We talked to one half of the Cooke Curtis duo – Sam Cooke – who has worked as an estate agent in this area since he was 19 and has lived in Trumpington for the past eight years with his wife and three young kids. We wanted to know whether these changes were a sign of Trumpington’s changing demographics? We wanted to understand why Trumpington has become such a property hotspot – with house prices rising more than 20% over the last 12 months (the average house price in the area is now more than £348,000 – which is twice the national average). And most of all, we wanted to get to the bottom of why Trumpington has become such a desirable place to live, even attracting the attention of the TV show Location, Location, Location last summer (Sam and his business partner Jamie Curtis persuaded two first-time buyers – young doctors working at Addenbrooke’s Hospital – to buy a 1960s fixer upper on Beverley Way with a stairlift for the princely sum of £350,000).
“Supply and demand is all that matters,” explains Sam. “There are thousands of new houses being built in Trumpington – so there’s a big rise in supply, but the rise in demand is bigger. We have more jobs than that coming to the area. These little hubs work together. We’ve seen it with one of the big biotech firms AstraZeneca moving from Cheshire down here. The university is building more and more accommodation for students and they’re widening their catchment. Cambridge University has been massively expanding its postgraduate programme. And all these people need somewhere to live.
There have been lots of flats, lots of terraces and lots of houses with modest gardens built in Trumpington. We haven’t built anything like that in the 35 years before that. So there’s this huge gap in the Cambridge market. In terms of choice, our housing stock is dreadful. There are very few nice family houses with big gardens. (Well, there are, but they cost £1.2 million!)
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but what they should have done is build more over the last 100 years, slowly. They’ve suddenly realised we need more houses. And I think it’s right that they should build them where people can walk or cycle to town so they don’t make the traffic worse.
The reason you buy in Trumpington is usually the practicalities – you need to be able to cycle to town, you need to be able to get your kids to school, you need to be able to get to the M11…”
“It’s quite nicely varied actually,” says Sam. “We recently re-sold a two bedroom detached house on Abode [one of the new developments off Addenbrooke’s Road] that was just two years old. We had three people bidding on it. We had two young girls whose parents were buying for them to live in while they did their first year of medicine studies; the other bidders were people coming here from abroad to work in the hospital; the third bidders were a couple in their sixties who were downsizing from a big house in Cambridge and wanted something easy to run. He’s a Green Party activist so he wanted something that was efficient, eco-friendly and easy to run, something that was easy to lock up and leave without worrying about but that offered something interesting architecturally. So it’s nice because you’ve got young people who want it for doing their young people things; you’ve got professionals doing well for themselves, working at the hospital; and you’ve got Cambridge people too.
It is mainly professional people who are moving here – there are lots of researchers, lots of people working for biotech firms and lots of people working for the hospital or industries connected with it. That’s just the geography of it. The hospital is the largest employer within a mile of here.
You do get London commuters but it’s not as significant as it’s been made out to be. Cambridge has a multicultural, slightly artistic feel like bits of London do. And it has good schools, lovely architecture, it’s very safe and all that sort of thing. But London commuters certainly aren’t as big a group as the local workforce in terms of people looking to move to Trumpington.
And the buy-to-let investor thing is massively overstated. It makes a great soundbite. Certain estate agents and certain builders – when they build blocks of flats – have in the past travelled to other countries and pitched them as investments. But the majority of houses in Trumpington are owner occupiers.
There are lots of people from abroad who are buying here, but it’s often for their children who are at school here and they want to have a base here while their children are at school. Or their jobs brought them here.”
There's a big rise in supply, but the rise in demand is bigger.
“When we sell the house on Foster Road for the working class person who’s owned it from new, it sells to a professional. We all know that Foster Rd/Byron Square used to be ex-local authority. The houses were lived in by generations of tradespeople. Now every one we sell is to doctor so and so and professor so and so.
So there is a shift in demographics because, sadly, we sold all the council houses off in the 80s. By the nature of that and how expensive houses are, there is that shift.
And then conversely, with the affordable houses that are coming along with the new builds, there are more lower income people that are coming into the area. It’s one of the wonderful things that, because of the requirement for affordable housing and because the City Council/South Cambs have been quite good at upholding that, there are now affordable places for people to live. People talk about how expensive the new houses are but 40% of the houses out there are ‘affordable’.
Trumpington has always been quite middle class. It’s an edge-of-the-city suburb, appealing to all kinds of different people. There are a lot more houses now, but the mix is the same.”
“An average-to-good three bed semi would be in the £400ks. If you’re a young professional couple and you want to borrow that sort of money, you’ve got to be earning £60k each. That’s serious money. There’s little around that’s cheaper than £350,000. That’s why it’s the professionals who are buying around here because realistically they’re the ones who can afford it.
Last year, we sold two semis on Foster Road within six months of each other. One sold for £375k and the other sold for £450k. People see a big house with a big back garden on a quiet road where you can walk to Addenbrooke’s in ten minutes and it’s relatively cheap. The most expensive houses in Trumpington cost upwards of £2 million (including some of the new houses on the Aura and Halo developments off Long Road).
I genuinely don’t know where people on average salaries would live if it wasn’t for all the affordable stuff that’s been brought with the new developments. If I was still in my salaried job, I couldn’t get a mortgage for my house and I think there are loads of people in that situation.”
There are a lot more houses now, but the mix is the same.
“I’ve only lived here for eight years. I grew up down the road in Stapleford. Mrs Cooke has lived here on and off for 34 years. She grew up on Shelford Road.
We bought our first house in Haverhill. This was 16/17 years ago. I was 19. At that age I looked around at what I could afford on my meagre salary. I looked at the cost of mortgages versus the cost of renting and I thought, ‘Blimey, let’s buy a house.’ I looked at Cambourne (that was just coming out of the ground) and a two-bed house was £120k and then I looked at Haverhill and a two-bedroom house was £60k. We did what a lot of people do and moved away from Cambridge because we couldn’t afford our first house here. Then our salaries got better, house prices moved and we moved back when we’d got a bit of equity.
I would have moved back to Stapleford. It’s quite peaceful. But my parents moved away and Annie has family connections here [Annie, Sam’s wife, who works as a childminder, is the daughter of former Cambridge Mayor Philippa Slatter]. We wanted a house that was not on the main road. At that time, there was only Bishops Road that worked for us. But actually having lived here, I do absolutely appreciate the practicalities. I look forward to not ferrying my kids about when they’re older!
If you move further out, you can get so much better value. If you go a bit further than Sawston or Foxton, you can buy a lovely big detached house with an acre of land for the price of a semi in Trumpington. Ten miles away and the world is your oyster. But I still live here for its practicalities.
And it’s still a nice balance between feeling a bit urban, feeling a bit connected, feeling a part of our wonderful city. You feel like you’re a Cambridge citizen but you also feel far enough out that you get a bit more garden and it’s a bit less busy. It feels less urban but it doesn’t feel like suburban soulless sprawl like you get in big cities. It still feels like a little community.”
“I used to look out of my back window across fields but now I wave at my neighbours in the new houses instead! But I’ve got over it. If I was 65 and wanted a peaceful life, I might think differently.
I’ve got three children between four and nine. And they now have play grounds to play in; they now have a secondary school that’s going to be within half a mile from our house rather than having to go five miles by bus to Sawston every day. They will now have a skate board park. They have a safe cycle route into the city along the guided busway. They have a much wider range of friends from all over the world and different social backgrounds that they can mix with.
OK, my view has gone but overall I think it’s been great for the area. I think everything that’s gone on is nothing but positive. There’s been so little Nimbyism. The Trumpington Resident’s Association – which is the closest thing we have to a parish council – has embraced everything and have been very practical about it all.”
“Trumpington has become a place I want to live,” he says. “It always felt a bit like no man’s land – it wasn’t Cambridge and it wasn’t a village. I grew up in Stapleford – which is a very traditional village where you can walk everywhere and everyone knows each other. To me, Trumpington was two roads. But having lived here, I’ve realised that community does exist. It’s just not immediately obvious as you’re driving through it. And we now have a cluster of houses rather than a ribbon of houses.
It’s like a lot of communities, until you live here you just don’t understand it. Because a community isn’t about the roads or how it feels as you go through it. It’s about what goes on behind it – the friends you make and how you engage with it.
I think community is an important thing. Giving me and my family a sense of belonging here is very important. That’s why I got involved as a governor at the new secondary school. It’s quite exciting! It’s the first new secondary school in the city for 60 years. It’s quite different in terms of its architecture.
The existing schools – like Netherhall and Sawston – are very traditional. They’re very successful, good schools but this is something a bit different. There are no corridors, no staff rooms. It’s a very inclusive, intimate school all focused around a central atrium. And it’s going to be fairly small. When I was at Sawston, it had 250 pupils in a year. It never felt like a tight community. It felt like a big sprawling school. The new school is going to have 90 pupils in each year. Everyone’s going to know each other. For a growing evolving community, that will be really a nice thing.
With the sporting facilities and things like evening classes at the school, you’ll now be able to walk or get on your bike and do evening classes go and get a coffee and sit in the square afterwards. In my mind, it’s going to feel like a lovely little centre – I may be wrong, it may be that nobody goes there. But I have a romantic feeling about that being a part of a thriving centre.
All of this is driven by money making, one way or the other. The biotech companies don’t exist for the good of us. They exist because they want to earn millions of dollars. Builders market houses because they want to sell them well, but the end result is they do tend to build quite nice houses. So if you create a nice community and consider how people are going to live in it – specially with someone like Countryside who’s building over a five or seven year period – they want it to be positive.
And I think the City Council has been good at providing community facilities. When we get the hub – in the square with the shops, café, the secondary school – I think it’s going to work. It’s going to make this one community.”
“I think it will always have its own identity,” says Sam. “If I’m talking to a local person, I would never say ‘I live in Cambridge and my office is in Cambridge’. I’d say ‘Trumpington’. The developers very specifically didn’t call the new development ‘Trumpington’, they called it ‘Great Kneighton’. But nobody calls it Great Kneighton. And I think that’s right. It shows the strength of Trumpington’s identity and history as a village.”