Florrie Guitar Group

Florrie Guitar Group

Timo Tierney is a musician, volunteer and community coordinator at The Florrie in Liverpool. He tells Andrew Beattie about the power of working with people.




Andrew Beattie

I’ve always played in a band. I played in a band called the Maybes, and a band called the Tea Street Band. I always used to be around community buildings. I loved going to youth clubs as a kid. I’m from Kensington in Liverpool and we had two by us, the Central and Kensington Fields and I’d go all over the place to go to them. I loved the idea of a place where people from the area come together. It put me in good stead as I got older and started going to kids’ events in town because you’d always know people. It’s a good way to live.

I came to the Florrie in 2015 to play with a singer-songwriter called Mick Head. At the time I didn’t do acoustic gigs. The staff who were here at the time were unsure whether the doors were going to open again and I said “Well, if the doors do open then I’d love to do a guitar group here”. The CEO, Anne, said, “I’ll see you in January”.

I came back and got started and, after about three or four months, I started volunteering: getting involved in other things and seeing how the place ticked over. Soon after, a funding application came in and I applied for a job. I’d never been to university, although I did go to college and met loads of good people. I’m not academic and don’t really like sitting down and writing, but I am a people person. I’m very good in a social environment – that’s where I flourish. I love giving people support. I gain power and energy from that.

I’ve worked at the Florrie for eight years now and it’s a bloody long time to work anywhere. School is only five years and that felt like a lifetime! My title here is Community Coordinator, which we always laugh at because I don’t really feel like I coordinate a community. I work with volunteers to create a timetable where there is something for everybody – something always on that meets a need in the community. If you need some help or support, or if you need some wellbeing or to get fit or learn a new skill or need some help with maths and English, then there’s something here to help.

I also do stuff around our food offer and we have a community shop. During lockdown we did food deliveries to people. I still do the guitar group and do gigs. It’s a bit of everything, really. When you work in a community building you’ve got to be versatile and understand that you need to be flexible, depending on what’s needed on any given day.

I don’t think there’s anything like our guitar group, to be honest. Because I’ve played in a band, you have an idea of how you want things to sound but, when I set up the guitar group, I just wanted to teach people how to play the guitar. I can’t teach them in an hour a week but I could create an environment where people could come and learn the skills that they need to practise at home.

When they come back each week they’ll see themselves getting better and better. When you learn guitar, you sound dreadful for the first couple of months – that’s when a lot of people give up. But in our groups, people come and make friends and they look forward to coming to it because of the social aspect of it. They sing songs that they know. The guitar becomes secondary. Some people have been coming for six years and they’re still learning the first few chords, but they come because they don’t want to go and sit at home on their own or go and sit in pubs.

And then we took it to St Georges Hall in Liverpool and had hundreds of people coming to play together.

I like testing myself and I love having a milestone. I used to really love doing gigs and I’ve been doing them since I was a little boy and it becomes second nature. But when you see 600 people play guitar together with Pete Wylie and an orchestra and they’ve all got butterflies… People left feeling so excited. We’ve done it twice now. It reminds me of how important the job we do here is.

"When there are places to go to like the Florrie, and your community starts to build itself again, that’s where ideas and plans happen."

Volunteers are integral to organisations like ours. We saw that during lockdown with people who were doing the vaccinations, doing tests and giving PPE gear out. There’s a local lad here called Tony who wanted to do a men’s walk after lockdown. I said, come in and we’ll make it happen. As a man myself it means a lot to me to see 30 or 40 men turn up a Monday and Friday. There are men there who have lost partners, there’s men who are on their own and some have loads of mates and just want to go for a walk and get fit. They’ve all made friends and connections and feel healthier. Sometimes they’ll share things they’re stressed about with one another, or their emotions, heartache and upset, but at the end of it they feel a bit better. This is something that doesn’t cost anything. It’s just going for a walk.

One of my local heroes is a man called Yozzer. He’s a window cleaner. But he’s not just a window cleaner, he’s someone who will stop in and have a cup of tea with an elderly lady and stops and says hello to people and offers to go and pick them up a pint of milk or clean their gutters. He does these little things that go unnoticed by so many people. But that elderly lady will look out for Yozzer next week. I go and walk my dog with him sometimes and he’s always happy to stop and talk to people on the street. To me, he’s a local hero.

And there are people you see going to do litter picking in the parks, so that when we leave our front doors you find a better place. These people do this voluntarily. It’s massive.

There are pockets here in the city with great stuff happening. When there are places to go to like the Florrie, and your community starts to build itself again, that’s where ideas and plans happen. People ask one another if they want to go litter picking together or go for a walk. All these things are done by people giving up their own time. I’m all for it.

Florrie Guitar Group is featured in issue 20 of Ethos magazine. If you enjoyed what you read online, every issue is packed with innovation, inspiration and global good business stories. Grab your copy now!

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