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.
HEAR IT IN RESIDENT MARTIN DUNSCHEN’S OWN WORDS