How to Improve Quality of Life in Greater Cambridge: The Perspective of Local Organisational and Community Leaders


Mar 31, 2022

A woman cycles past parked electric scooters in Cambridge, UK, January 14, 2022, photo by Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

A woman cycles past parked electric scooters in Cambridge, UK, January 14, 2022

Photo by Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Measures of quality of life (QOL) have become an increasingly vital tool to inform local decisionmaking, particularly around maximising, or even maintaining, the QOL of those living and working in the local area and stimulating prosperity and economic growth locally.

RAND Europe conducted a programme of work for Cambridge Ahead, a network of large employers across business and academia, to better understand QOL issues in the UK's Greater Cambridge region and find ways to improve the integration of QOL in local decisionmaking.

On the face of it, the Cambridge area in most measurements performs well in different dimensions of QOL, for example education, arts and culture, and the local labour market. However real-life experience differs significantly across communities and across measurements.

A first RAND Europe survey of employees in Greater Cambridge in 2015 found real concerns around housing affordability and traffic. It also highlighted the very local factors that influence local area satisfaction. For instance, the presence of leisure facilities in a neighbourhood increased such satisfaction.

The Cambridge area performs well in different dimensions of quality of life. However real-life experience differs significantly across communities and across measurements.

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A more-recent study focused on understanding the views of organisational and community leaders on the factors that most affect QOL in Greater Cambridge. They were asked how they currently feel about their own QOL, the QOL of their communities, and how COVID-19 may have changed their perspectives.

Some familiar themes were evident. Survey respondents reported a high level of dissatisfaction with public transport and traffic in the local area, consistent with findings from pre-existing research. Distance from the city centre is pivotal; the further away one lives from the Cambridge city centre, the more public transport and traffic became problematic. Organisational and community leaders were generally satisfied with housing, though this seemed less applicable to young people and women.

COVID-19 may have also changed perspectives somewhat. Personal relationships were ranked as a key dimension affecting overall QOL. Respondents suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic may have increased the relative importance of personal relationships in affecting one's overall QOL. A sense of community in the local area and work-life balance emerged as more important in affecting overall QOL. A sense of community in the local area was also one of the most mentioned QOL dimensions when respondents were asked to provide their top five priorities for the future.

Different population groups also have different priorities. Though respondents in this survey showed relatively little concern about crime and are satisfied with the natural environment, we know from further interviews that those on lower incomes and in relatively more-deprived communities were likely to have different experiences and lower satisfaction. The same may also apply to local area satisfaction and mental health.

Most survey respondents reported a negative impact of COVID-19 on their overall QOL. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health and local area satisfaction of young people.

RAND Europe's work shows that there is complexity in measuring QOL. Overall, research contributes to broadening our understanding and advancing the overall QOL of those living and working in Greater Cambridge.

There may be a need for the Greater Cambridge area to develop a QOL measure over time. This measure could allow for the monitoring of QOL in the community and identification of trends and issues. In due course, such a measure may guide local policy- and decisionmakers in seeking to maintain or enhance the QOL of the Greater Cambridge area population. This could be a step toward meeting the aspiration of many stakeholders: that the Greater Cambridge area becomes one of the best and most attractive places to live and do business in the United Kingdom.

Christian van Stolk is executive vice president at RAND Europe.