Perspectives on factors most affecting quality of life in Greater Cambridge

Young volunteers outdoors planting trees, photo by Pandora Studio/Adobe Stock

Pandora Studio/Adobe Stock

Results of a survey and interviews of community stakeholders in the Greater Cambridge area found the factors that most affect quality of life in the region include personal relationships, public transport, and a sense of community.

What is the issue?

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

On the face of it, the Cambridge area in most measurements performs well in some QOL areas, for example education, arts and culture, and the local labour market. However, real-life experience differs significantly across communities and across measurements. For example, Cambridge does not provide a high level of QOL in measurements such as housing unaffordability, low housing quality, issues around traffic and transport, and crime and socio-economic issues stemming from poverty and inequality.

Within this context, Cambridge Ahead (an organisation of large employers across business and academia in Cambridge) has sought to add to the evidence base and better understand the QOL priorities of communities living and working in Greater Cambridge.

How did we help?

RAND Europe conducted a survey and interviews of community stakeholders in the Greater Cambridge area to understand the factors that most affect quality of life in the region. Organisational and community leaders were asked how they currently feel about their own QOL, the QOL of their communities and how COVID-19 may have changed their perspectives.

These included leaders working in various organisations (for example, Greater Cambridge businesses and universities), Greater Cambridge charities, communities and neighbourhoods, or taking decisions as part of local authority and public service institutions to shape the area’s future.

The insights garnered from this group provide a valuable starting point for understanding the views of different organisations and communities on the factors affecting QOL in Greater Cambridge.

What did we find?

  • Personal relationships are ranked as a key dimension affecting overall QOL. Interviewees also suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may have increased the relative importance of personal relationships in affecting one’s overall QOL.
  • Survey respondents report a high level of dissatisfaction with public transport and traffic in the local area, consistent with findings from pre-existing research in the Greater Cambridge area. Distance from the city centre is pivotal; the further away one lives from the Cambridge city centre, the more public transport and traffic become problematic.
  • A sense of community in the local area and work-life balance emerged as more important in affecting overall QOL when survey respondents thought about a time during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic or future levels. A sense of community in the local area was also one of the most mentioned QOL dimensions when interviewees provided their top five rankings for the future.
  • Crime is ranked as a low priority in affecting overall QOL.
  • While the level of satisfaction with housing is generally high, this is less applicable to young people and women.
  • The level of satisfaction with the local natural environment is generally high, although those on lower incomes are less satisfied.
  • Most surveyed respondents report a negative impact of COVID-19 on their overall QOL. The subgroup analysis reveals that a particularly high proportion of lower-income respondents and those working in businesses and community/neighbourhood organisations report this negative impact.
  • The survey results indicate that respondents are generally satisfied with their overall QOL, including their life, their local area, things in their life being worthwhile and their mental and physical health. However, there are suggestions that the results may differ depending on the groups and areas asked. For instance, local-area satisfaction may be lower in deprived locations further away from the city centre. The COVID-19 pandemic will also have impacted on the mental health and local area satisfaction of young people.

What next steps could be taken?

The study’s key recommendation is that the Greater Cambridge region develops a formal and robust way to regularly monitor QOL over time – a Greater Cambridge QOL measure. This measure may help to guide local decision makers to maintain or enhance the QOL of the Greater Cambridge area population.