This is one of the saddest features I’ve written for ages. Mandy Jamieson lost her 16-year-old son Daniel to knife crime last year. Today she is trying to raise awareness of the problem through a grassroots campaign in Liverpool, Platform 4 Change. Click on the image above for the feature from this week’s Big Issue North.
ABOVE: An Iraqi Kurdish shopkeeper in his bargain store on Lawrence Road, Wavertree, which was raided by looters on 9 August. The businessman, who prefers to stay anonymous, was alerted by a neighbour and went to guard his shop with several friends – staying from midnight to 7am to prevent more looting. He believes he recognised the raiders on his CCTV, and now wants to close his shop and leave the UK. “They took maybe £5,000 worth of stock and I have no insurance,” he said. “More than the money though, this has hurt me. On the CCTV I can see them laughing as they were doing it. This is not about the shop, it’s about my dignity. The police couldn’t protect my shop and I couldn’t protect my shop. That is a horrible feeling.”
In Toxteth, local people launched a coordinated response aimed at reclaiming their streets in the wake of the violence. The Tiber Project and the Unity Youth and Community Centre, both in the Lodge Lane area, joined with other community organisations to form Toxteth Against the Riots. Concerned residents held a packed emergency meeting and organised themselves into groups which patrolled the streets tirelessly following the first night of trouble. All week, the centre is staying open until the early hours of the morning to provide the volunteers with food and hot drinks. Julie Smith, Unity Centre coordinator (pictured below) said: “It was petrifying, there were police horse charges and the intensity of the gangs which were roaming was scary. Our staff went out, young and old, along with other community members, many of them parents. We had 19 year olds out there trying to talk their peers into taking their hoods down and going home. The adults were telling them the same things but it can have more impact sometimes when other youths are trying to reason with them. I was really proud of our young people that night. A key problem was that a number of people out there causing trouble – especially as it got later – weren’t from L8 and didn’t know us, so our presence didn’t have the same impact on those ones.”
Mary Huxham spent almost 70 years living on Powis Street in Liverpool’s L8 neighbourhood, before moving to a new property nearby to make way for its demolition and regeneration. She’s supported the local Housing Market Renewal partnership, New Heartlands, from the start, and argues that much of the housing in the area has long been beyond repair.
Nina Edge lives a few streets away from Huxham’s former home but her views are very different. Her Victorian villa – along with all the properties on her side of Kelvin Grove – has also been earmarked for demolition under the Welsh Streets scheme, despite being highly desirable and in good condition. She is fighting to save her street and is convinced that modern techniques could be used to bring most of the properties down for clearance under the scheme back up to a decent standard.
** I have consolidated all my regeneration work – including four years worth of written pieces and more recent multimedia pieces – on a dedicated website, STREET FIGHTERS. Please check it out **
This thinking will be of cold comfort to the many residents who have already gone through years of stress as they watch their areas decline, topped off by being forced out by Compulsory Purchase Order.
I’m prepared to accept that there are many people who do okay out of this process but it’s not really their voices that I’ve been trying to capture here.
And any pastiche of Housing Market Renewal campaigners would be incomplete without Elizabeth Pascoe, who – along with a group of neighbours – fought unsuccessfully through two public inquiries and numerous high court hearings to prevent her home from being bulldozed as part of a road-widening scheme.
Elizabeth was forced to leave her home off Edge Lane, Liverpool, in March this year and her house may well have been cleared by now. New housing in its place will be funded by HMR.
Or will it?
None of the nine HMR Pathfinder schemes running across the North of England has any funding agreed beyond the current 2010-11 financial year. The Tories haven’t said a huge amount about what they plan to do but it’s possible that a change in government – not to mention the UK’s huge public sector deficit – could herald a change in direction for the programme.
Over to Elizabeth. [** apologies in advance for the extremely ropey audio here. This was recorded before I honed my skills with some training with duckrabbit]
Quite a confession, but the timing is no accident. The city council is, after all, a Lib Dem administration which has been behind the rolling out of this heavy-handed New Labour regeneration scheme. Now, with two weeks to go before the general election and when the writing would appear to be on the wall for the government, it would seem that the council is trying to distance itself from what has been a controversial and divisive programme.
I found out about this interview in an email from a housing campaigner in Liverpool, who forwarded it onto a number of contacts. One of the responses I was copied in to was from Steve Ord, a former Liverpool resident and landlord who I’ve interviewed for my Street Fighters project.
“So does that mean I can have my house back?” was his bitter response.
Steve Ord’s former family home in Picton, an area in Liverpool’s Wavertree neighbourhood, was taken from him after his opposition group lost a public inquiry into a Compulsory Purchase Order. The property, which he was renting out to students – accounting for 45 per cent of his total income -may well have been demolished by now. Along with most of his childhood landmarks.
What can you do about it if your neighbourhood is four-fifths empty and boarded up – earmarked for demolition at some future, undisclosed point – and some of the houses look like this?
In truth your options for serious change would be pretty limited, and so it is for the people left behind in the Granby Triangle – a corner of Liverpool’s Toxteth district.
I first visited residents of Cairns Street shortly after I went freelance in 2006 and they became my second feature on urban regeneration. They contacted me after spotting a piece I’d written about a similar situation across the city in Guardian Society. On that occasion I visited Granby on a dark winter night. Although the streets were desolate and empty, I was struck by the white fairy lights that adorned the outside of the home where people had gathered to meet me. It looked magical.
It was only really when I returned to Granby for this project that I realised the true extent of blight in this area. This is a potentially beautiful neighbourhood – the houses are built from lovely brick, have bay windows and the streets are lined with trees.
But many of the houses have been empty since the 80s, when the streets were apparently taken out of a previous regeneration or demolition scheme – locals seem hazy on the details. What some believe, however, is that their community has been wilfully neglected by the city council as a punishment for the Toxteth Riots – an event that some still refer to as ‘the uprising’. Whether or not that’s the case, the effect is clear. Some of the vacant properties are dangerous – with frontages that have collapsed onto the street.
The irony here is that the people left in the Granby Triangle are a fantastic community. Fed up with the state of their area, they have made efforts to clear up the streets as best they can and to instill a bit of pride in the neighbourhood. It’s not nice to live among dreary vacant properties, with big security signs stuck onto the shutters and ‘gas off’, ‘elec off’ and ‘all materials of value have been removed’ scrawled onto every wall, so they have brightened up the empty buildings with paint.
They actually won a Britain in Bloom competition a couple of years back for their efforts. The runner beans, tomato plants and sweetcorn that they plant in their hanging baskets and tubs are a talking point in the area – kids, hoodies on bikes, old men and everyone in between stop to have a chat. It’s a small thing but I love the idea of people wrestling control of their surroundings from the faceless local authority like this – even if they ultminately may not win.