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City as Resource: Housing

The second of Bluecoat’s City as Resource events focused on housing, taking Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust (CLT) as its case study. Granby Four Streets comprises Beaconsfield Street, Cairns Street, Jermyn Street and Ducie Street, located in the heart of Liverpool 8, close to Princes Park.  Michael Simon, a sociologist and the CLT’s coordinator, gave some background to the area; it has long been multicultural, with a historic Jewish presence and Caribbean communities settling in these and surrounding streets since the mid-20th century. The area went into decline in the 1970s and ’80s, with poverty and unemployment rife, disinvestment in public services and tensions with authorities over racial profiling, including the notorious Toxteth riots of 1981.

The effect on housing was highly visible, with many of the streets’ Victorian terraces standing derelict and left to deteriorate, making a once-thriving area undesirable. There have been unsuccessful attempts to address this over the years, including the controversial Housing Market Renewal Initiative programme which was abandoned in 2011 after the Conservatives came to power.

Meanwhile, a number of property owners on Cairns St had turned to activism and were directly tackling the effects of decades of neglect. They painted murals on the façades of neighbouring tinned up houses, planted flowers, and started living their home lives in public via communal lunches and street markets. The aim was to make themselves visible; to show that residents were still living in the Granby Street area and took pride in it.

In 2011 they constituted themselves as a Community Land Trust – a cooperative, nonprofit enterprise which develops affordable housing and civic spaces – and, with the help of a social investor, took ownership of ten empty properties. Liverpool City Council have also supported recent work, by transferring assets to the community as well as through the relationships fostered and nurtured by Councillor Ann O’Byrne. Five of the ten properties are being developed for shared ownership and five for rent by architects Assemble and artist Will Shannon in a project that has been nominated for this year’s Turner Prize. They have taken an imaginative and inspired approach to the refurbishments, for example making a virtue of missing floors to create double-height spaces and recreating original features such as fireplace surrounds out of debris (some of these are on display in FACT’s current Build Your Own exhibition). In the cooperative spirit, a training scheme has been established to pass on these skills to young people.

Simon was frank about the sharp learning curve of the project for the CLT. It was a huge volume of work for a small group of people to undertake, and the realities of the scale of costs and health and safety requirements became apparent along the way. The CLT was offered more properties than it took on, but simply didn’t have the capacity. At the same time, although a CLT could have been established with as few as two properties, it needed to generate enough revenue to make the business sustainable long-term. Most other CLT models were in London, which has high demand for housing and a vastly different market to Liverpool.  It also hasn’t suffered a lack of investment, which means that its Victorian houses are in a much better condition than Liverpool’s. Liverpool needed a unique solution to its problem. Housing co-operatives were also mentioned as another strategy for communal action with regards to housing, such as Radical Routes, Canning Housing Co-Operative, Princes Park Housing and Terrace 21. 

There was some discussion about the role of the city’s numerous housing associations, and one visitor commented on how disjointed this division had made areas of Liverpool in terms of architecture and layout. Simon explained how the CLT’s function had developed from activism to provision; it aims to offer an alternative model of housing provision in Liverpool, with a hope to be successful enough to encourage housing associations to adopt some of its practices. He also aspires for the CLT to act as a catalyst for the wider Granby Street area; many more streets are suffering from dereliction and in need of care, and for the Four Streets to be a disconnected ‘island’ would be a failure for the community. The CLT has just completed a 30-year business plan setting out its ambitions for the future. In the meantime, the street markets continue, and the first refurbished home is nearly complete and will be opened up to the public later this year – continuing the original activists’ ethos of creating positive community change through making themselves seen, and therefore heard.


Image © Ronnie Hughes


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Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, Bluecoat showcases talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. As the most ...

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