Famous figures, including Rowan Williams, were interviewed for the film Joe Cook and Abdullah Shah

For most students at Cambridge University, the phrase ‘town and gown’ provokes images of Dangerspoons or of the annoying sixth form students crowding the dance floor in Lola’s, yet an exploration from behind the lens of a Canon 600d suggested to us that there’s a lot more to it.

On the 30th of April, sitting on the balcony of the Cambridge Union, overlooking a half-filled chamber, neither of us expected an ordinary panel event to be the start of hundreds of hours spent emailing, interviewing and agonising over editing. However, the panel that day on ‘Town and Gown’ sparked our interest in an issue often overlooked in Cambridge.

Beyond the distant memories of brawls and University MPs that have historically marked the relationship between the University of Cambridge and the city, we found a more sophisticated portrait of the dynamic emerge as the panellists’ conversation increasingly focused around issues of economic growth, inequality and social responsibility.

Julian Huppert, pictured, was interviewed as the former MP for CambridgeJoe Cook and Abdullah Shah

Dr Ewan Jones from Downing College voiced the University’s perspective; Mayor James Palmer represented the local government’s role; and the town’s experience was covered by Hilary Cox Condron, a local art activist. Despite an intriguing discussion, much slipped between the cracks of the three individuals and their respective backgrounds, creating gaps we aimed to fill with a short film exploring the issue.

Alongside the original panellists, we reached out to over 100 individuals on the issue, interviewing 34 on camera across 17 hours of footage. These ranged from administration staff, academics and students at the University and its colleges, to local and national government representatives, as well as residents, historians and activists from within the town. To better grasp an understanding of the issues of inequality, well-known voices were consulted, such as Rowan Williams, the master of Magdalene College and former Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as Dr Richard G. Wilkinson and Dr Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.

Despite trying to cover an array of views, we were unable to secure interviews with some of the people most directly disadvantaged, such as those who are homeless, due to their reluctance to be filmed, as well as our lack of connections to secure interviews.

Watch A choice to look hereVarsity

Balancing the project with our first year exams over a period of six weeks, we attempted to highlight the inequalities which students are unaware of despite living in the city. It was certainly challenging to coordinate the scheduling of interviews as well as cycling long distances with heavy equipment bags, yet the toughest part was trying to give a fair say to everyone and attempting to capture reality.

Our hope is that the project allows viewers a moment of self-reflection without being moralistic; that it makes us all more conscious of our choices as an often taken for granted part of our lives which fundamentally affect everything around us.

Additional credits: 
Archival footage: the British Council & Richard Wexler
Statistics: Cambridge city council & The Guardian

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