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How the Granby 4 Streets CLT put one part of Liverpool back on the map

Residents of Granby, Liverpool, have for decades fought losing battles against the council and developers to save their homes from demolition. But following the formation of a Community Land Trust (CLT) in 2011 they are finally winning.

The not-for-profit resident’s body has bought 11 houses and is transforming the area from tinned-up wasteland to a beacon for community-led housing schemes around the country. Words and photos by Thomas Barrett.

During Liverpool’s heyday, Granby was home to a wide range of businesses, nationalities and religions. The synagogue practically backs onto the mosque and the area was a thriving commercial centre with almost a hundred shops, including the first Tesco in Liverpool.

‘When I first moved to Granby, there was a wet fish shop, supermarket, launderette bakers, cafes, haberdashers. There was all sorts,’ remembers Hazel Tilley, a founder of the CLT who has lived in the area for over 30 years.

But as industry in Liverpool collapsed, the once-booming heart of the British Empire began to fade. Granby, in particular, suffered and by the turn of the 1980s unemployment was rife, businesses disappeared and local housing associations withdrew from the area.

The areas large black population, bereft of opportunity, felt attacked and discriminated against by the police leading to the Toxteth riots of 1981.

Following the riots, which Hazel prefers to call uprisings, Granby was effectively written off and ghettoised by the council and the tinned-up houses became a reflection of a community cut off from the rest of the city.

By 1995, Granby was designated a ‘Neighbourhood Renewal Area’, which meant the local authority could compulsorily purchase and then demolish homes.

‘They decided they would do nothing but wait for the buildings to crumble around us,’ says Hazel.

‘They removed the lead from the houses and the damage was immense. They sent people round with sledgehammers to smash up the insides of houses to stop squatters.’

The once grand Victorian houses, built in the 1880s by Welsh property magnate Richard Owens, were torn down one by one. In many cases, to be replaced with not much more than a weed-ridden plot of land.

‘We were brutalised by the emptying out then ignored. That was incredibly painful,’ says Hazel.

For years, regeneration money has been thrown at Granby, which only ever seemed to exacerbate the problems. By 2002, the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder programme took its wrecking ball to even more streets in the area.

By 2009 things looked bleak and it seemed inevitable that the Pathfinder bulldozers would reach the Granby 4 Streets area of Beaconsfield Street, Cairns Street, Jermyn Street and Ducie Street.

‘Following the uprisings, you got more neglect,’ says Hazel.

‘Then it’s hard to raise the aspirations of people,’

‘It’s the way the council treated young people. On one hand, they didn’t have any respect, but why should they have respect for anyone in authority when they’re walking past tinned up houses and piles of rubble to a school that’s leaking?’

The CLT was formed out of the ashes of the Granby Residents Association, and as well as court cases, in 2011 they mounted a week-long anti-bulldozer blockade to try and save the streets.

‘Politicians don’t have a sense of people, what they envisage is not what we envisage.’

‘We were told by a councillor “if it wasn’t for you we could have had the lot flattened by now”.’

Hope springs eternal

From being a constant thorn in the side of the council, the residents decided to plant. It was a cost-effective and inclusive way of bringing a bit of colour, and pride, back to the area.

‘The streets are our garden. If you’re going to bring people together you do it with things they can do and share. It helps if it’s accessible and isn’t going to cost money.’

It was guerilla gardening, and the residents took matters into their own hands to transform where they live. With all the dereliction and social issues in Granby, people had a stereotyped idea about what this part of Liverpool was, and the residents wanted to turn those perceptions around.

Thousands of people now come to their thriving monthly street markets, with residents setting up stalls selling wares and food and drink.

‘We thought, “We’ll sort the streets out”,’ says Hazel.

‘We used council law and council policy and threw it in their face until they swept the streets and emptied the bins and fixed the streetlights.’

‘Where you live matters, but it doesn’t matter it’s big or small, what matters is the experience when you step out of your door. If you’re poor then resources aren’t there, so you make the street beautiful.’

A social investor offered a £500,000-interest free loan to the CLT, which Hazel credits as the turning point in the fortunes of the streets.

‘We had a good profile because of the gardening and the market and that’s what set us off. We set up as a moral thing. “You don’t give a shit about this area and we do”.’

‘We didn’t recognise that we were stepping outside of what was happening before.’

A collective of architects called Assemble teamed up with the CLT, who used cheap materials and waste to completely redesign the houses, making them attractive family homes once again with bespoke fireplaces and door handles.

It led to a surprising 2015 Turner Prize win.

‘When people’s backs are against the wall they become creative. You find a way to get your voice heard. We know that black art has been silenced. It will continue to be so if people are not given foothold,’ says Hazel.

‘We rebuilt ourselves organically.’

CLT folklore

Today, the CLT has over 100 members as well as a small army of dedicated volunteers who support the day-to-day running of the trust, which regularly involves showing would-be CLT’s from around the UK around, along with interested students and press.

They are currently working on another three houses, so when completed the trust will have renovated 11 homes.

Builders come in and out of the Granby Winter Garden project, which will be a new community space that turns two derelict homes into a large glass-house type structure, with brick walls and a glass roof.

‘When we came in here there was no roof and it was covered in pigeon shit,’ remembers Hazel.

‘We looked up and the clouds parted and the sun shone and we all gasped.’

There is currently a large hole in the centre of the building where a tree will stand, and one half will become an urban indoor garden opening up the full height of the building up to a glass roof. They will also combine a meeting space, a studio that can be used for creative activities, and a spare room that will host artists in residence as well as paying guests on Airbnb.

‘This isn’t about dwellings or units or making money, it’s about people,’ says Hazel.

Assemble has put some of the £25,000 Turner Prize winnings into the Granby Workshop, a small manufacturing enterprise which has taken over a former newsagent. The first range of products at the workshop were ceramics, doorknobs and other items for the renovated homes.

‘We can’t expect people to always love each other but we’re neighbours and we’ll help each other out. That makes the area special,’ says Hazel.

Catherine Harrington, director at the National CLT Network is full of praise for what Hazel and the CLT have achieved in Liverpool.

‘The Granby story is hugely inspiring,’ she says.

‘A community that was let down for years with streets practically abandoned, but instead of turning to despair, they turned their frustration into something positive – it’s become CLT folklore.’

The council are finally onside too after years of bad blood. Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson believes that bridges have finally been rebuilt to put Granby on a sustainable path.

‘Driving up the quality of housing in Granby Four Streets has been a major priority for us since we took control in 2010,’ he told New Start.

‘The spirit of the local community and their determination has been absolutely remarkable despite the many false dawns. Since 2014 there has been significant progress thanks to a great partnership between the local community, housing associations and the council.

‘There’s work still to do, but there’s a real and ongoing commitment from everyone involved. This is an exciting time for the area, and we’re determined to make sure the community is fully involved.’

But in spite of all the positive attention that the CLT has received in recent years, Hazel is reluctant to declare themselves as victors. The community still bears the scars from years of council and government neglect, and they are still waiting to secure the future of Ducie Street, which is currently a derelict panoply of colour and art, a hangover from the Turner Prize win.

‘I don’t know how you measure success. It’s hard to define whether we’ve been successful. We’ve been influential beyond our wildest dreams. We set out to save houses, we had no money and we weren’t warned how much all the legal stuff would cost,’ she says.

‘The council always wanted a big sweep thing. You have to fight certain fights and we’ve fought hard to keep Ducie Street but we haven’t managed it. If it’s not done by summer it might fall down.’

The taxi driver that picks me up tells me he was brought up on Cairns Street in the 1960s and 70s, just a few doors down from where Hazel lives now. He says he’s been watching the CLT grow over the last few years with interest and hopes it can return to it its former glory.

‘It was a fantastic area to grow up, every culture was here living together and getting along. The smells coming from the kitchens were out of this world’.

Thomas Barrett
Senior journalist - NewStart Follow him on Twitter

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