Taking Back the Streets

Turner Art Prize winner; marketplace; affordable housing provider; fearless and determined community ... The Granby Four Streets CLT wears many hats, and is the result of local people, taking matters into their own hands to save their streets from demolition. Lucy Chesters spoke to Granby Four Streets' project manager, Rebecca Lawlor ...

Taking Back the Streets

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Just a ten-minute walk from Liverpool city centre you’ll find Toxteth, part of the Riverside ward of the city – and nestled in its heart, is Granby Street. A thriving shopping street in the 1960s with almost 100 retail outlets serving the surrounding multicultural community, Granby Street found itself at the centre of the Toxteth riots in the 1980s.

The 1980s and ’90s saw the residents of Granby and its surrounding streets move away from the area, leading to its eventual state of disrepair. When handed a demolition notice, the remaining residents came together to save their streets, and started the Granby Residents Association, which became the foundation for today’s Granby Four Streets CLT.

In 1994, as the Independent newspaper was branding Toxteth one of the most deprived areas in Britain; and the local community was still reeling from the relatively recent riots – which saw the worst scenes of civil unrest during peacetime Britain – a small group of residents, with a fearless determination, challenged their local authorities, in order to save their homes.

The Granby Residents Association was created to stop the demolition of the remaining streets of Victorian housing in the Granby triangle, which is made up of Cairns Street, Ducie Street, Jermyn Street and Beaconsfield Street.

Having been earmarked for demolition, the residents lobbied the local council and saved the four streets, however they were then faced with the problem of renovating and repurposing the properties, to transform them into affordable housing for the people of Toxteth.

In 2002, the government introduced the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder Programme, which would demolish properties instead of renovating them, as it deemed it to be the cheaper option. “The GRA’s argument was that the properties were sound – they just needed to be refurbished. And they were told by housing associations that it couldn’t be done – that it was more cost effective to demolish them; says Rebecca Lawlor, project manager for Granby Four Streets CLT.

Eventually in 2010, after little luck in securing funding for the area which was set for demolition, the GRA disbanded. But the fight for the four streets didn’t falter.

”After the GRA disbanded, the remaining residents took action,” says Rebecca. “With only 30 properties occupied across the four streets – the residents started guerrilla gardening; they started planting the area up; they painted the properties – they were taking the streets back,” she says. “The council weren’t even collecting the bins. The residents had to do something!”

As well as making the area aesthetically appealing despite boarded-up buildings occupying most of the roads, the residents also began a monthly community market. Through making the area a better place to live – they were also reminding people that they were still there. And it is this recognition that set them on the path to where they are today.

In 2011, the government announced that the HMR Pathfinder Programme was coming to an end as part of a series of cost cutting measures; meaning that there would be no demolition of the Granby four streets. The residents formed a new campaign group with the aim of finding a way to renovate the houses and improve the area, and in November 2011, the Granby Four Streets CLT was born.

“We’re a Community Land Trust – which isn’t a legal entity in its own right,” says Rebecca. “It’s a name, and you are part of a network, but you still need a legal setup behind it. So, we became an industrial providence society as well as a CLT,” she says. “We originally looked at becoming a charity, or a business with charitable interest, or even a housing association. But we realised that they were all quite regulated and restrictive – and the community wanted flexibility.”

The residents’ bid to make their streets a prettier place to live had attracted the attention of John Davey, a social investor from Jersey. “He wanted to fund community groups who were doing something for themselves,” says Rebecca. “He didn’t want to give money for the sake of it.”

Davey, who had read about Granby and the work that was being carried out by the inhabitants of its streets, travelled to Liverpool to meet with the residents. What he encountered was a small team of”feisty women” as Rebecca describes them, “who all had clear and direct visions about what they wanted to happen,” she says.

”John met with Elanor and Hazel and what struck him the most was how much they reminded him of his mum. His mum had been a single parent, and she had the same determination and feisty attitude – and he loved it.”

After receiving a substantial grant from Davey, further funding followed. “Granby Four Streets CLT attracted funding from the CL T network, and some funding from the homes and community agency to set up as a CLT,” says Rebecca. The CL T also attracted the attention of Power to Change, which funded two full time posts for 18 months each – a community engagement officer, and Rebecca’s role of project manager.

Granby Four Streets CLT is comprised of a board of trustees, each with varying vested interests in the area. Uniting those interests in order to best serve the community can sometimes be a challenge. “It can be hard,” says Rebecca. “We haven’t just got the empty homes project, which was originally to renovate ten empty homes on the four streets – we also have the Winter Gardens project,” she says. “Assemble, the architects that renovated our empty homes, went into some of the more derelict properties and decided to just keep the facade and turn the inside of the house into a winter garden.”

The Winter Garden project, which is set to launch in June 2017, will invite visitors to explore a garden scene, with trees and plants – all encased inside the shell of a Victorian house. “It’s a real nod to the guerrilla gardening which brought the community together.”

The Granby Four Streets CLT also works on artist engagement in the local area through the Granby workshops; as well as the monthly street market on Granby Street, which encourages people to be makers, to produce and sell their wares. There’s also the Four Corners project, which deals with the commercial side of the CLT.

“We have a lot of stakeholders, each with different interests,” says Rebecca. “Our board is a landlord structure, which does all of the necessary legal works and holds the necessary insurances; but in terms of taking projects forward, it’s about trying to encourage people from the local community to get involved and have an interest.

“It has to be the community who decides what they want to see. We’ve worked with some local artists in the area – there’s a real creative atmosphere here – we’re always encouraging local people to engage with the spaces around them,” says Rebecca.

Probably the most memorable moment for the Granby Four Streets CLT came in 2015, when its regeneration work, which was carried out in collaboration with the artist- led architects Assemble, scooped the Turner Art Prize.

“To have that validation was amazing,” says Rebecca. “One of the things that was key for Assemble was that when the properties were boarded up, the council placed signs up saying. ‘everything of value has been stripped from this property’. They recognised that there were lots of other things of value – it all depends on your viewpoint.”

Through Assemble’s involvement, the Granby workshop was formed; it was about getting the community together to make things for the properties: fireplaces, fixtures, fittings, doorknobs, tiles … the list goes on. Assemble used art to regenerate the empty properties.

“Although, I’d have to say that personally, my most memorable moment was when Carol from number 62 knocked round and her hair was bright blue because the builders had knocked the water off, and she hadn’t been able to wash the dye off for five hours!” Rebecca recalls with a laugh. “But she took it in her stride and it really suited her. There’s a really lovely, community atmosphere in Granby, everybody is so lovely.”

The sense of community is evident as soon as you set foot on the Granby triangle turf. Everything that happens here is decided by the community, for the community. And the next step is deciding what to do with Ducie Street, the site of more empty homes. “All of the properties that we rent or sell are linked to income levels. Currently, our houses are selling for £99,500 – that’s in line with the median income level in Liverpool at the moment,” says Rebecca. “If in ten years’ time you decide to sell the property, you’ll get some return, but you won’t be getting the open market value,” she says.

“It’s all about bringing people back to the area, by offering an affordable product. The CLT currently has six shared ownership properties which are being managed by housing associations, each with a local lettings criterion – they’re for families who have lived or worked in the LB area – or who have family here.”

So, what is Granby Four Streets CL T’s relationship with the local council? “If you’d have asked that question around seven years ago, the answer would have been very different – there were a lot of barriers,” says Rebecca. “There came a change of administration at the city council, which saw a Labour council take over, and the relationship changed. Ann O’ Byrne, a local councillor met with the residents and helped us to drive everything forward.”

Rebecca explains to me that the CLT wants to reinstate the shopping element back onto Granby Street, “After completing the rest of the empty homes, we’re going to take a look at the four corners and the economic development of Granby; Granby Street used to be such a shopping mecca – of course we’re not looking to recreate that, we wouldn’t be able to – but we would really like to use the Granby market to bring a shopping element back to the area.”

Recently, Granby Four Streets CLT has reached the finals of the World Habitat Awards, a British Social Housing Federation award ceremony which designates two prizes to housing projects – one in the northern hemisphere, and one in the southern hemisphere. “There were 164 for this year and we’re finalists! If we win we get to go to Nairobi for the ceremony,” Rebecca tells me. “It’s great recognition for Granby, we’ve been selected because of our community regeneration using the creative arts.”

Although the Granby Four Streets CLT didn’t win the World Habitat Awards – its future certainly looks bright. Coming up is the launch of the Winter Garden project, and the monthly market will extend further along Granby Street to include more of the surrounding community.

”At first, we were all about buildings and their regeneration,” Rebecca says. “But a lot is going to change; we’re going through different phases and we’re working on different forms of engagement. I really hope that’s the legacy going forward – hopefully through the winter gardens we will see a lot of people coming through as artists and working in the local area.”


Granby, a History

The Granby Four Streets is a large triangular area of terraced streets, bordered by Princes Avenue on one side, Kingsley Road on the other with its main shopping street, Granby Street, running through the middle.

Granby had always been a welcoming place for newcomers to the city; and in the 1960s – thanks to Liverpool’s busy docks – people from many different cultures had made Granby their home. In those days, the streets were settled and nearly 90 businesses, mostly shops, were thriving along Granby Street.

Then a planning blight hit. Granby was categorised – in the charmless top-down vernacular of the 1960s, as a ‘twilight area,’ – a fashion typical of over-zealous town planners. This resulted in many people who could afford to leave, leaving and the subsequent empty houses to be bought up by mostly unscrupulous landlords, keen to squeeze rent as best they could out of Granby, in the time it had left.

Then Shelter turned up and, as it turned out, saved Granby for a while. Its Shelter Neighbourhood Action Project between 1969 and 1972 worked with local people and the city authorities on the multiple deprivations Granby was by then suffering from. Changes were planned, and some carried out to the housing, health, welfare, landscaping, and general condition of the area.

Together with other Liverpool housing associations, Shelter acquired enough of the formerly exploited houses and renovated them; so, Granby enjoyed a relatively settled and fully occupied 1970s.

However, due to the failure of the city in general, and the police in particular to recognise that Granby was no longer a ‘twilight area,’ certain discriminatory policies and behaviour led directly to the troubles of summer 1981. Generally known as the ‘Toxteth riots’, and still remembered as a righteous uprising by local people. Yet, although a judicial enquiry found in favour of the people and against authorities, Granby’s days were effectively done.

Through the rest of the 1980s and into the ’90s the people moved on and the streets of Granby were gradually cleared for eventual demolition. With the customers gone, most of the shops on Granby Street also disappeared.

By 1994, only four of the original Granby streets remained, but they themselves were scheduled for clearance. The few remaining residents formed the Granby Residents Association and managed to legally block the city council’s plans for demolition.

The years passed and the people continued to leave the streets, after all regeneration promises came to nothing. The area became increasingly bedraggled and was seen as an open dumping ground for fly tipping, until – in the early 21st century – the few people left – in what would come to be known as Granby Four Streets – took matters into their own hands. The clearing and cleaning up began; the painting of the empty houses began; the guerrilla gardening began and, when they were once again proud of their place, the street markets began.

The rest is … well, you know the rest.


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