asked me when I came here was, ‘did you live in a tribe?’. And I was like, ‘No. I didn’t live in a tribe, I didn’t wear an animal skin or anything like that.’ I made sure that everyone understood that living in Africa didn’t mean that you grew up in a mud hut wearing an animal skin. They were quite surprised. ‘You mean you lived in a normal house?’ And I was like, ‘yes, I did’.”
It felt great to be moving into a brand new house. It was a new adventure. I was really excited about meeting new people!
Although there aren’t many people of Tatenda’s age living on the new development, she’s made a couple of new friends since she moved here three years ago. One of them is her next door neighbour and another lives near one of the neighbourhood parks where she loves taking her five-year-old brother Leon out to play when the weather’s decent.
“Everyone who’s here does make an effort to say hi and interact with everyone else,” she says. “I know quite a lot of people here because of the school and everything. Everyone who does live here is quite nice. And I guess that harmony is nice.”
“Everyone here is quite civilised,” she adds with a grin.
Her brother and sister – who were both born in the UK – have made lots of new friends too going to the newly opened Trumpington Meadows primary school. Twelve-year-old Chantelle has just gone up to the new Trumpington Community College, which builders are due to complete later this year (pupils are being bussed to Parkside Community College in Cambridge in the meantime). But in spite of all the new friendships the family has formed, Tatenda still finds English people a bit reserved.
“We’re quite lucky here because both my neighbours here are quite talkative,” she says. “It was kind of the same in Sawston. But people like staying in their own little clusters, in their own little bubble. Back in Harare, I lived in people’s houses. I literally spent so much time in people’s houses I didn’t need to knock when I went to my friend’s houses. I just walked through the door and said, ‘hi, I’ve come’.”
“When my friends come here, they’re quite reserved,” she adds. “They’re really awkward being in my house. And I’m like, chill, I’m not going to eat you or anything, you know! I’m really comfortable going to people’s houses and I can make myself feel at home.”
“My personality kind of changed when I moved,” she admits. “You kind of adjust to the way people are. I’m really one of these people who are in your face and it intimidates people. A lot of people talk about how they find it strange that I’m so confident. And I’m like, ‘I’m sorry’!”
Since Tatenda moved to England, she has become an avid reader and has started writing short stories too.
“To begin with I never even liked reading or writing or anything related to books. My parents said, you’re always watching TV. Why don’t you grab a book? So I ran upstairs and grabbed a book and I really liked it and I was like, ‘what have I been doing with my life’?”
When she was in Year 9 or 10, she did some creative writing in English. And she loved it.
“I was just starting, I was a rookie then,” she blushes. Today she publishes her own edgy fiction on a website called Wattpad, which is popular among up-and-coming young writers.
“I like looking at complex ideas that normal young adult books don’t look at,” she says. “My first story was about a girl who got amnesia and the whole story was about how she got to that point.”
“I’ve always been on top of my work,” she says. “But I wouldn’t be at home reading a book. I’d be outside playing with my friends.”
“I’d probably be doing something different if I’d stayed [in Harare],” she says. “Reading and writing was never my thing back then. I don’t know what I’d be doing, but definitely not that.”
Everyone who’s here does make an effort to say hi and interact with everyone else.
Today Tatenda is studying for her A-levels at Long Road Sixth Form College. She is taking psychology and health & social care and hopes to do a degree at Oxford Brookes University with the aim of becoming a child mental health nurse.
“I grew up around kids, I love kids,” she says. “Originally I wanted to be a child nurse but then I took psychology for my A-levels and it really intrigued me. I want to do both but I thought that was too many years in university so I found a course that combined both.”
She’s not sure if she would have enjoyed the same kind of opportunities if she’d stayed on at secondary school in Harare.
“Back there you’d have to pay for education,” she says. “And if you don’t pay for the term, then basically you don’t go to school. But here obviously everything is quite free. Education is free up until you go to university and even then you still get bursaries and stuff like that.”
One thing that has surprised Tatenda is the different attitude towards discipline and learning in English schools.
“The biggest difference is the punishment for not doing homework or not doing work,” she says. “Here you have detention and all that. There they don’t really do detentions. You get a beating for not doing your work.”
“One of my teachers was a perfectionist,” she says. “When she was marking your work, she’d have you standing next to her. She’d mark your work with one hand and in the other hand, she would have a pen. For every spelling mistake you made, you got a pinch with the pen.”
Although she’s not an advocate of corporal punishment, Tatenda thinks there’s something to be said for showing kids the consequences of their actions as they’re growing up.
“People kind of think if there’s no consequence for your actions then what’s the point,” she says.
“I went to school with a couple of people who got pregnant by the time we were doing our GCSEs – or didn’t make it to GCSEs,” she says. “It was because they have it all, kind of thing.”
“If you grow up with not as many opportunities, you want to strive to get the most out of life,” she says. “If you grow up with it all there, you don’t really feel the need to work harder because you know you can get it without having to try hard.”
You certainly can’t accuse Tatenda of not trying hard. She seems to throw herself 100 percent into everything she does. When she’s not studying or looking after her younger brother and sister, you can find her volunteering at Addenbrooke’s Hospital – serving tea and chatting to the elderly patients.
“What I love is talking to different people all the time,” she says. “Every time I go there I get to meet somebody new and they always have so many stories to tell. And it’s always so fun.”
You get the feeling that Tatenda is really going places. She doesn’t plan to return to Zimbabwe anytime soon. Or to stay in Trumpington either. She harbours a secret ambition to audition for X Factor one day. And she longs to spread her wings and explore the world.
“I’m kind of branching outwards,” she says. “I want to travel. I’ll finish my studies then I’ll travel a bit – anywhere and everywhere. Growing up I always wanted to go to Rome or Greece. But then I discovered Dubai, and I thought ‘wow’. Then I discovered Australia and I thought ‘oh my God’. And then there’s New York and California… and everywhere. I can’t decide.”
Wherever Tatenda ends up, you have the feeling that she will be bringing her own inimitable brand of sunshine with her…
Over here, it’s like being in heaven. You should see it when it’s sunny. It’s so nice!
“Books were my life source. I lived and breathed books. From science fiction, thrillers, even teenage drama, I read everything. Reading for me was like being transported to another world. I merge my soul with the character, feeling what they feel, experiencing life in their eyes and struggling with them in hard times. That’s when I truly feel at home.”
You can read more of Tatenda’s fiction on Wattpad here: https://www.wattpad.com/user/tate2mitchie