MPA’s Creative Learning Programme Manager, Dr Steph Hawke, is one of three creative collaborators working on Burnley Borough Council’s project ground-UP along with Cath Ford and Iain Broadley. The three of them joined a group from Lancashire visiting Anfield Home Tour, part of the Liverpool Biennial programme. Here’s Steph’s blog about the day.
Is it really possible to know a place if you have never lived in it? Existential philosophers have expressed an interest in sense of place as ‘lived experience’. They wanted to get to the very essence of place through a study they called phenomenology.
On Wednesday 5 December 2012, Cath, Iain and I hopped on a minibus in Liverpool and came screeching, slap-bang, face to face with a tale of lived experience so heartbreakingly poignant and electrifyingly angering that we were able to think of little else that week. We didn’t live in that place, but through an incredible artistic intervention we certainly experienced its phenomenology.
This was the Anfield Home Tour. Originally commissioned as part of Liverpool Biennial, the tour is a careful weaving of personal experience, literary talent, comedic improvisation and theatrical direction that combine to tell a story, or many stories, of life in an area of housing market renewal. The tour reveals tension between insider and outsider accounts of Anfield’s situation; the resulting ‘insider’ narrative is so rich in colour and texture that lived experience in Anfield is brought into sharp focus.
Housing Market Renewal arrived in Anfield some fifteen years ago. As ‘Carl’ our tour guide pointed out – the emphasis here is upon housing market renewal, not community renewal. In his view, this has been a project entirely focussed on the future with little regard to the ‘now’. The gleaming Keepmoat future has yet to arrive for many who continue to live in Anfield, in a diverse housing stock of Victorian terraces, some humble, some grand: five bedroom redbricks with period features. These are the houses Phil and Kirsty dream of except for their ‘location, location, location’. Because in Anfield residents have been told their location is one of deprivation, undesirable, and their houses not good enough. Conversely, as Jayne Lawless explained when our minibus parked outside what was once her family home, “we didn’t feel deprived”.
Here stood the now ‘tinned up’ terrace in which Jayne’s parents raised their family, both worked and Jayne had a comfortable home in a safe and caring community. When they were just five years away from paying off their mortgage, Jayne’s parents were forced to sell through compulsory purchase order. They didn’t get a fair price and, for their new home, they had to take on more debt which Jayne will be liable for when they pass away.
As did Bob, who climbed on board our minibus outside what was once his home. A DIY enthusiast, he’d invested in his house over many years, only to watch the damp creep in when surrounding properties fell empty and the council failed to make them watertight. Hospitalised with pneumonia, kids setting fire to empty houses on his street, he was finally delighted with his relocation. He chose not to dwell on the money he lost in the transaction and the fresh debt he’ll pass on to his offspring.
On and on the tour went, with one resident’s story layered upon another until finally we were asked inside Sue’s house. Bought by her grandma in 1920, she described the ways in which her family had modernised and in turn restored this beautifully presented home. A compulsory purchase order has hung over it for years and Sue still doesn’t know if she is staying or going.
She hangs on as her surroundings fall into the ‘controlled decline’ of absentee private landlords, antisocial tenants and neglected empty houses from which flora grow through into the walls of Sue’s loft space. Sue was barely able to conceal the emotional pain and burden of stress this has weighed upon her for no small number of years.
At the conclusion of our tour, we disembarked at Homebaked. Here over hot tea and fresh bread, we were reunited with all of this story’s characters and they explained what they plan to do next…
Jeanne van Heeswijk has been working with the community in Anfield for the last two and a half years. Through the 2Up 2Down / Homebaked project the community can take matters into their own hands. Here the community have come together to reuse a block of empty property made up of a former bakery building and two adjoining terraced houses.
They have set up the Homebaked Community Land Trust, a cooperative organisation with its roots in the garden city movement. This will enable the collective community ownership of the properties and the reopening of the Bakery as a social enterprise. Visit the Homebaked blog to see what they’re up to.
“Loaf by loaf, brick by brick, 2Up2Down is building a new idea of community, work, social space and with it a new community resilience.”