Families living in what has been dubbed Britain’s newest ‘ghost town’ say they are proud of the cleanliness and safety of their streets – despite having no shops, cafes or GP surgeries.
Northstowe near Cambridge has been ridiculed for its lack of facilities more than six years after households first started moving in.
But MailOnline found a thriving and proud community of nearly 1,300 homes built so far, with plenty of residents praising it as ‘a wonderful place’ with plenty to do.
A new community centre in a temporary building offering space for clubs and serving tea and coffee was officially by the council on Monday, replacing an earlier centre in the local school.
The town, which will eventually have 26,000 people living in 10,000 homes has a primary school, a special needs school and a secondary school with sports facilities and spaces which can be used by the community.
Single mother Laura Chebac who struggles to survive on benefits in her housing association home at Northstowe, says she has had to rely on the local food bank to help feed her and her three children
Northstowe near Cambridge has been ridiculed over its lack of facilities more than six years after households first started moving in
New houses in Northstowe, which is gradually being built near Cambridge and does not yet have any shops or a pub
The post box which was wrongly described in a report as the only community facility in the new town of Northstowe
The finishing touches are also being made to a new sports pavilion which is set to open in September with changing rooms, a club room and a kitchen to serve sports pitches, a bowling green, and a hard games area.
While Northstowe currently has no shops, there is an area of empty land in the centre which is pencilled in for the development of retail space.
Others also argue that the town is built on the borders of the village of Longstanton – which has a Co-op store, a pub, a doctor’s surgery, a vets and a sports club with a cricket square, football pitches and bowling green.
Most of the facilities in Longstanton are just half a mile from the centre of Northstowe.
A notice board next to the post box in Northstowe’s central square is packed with posters advertising everything from a local scout group to a pop up summer youth club, an Indian dance workshop, and park play events.
Another poster highlights games evenings featuring mahjong, mini pool, table tennis and chess at Northstowe Secondary College school.
Jawad Nawash, 59, a father-of-three and an accountant who has lived in Northstowe for three years, said he did not agree with its label as a ‘a ghost town’.
He said: ‘Everything here is well organised. The streets are clean. The place is green. The neighbours are fantastic.
‘There has been too much negativity in the descriptions of what it is like here. Yes, we are missing shops for now, but it is a commercial situation, so it will happen when it happens.
‘You can’t force people to open a store if it is not going to make a profit. I see us as being in a transitional stage where more things will happen as the town gets bigger.
‘There were 800 homes when we came here and now there are around 1,300. Things are moving in the right direction and shops will come as our population continues to grow.
‘We still have shops nearby, but it is a market led position. Nobody wants to open a business as a charity.
Firouz Thompson, a Lib Dem county councillor who has lived in Northstowe for six years, said: ‘There are always lots of things happening here. The new community centre will be a fantastic asset’
The double sided notice board for Northstowe is laden with community activities, despite the new town’s lack of facilities
The town, which will eventually have 26,000 people living in 10,000 homes already has a primary school, a special needs school and a secondary school with sports facilities
While Northstowe currently has no shops, there is an area of empty land in the centre which is pencilled in for the development of retail space
‘I can’t understand why someone would call it a ghostly place. There is nothing ghostly going on here. It is lively and there is a lot going on.’
Charity worker Matt Webb, 36, who was out for a walk with Mr Nawash, added: ‘I bought a house here two years and I love it. There are so many community activities to get involved in, whether it is running, music or just socialising.
‘We have different festivals, and there are active faith groups including Christian churches, a Muslim group and a Hindu group.’
As the sun came out late on Monday afternoon, children who had just left the town’s five-year-old Pathfinder Church of England Primary School, flocked around adventure play equipment, a sand pit and basketball court available for community use.
A 35-year-old mother-of-two at the playground who asked not to be named said: ‘I love living here. It’s great for children. Everyone looks out for each other. It is so easy to make friends if you have got young kids.
‘It can be hard for people who don’t drive as there is no shop on the doorstep, but reports suggesting that there is nothing to do are completely inaccurate.
‘I have lived here for five years, and came here from Swavesey which is an established village a few miles away.
Rosie Thompson, 37, an accident and emergency doctor at Peterborough Hospital, pictured with her husband Andrew and three children, said: ‘We moved here in 2019 and love it’
Northstowe is built on the borders of the village of Longstanton – which has a Co-op store, a pub, a doctor’s surgery, a vets and a sports club with a cricket square, football pitches and bowling green
‘Everyone is in the same boat as they have only been a short while, so it is a bit like going to university and making friends. It’s easy to get to know people and chat.
‘There is a dance academy offering classes in yoga, ballet, musical theatre and jazz for adults as well as children at the local high school.
‘People meet up for creative get togethers. There is also a board gaming group that meets up and there used to be a book club, although I think that dropped away during covid.’
Mother-of-four Felicity Overall, 35, who works as an orthodontic therapist said: ‘Our children have been at the school here for four years, but we moved here in May.
‘We used to live in Swavesey and this is more friendly. It is brilliant for families. I have been trying to move here for a long time and it has made my life a lot easier.
‘It doesn’t bother me that there are no shops yet because the Co-op at Longstanton is only round the corner.
‘I used to do the Buggy Bootcamp fitness class on the basketball court, and my kids do ballet at the school. I suppose the lack of the pub is a bit of an issue, but there are plenty of ways for people to meet up.’
Data scientist Nuno Reis, 36, who is a married father-of-two, added: ‘To be frank, the lack of shops doesn’t bother me, but it is a big deal for other people. What worries me is the capacity at the primary school. It is already quite busy.
A view of the area where the permanent community centre is to be built next to the temporary community centre building which has just opened in Northstowe
Stylish homes with with balconies line the streets of Northstowe, which is yet to have a GP surgery or leisure resources
Despite the apparent lack of facilities, the new town has proved popular with families who have moved to the area
‘There is a small pre-school at the school, but that is for children over two. Nobody is yet doing nursery provision in Northstowe for children under two.
‘I also feel that public transport could be better. There is a guided busway taking you straight into Cambridge which is great – but often the buses are already full because they come from St Ives. You sometimes have to wait for two or three to come to find space.’
Northstowe previously had a temporary community centre in an unused room at the primary school, but the space was taken over by the school last September.
The new temporary community centre made from nine portable buildings joined together includes a lobby with kitchenette and two large rooms for the use of baby and toddler groups, art workshops, and sport and activity groups.
The centre, decorated by community-inspired artwork and opened by South Cambridgeshire District Council can also be hired for private events such as birthday parties and has space for three offices, as well as an NHS room.
It will have a garden area at the rear which has just been seeded, and room for a food bank as well as a food pantry, giving away out of date food collected from local shops which can no longer be sold.
The centre will remain until a permanent community centre, part funded by Northstowe’s developer L&Q Estates, is built on land next door within the next three years.
Firouz Thompson, a Lib Dem county councillor who has lived in Northstowe for six years, said: ‘There are always lots of things happening here. The new community centre will be a fantastic asset.’
Although the town still has no restaurants or permanent café, Mrs Thompson helped set up a rota for a different takeaway food van to park up on the central square several nights a week.
Houses in Northstowe – one of the UK’s biggest new towns which does not yet have any shops, despite 9,000 extra home due to be built
The temporary community centre in Northstowe is one of the few facilities serving locals
The town, which is under development, will eventually have 26,000 people living in 10,000 homes
There are currently around 25 vans on the rota, offering everything from Japanese food to pizza and posh burgers.
Mrs Thompson said: ‘It means there is something different to eat every night, so people actually get more choice than they do in other places. We charge pitch fees which are ploughed back into the community.
‘So far they have paid for raised beds on an allotment area for community grown vegetables, and free meals for kids who need them while on holiday activities. We are also saving up for a defibrillator.’
A coffee van also visits the square every Thursday, and there is a busy market every Sunday featuring stalls selling foods including fruit, vegetables, cakes and cheese.
Marcin Lis, 41, an engineer at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, who organises the Northstowe Running Festival in September and the town’s half marathon and 5k run in April, said: ‘There are so many community activities.
‘We are a really thriving community with a lot of creative people who work hard every day. There is no denying that there is a level of frustration about the lack of shops and some people moan about it.
‘But the majority of people have on-line deliveries of their groceries and the Co-op in Longstanton is within cycling or walking distance.
‘I know you can’t get a pint here – but that is not everything. The food and drink we have here on a daily basis is better than many larger places and there is so much going on.
‘The hardest time was when the old community centre in the school had to close which meant groups had to find somewhere else, but now there is the new community centre.’
MailOnline found families enjoying a communal picnic on Monday evening on the green beside the town’s square.
Rosie Thompson, 37, an accident and emergency doctor at Peterborough Hospital was at the spot with her three children and husband Andrew, said: ‘We moved here in 2019 and love it.
Mr Greef (pictured) said: ‘We’re now past a thousand homes, and all we’ve got is a post box.’
Families say they have to drive to shops in the next town or Cambridge because there are none in Northstowe
‘I find it really exciting being somewhere from the beginning. We always knew it would take time to get shops and other places, but there are plenty of people with ideas who are doing really exciting things like the winter arts festival.
‘We know that the shops will come eventually, and we are happy to wait. I know there were problems in Covid when a lot of community groups couldn’t meet and it felt like things were not happening.
‘Then, just as things got up and running again, the school wanted their room back. But now we have a proper community centre which is brilliant. We thought we would come to the opening and make an outing of it.’
Others who remain frustrated by the lack of shops include single mother Laura Chebac who struggles to survive on benefits in her housing association home at Northstowe, and has had to rely at times on the local food bank to help feed her and her three children.
She said: ‘As a single mum with no car, I have to go on the bus if I want to do a big shop from somewhere. It is difficult to get deliveries here. It is a pain if you suddenly run out of bread.
‘Iceland doesn’t come here and the Co-op at Longstanton can be expensive and unaffordable. Also, my doctor is a 30 minute walk away in Longstanton and it can take ages to get an appointment as they are so busy.’
Widowed mother-of-three Caroline Kusyn, 31, who lives in a privately rented house in Northstowe since October 2021, said: ‘The lack of shops isn’t such an issue for me as I have a car.
‘I am more concerned about the build quality of the houses. They seem to be cheaply made. I had a big problem getting TVs hung up on the walls. On the plus side, there are lots of nice places to walk around.’