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From hops to mops – the hardware store with extras

Have you seen what’s at No 1 Arbury Road and noticed the picturesque store front and the flowers and plants that spill onto the pavement? This is the latest independent hardware store to set up in Cambridge, called simply Cam Home and Garden.

Entering Cam Home and Garden takes you over a comforting step down memory lane; it offers the very best of old-fashioned customer service and a fantastic selection of items found in a local hardware shop reminiscent of shops from yesteryear.  Robin Standring, the manager, greets me wearing a t-shirt with four candles on.

Robin together with his assistant Steve Winn bring over 100 years of retail experience.  Steve, retired after long-service at Cutlacks on Mill Road but was tempted back into part-time work by Robin.  They now enjoy serving and getting to know their customers in West Chesterton and providing welcome advice as, between them, there is little they don’t know about gardening, home renovation and beer and wine-making. But, Robin defaults to Steve – who he refers to as Cambridge aristocracy – and tells his customers; “If you want to know anything about anything, from mops to hops, ask Steve.”

Looking around the shop there’s a wonderful and eclectic mix of beautiful modern, vintage and practical everyday items.  Its arrangement lends itself to browsing.  Robin says: “We’re really proud to be described as a useful shop in Cambridge. Everything has a use but also looks nice and we stock a range that suits all budgets.  We’re perfectly suited for anyone who want to grow their own, make their own as well as get all the essential hardware stuff.”

The shop is bedecked in sentimental decoration, charming knick knacks (not for sale) from Robin’s childhood, as well as interesting locally sourced items such as Cambridge hardwood charcoal and hazel poles from Hardwick woods.  The packed shelves stock Che Guevara mugs next to Baby Bio bottles, gorgeous colourful enamel espresso cups and a wide selection of seeds, with useful labels telling you, for example, which ones are great for bees.

Robin has an eye for details and design and so the homely store front reflects the seasonal produce alongside the perennial best sellers.  It is no surprise that the shop has been called an Aladdin’s Cave or like stepping into the Tardis.  Steve explains that they change seasonally, and rotate stock to reflect this (such as swapping jam-making for chutney-making as the season demands) all the while ensuring that everything remains practical.  And in line with their old-fashioned philosophy, their children’s toys only promote outdoor play – no batteries, no screens – just traditional games.

The front of the shop stocks their home and garden range, while the home brew equipment – wine, beer and cider – is found at the back.  Craft beers are a big driver in the home brew market today and such is their position as experts in this field they have a home brew club which runs on the 1st Sunday of every month and takes place at Thirsty.  It’s great fun, very informal and open to all levels of experience because people learn from each other.  The Jamaican food van serves between 4-6pm.  What better way to get an introduction to beer-making?

Proudly Robin tells me that the only other place you can get most of the stuff he sells is on the internet, but without the personal. On top of this he goes out of his way to get stuff that you wouldn’t find on the internet which all helps to maintain his loyal and growing customer base.

As with everything about Cam Home and Garden, they want satisfied customers who always get what they come for – from four candles to fork handles – and everything is built from that.

Find out more about Cam Home and Garden here

Robin was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. Dawn has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advice based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme

For the love of food: How LingLing and Franck combined their loves in the city

Every Chinese school child learns Xu Zhi Mo’s 1928 poem, On Leaving Cambridge.   Capturing the beauty and romance of Cambridge, it provided a draw to LingLing Peng from her home in Taiwan, as it still does for the scores of Chinese tourists that visit our city every year.  LingLing was looking for a place to “play and learn” and inspired by the poem, Cambridge seemed a natural choice.

Studying English at The Studio School on Station Road in 1991, LingLing would often have lunch in the little ‘old-fashioned’ café on the corner, not thinking that 10 years later she would be the owner. Back in the early 90s Cambridge was a poor destination for food lovers, with national food chains prevalent but few innovative independent restaurants and cafés providing any local character.  LingLing enjoyed the idiosyncrasy of this little place.

LingLing and Franck met through a mutual friend and with their shared love of food they set up in partnership with a friend, L’Amandier on Burleigh Street in 1994 (now Cote de France) and sold it four years later.  Eager for their own place, in 1999 they took a quarter share of the premises above The Bun Shop (now The Cambridge Brew House) where they could create their own menus.  As fate would have it, the little café on Station Road became available in 2000.  So, taking an extension on their mortgage, Le Gros Franck was opened and has since become one of the City’s most beloved local eateries, as well as the only independent French café in Cambridge

Le Gros Franck is famed for delivering good quality authentic French food (Franck makes monthly visits to France to source the best ingredients) with delicious breakfast and lunchtime menus.  Convenient for commuters stopping in for a croissant or espresso on their way to work, it is also a mainstay for a growing community of residents and businesses in the area.

LingLing and Franck have become indivisible from their restaurant, becoming a well-known unit in the City as well as active members of the community.  They embrace change and make the most of new and exciting opportunities that the city’s transformation provides, such as the CB1 development and the growing trend around food vans.

CB1 was the catalyst for their second restaurant.  When in 2012 they were looking for something new, the accountant and solicitor’s office on the corner of Hills Road and Brooklands Avenue provided the perfect location to take advantage of this burgeoning population.  After months of negotiations and fighting off stiff competition (no doubt with the reputation already established through Le Gros Franck), La Maison du Steak was born in 2013.  LingLing said:

“The changes around CB1 have been quite monumental but it’s great to be in the heart of it.  We’re really proud of the challenging building project we undertook because we transformed a near derelict building to what we have today.  Franck took the lead on this, he’s created space that shows off authentic French interiors and individual style. We’ve even used some of the photograph that show the various stages of the project to decorate the walls.”

Just like its sister, La Maison du Steak provides a wonderfully French setting.  It lends itself to relaxed family meals or a romantic dinner for two and has quickly become a firm favourite in this part of Cambridge.

LingLing loves food – talking about it, cooking it and of course eating it.  So, what better way to share her passion than by bringing it directly to her customers?  They now have three food vans.  The Saucisse Mon Amour food van is seen regularly on Station Road, its fluttering Taiwanese flag cocking a snoop at the Chinese state while bringing pride to local Taiwanese.  “I love to see my customers’ faces when they enjoy my food.  And I can do that from my van, where I can’t from my kitchen” says LingLing.

While the Saucisse Mon Amour reflects the French identity of her marriage, LingLing loves to indulge in traditional home cooking, influenced by her mother and share recipes that she grew up with.  Her second food van, LingLing’s Steam Kitchen, was set up in 2015.  With favourites include her beef dumplings, Taiwanese braised minced pork served with tea egg and tofu stew with plum and miso sauce.   It is already a firm favourite both with locals and critics – she won the 2015 Cambridge Food Van of the Year after only being open for three months.

Finally Pull Me Chéri opened in 2016, and is used frequently for Cambridge events such as Enchanted Cinema, Thirsty Riverside, the Cambridge Comedy & Beer Festivals, Mill Road Winter Fair, Thriplow Daffodil Weekend, and a regular monthly pitch in Hitchin street food monthly and outside Thirsty.

LingLing and Franck now employ a diverse team of 20 from the UK and Europe.  Indeed, the head chef started as a dish washer: everyone works together as a family.  LingLing summarised:

“The staff are the bosses. They run the restaurants, they are important, they take responsibility.” she concludes: “I am so grateful for my wonderful team.  It really would be impossible without them.”

LingLing has learnt a lot, but she says the key to running a successful business is to listen; to staff and to customers.  That is how we learn the most important lessons.

LingLing was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. Dawn has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advice based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme

 


Having tea with old friends in Cambridge

I recently saw a posting on social media about Contact The Elderly, a charity that organises volunteer-led monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for older people.   It is a national charity with local representatives and aims to transform lives with tea, chat and friendship.  So, over a cup of tea, I met with Catherine Wheeler, a Cambridge resident who has been with the charity for two years to find out a little more.

It caught my attention because when I wrote my blog about the wonderful independent cafes in Cambridge, someone got back to me and suggested that I produce a similar one about cafes that are accessible for the elderly.  I promise to do that soon.  However, the simplicity of the tea parties and its huge benefits inspired me to promote it.

With an aging population, we as a nation must address many issues – social, medical, emotional – such dementia, immobility, loneliness etc.   Cambridge is a wonderful city but expensive, busy and difficult to get around and therefore not very welcoming for the elderly so free initiatives such as Contact the Elderly’s Tea Parties are great for bringing people together. 

Catherine explained that you can either get involved as a host or a driver.  To become a host you will be contacted by the regional co-ordinator (Georgina.sells@contact-the-elderly.org.uk) and your home checked for accessibility (ie: downstairs loo and easy access by car) and that you can accommodate up to 12 people. 

As a host, you can do as much or as little as you like, but for a relatively low commitment there are massive benefits. The charity reaches out to people who live on their own, in sheltered accommodation or private residential homes.  Each month the same people get together with different hosts so friendships are formed.

Catherine’s daughters, Freya and Iona, always get involved with the Sunday afternoon tea party: baking cakes, biscuits, tea and sandwiches, helping on the day and making a big fuss of everyone.  Whatever is left over goes into a doggy bag which the guests love.  Catherine sums up, “There’s a lot of effort on the day, but it’s great fun and it is only one day.  It’s good for all of us to get to know elderly people in our community.”

Please find more information here

Catherine was interviewed by Dawn Giesler, founder of scuseme, a recommendation website developed to provide an essential resource to help your family run smoothly. Dawn has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advice based on her own experiences. For more information please visit: scuseme


scuseme 6 essential electricity safety rules at home

We asked our recommended electricians in Cambridge to come up with six key considerations to keep you and your possessions safe in your home.

In February, there was a fire at Clarins Day Spa on St Andrews Street, Cambridge.  It was caused by an electrical fault, and the incident led to the part closure of John Lewis.  But thanks to their fire prevention systems (smoke and fire alarms, and sophisticated sprinkler systems), both stores kept disruption to a minimum and no one was hurt.  Sadly, for many households the consequent of fires, are often far more damaging.

Against this background, we want to share some important, and sometimes overlooked, safety guidance regarding electricity. (more…)


AGAs repairs and service in Cambridge

Aga serviced by independent expert in Cambridge

AGA owners, for most of the time, you are rewarded with incredible food, ambient warmth and a kitchen that is the heart and soul of your home.  

But any AGA owner knows they are wonderful until they breakdown.  So, for our AGA owners in Cambridge here are six essentials ingredients to make sure your AGA is always ready to serve up a scrumptious feast. (more…)


Independent cafés in Cambridge

independent cafe Hot Numbers

Great places to hang out

Over recent years, the growing number of independent cafés in Cambridge has given me lots of pleasure and fun (and no end of excellent coffee, teas and smoothies, and cake!) amidst the more general and depressing expansion of international chains.  The variety of eating and drinking options always tempt with mouth-watering menus, often locally sourced and wherever possible, seasonal. (more…)


Budgeting for an extension in Cambridge – watch your wallet

The extension budget is one area where most people fall, often underestimating the time and money that is required to complete the project.  And if you live in Cambridge you need to know that the best builders get booked up early; so, plan ahead, conduct thorough research, identify at least three builders, choose carefully and then draw up a secure contract. (more…)


Follow the fabulous food vans in Cambridge

The eating out options in Cambridge have come a long way in the last ten years, reflecting the cosmopolitan character of the city and the diverse tastes of its residents. 

Cambridge is now embracing and building on the growing trend around food vans, providing a range of delicious, fresh, healthy and innovative street food representing numerous cultural and culinary tastes.  These dedicated chefs are bringing their passion to the streets, often hitching their characterful vans outside our favourite pubs, wine bars and cafes.  (more…)


How scuseme helped Cambridge resident find recommended local builder for cottage renovation

In June 2016, we received the following customer enquiry:

“I am looking for a builder to do a small extension at my cottage in Cambridge.  I need the bathroom and kitchen to be extended and refurbished. I have plans for the work and would like the work to start ASAP. Many thanks.”

We passed this enquiry onto our recommended local builders and three of them were keen for scuseme to share their profiles with the customer.

(more…)


Cambridge “one of the safest areas of the UK” but we must remember to look out for each other

It was heartening to have confirmation from Sgt Ian Wood, addressing members of the city council’s East Area Committee on Thursday 12th January, that crime in Cambridge is at an “unbelievable” low level.

People who live and work in Cambridge, often speak of living in a bubble where we seem to be distant from some of the damaging social and economic issues that have such a massive impact on so many parts of the country.  These recent findings about criminal activity in the area support this, Wood goes on to say that, “even the criminals in Cambridge are nice.”   (more…)


Home improvement plans for 2017? Four steps to turn your ideas into a reality

A new year and a new start so often prompts us to refresh our lives. Whether it is to make small home improvements, get the garden sorted or start an exciting building project, January is the time to lay down the foundations to turn your ideas into a reality. But successful ideas don’t happen by accident.  So here are some tips to help you on your way.   (more…)


Top 5 tips for keeping your dinner party simple and tasty

We all love the idea of inviting friends and family over for dinner but sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. Preparing menus, elaborate table settings, and of course the cooking, can leave us feeling more frazzled than a slice of back bacon.

Entertaining at home should be fun, relaxing and full of delicious food.  We have consulted with our fabulous Cambridge scuseme recommended caterers and here they share their top five tips for keeping your dinner party simple and tasty. (more…)


Scuseme, can you recommend a good business or service in Cambridge?

By default, we ask people we trust for recommendations, and equally people love to share them.  But sometimes we’re not able to connect with their recommended suppliers and we have to find another source of reference.  Increasingly we turn to the Internet, and whether looking for a restaurant or a room, a book review or boots, we rely on the recommendations and review of others to help us decide.

Did you know that 88 percent of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 72 percent of customers questioned in a local community survey said that positive reviews make them trust a local business more? (more…)


Fabulous fruity pickings – get our favourite 5 blackberrying sites in Cambridge

I just love the beginning of Autumn.  The weather is still warm, the light is gorgeous, the colours are vibrant and this year the long awaited blackberries are bountiful.  Blackberrying still manages to deliver, without fail, a fabulous family activity that excites everyone equally and doesn’t herald the response, “Do we have to?” from languid teenagers.  So, thank goodness for good old fashion brambling.  I love that it doesn’t have any connection with technology: it always feels nostalgic and I have a brief flirtation of myself as Ma Ingles in The Little House on the Prairie, gathering produce and fayre. (more…)


The importance of online reviews for your business

The internet has without a doubt changed the way we do business today. Business owners are taking advantage of this by creating websites, optimizing SEO, and working on social media marketing. They may however be overlooking one of the most important online components of their business plans: online reviews. Luckily, services such as scuseme.co.uk can help with this area of your business plan. (more…)


7 essential things that will make your U.C.A.S. personal statement stand out

Writing a personal statement for your U.C.A.S. application is one of the most important pieces of writing that you will produce. 

It is the only way in which a creative, subjective element can be added to your application alongside the factual data of exam results, university course choices etc. 

Admissions tutors read personal statements and are influenced by them….so they matter. 

So where to start and what to avoid? It is so important that care and attention is applied to the writing of the statement and Scuseme’s certain do’s and don’ts which, if followed will help you produce a stronger standout statement.   (more…)


Cambridge: getting to know you

I’ve lived in Cambridge for 20 years this July. I love it here. I’ve got some close friends and I feel really at home, especially in the vibrant community around Mill Road. When I arrived with my husband in 1996 it was all new to me. Having lived and worked in London, young free and single, the pace seemed slow and a social life seemed a long way off. Back then I worked at the Science Park in Melbourn and although I met (and remain friends with) some great people, nearly everyone relied on cars, and I missed a spontaneous social life. The ghostly abandoned car park on a Friday evening always depressed me; where was the Friday night piss-up? (more…)

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