Street fighters #10 – Liverpool Granby

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

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Streetfighters #9 – eviction trauma

This open letter was passed on to me a while back by residents of one of the many areas of the north of England currently undergoing regeneration under the government’s Housing Market Renewal programme. It was written by one of their friends and neighbours, who lost their family home in an earlier phase of the scheme.

I have spoken to the letter-writer and asked if I could pay them a visit to record their experience as part of my Street Fighters series. They said no, because the whole experience was so traumatic that they just want to put the whole thing behind them. I tried all the journalistic persuasion tricks in the book but unfortunately they stood firm. It’s a shame because this is one of the worst experiences I have heard of, but of course I can understand the way they feel.

So to at least mark their story in some minor, anonymous way, I’ve typed their original handwritten letter – changing nothing except to anonymise any details that can identify them or where they lived. I don’t think any of that really matters anyway. What they went through was an abuse which shouldn’t have happened.

While many people are no doubt very sorry to leave their homes under this and other regeneration schemes, I hope everyone else gets treated with more respect. When I hear stories like this I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone is a regeneration loser…I really think that on balance they are probably in the minority. I hope that’s the case.

Street fighters #8 – Stoke

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Glenn Fowler’s oatcake shop on Waterloo Road in Hanley looks set to fall victim to Stoke’s regeneration programme. Once these traditional ‘through the window’ kiosks were a common sight in this part of the Potteries but Fowler’s is the only one left. He is happy to compromise with the regeneration officials and says he won’t oppose a Compulsory Purchase Order if they find him an alternative premises for his business, which has suffered hugely as a result of the demolition going on around him. I highly recommend trying their oatcakes, by the way.

Street fighters #7 – Middlesbrough

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Barbara Yafano’s family had lived for generations in St Hilda’s, Middlesbrough’s former industrial hub – known locally as ‘over the border’. But six years ago city mayor Ray Mallon, who hit the headlines in the ’90s as the zero-tolerance police chief known as Robocop, kicked off a major regeneration process that has decimated the area. Few houses are still standing and even fewer people are left. No one seems sure what – other than a new homeless hostel – will take their place. The Yafanos and a neighbour fought hard for a fairer compensation deal and eventually got something they were happy with. In January they moved to a property in another part of Middlesbrough. Barbara was sad to leave St Hilda’s but relieved her five years of hell were over.

Street Fighters #6 – Seedley South

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The people of Salford’s Seedley South neighbourhood had been promised regeneration since the mid-90s but never for a moment did they realise the price they would pay for it. As chair of the local residents association, Jim Parker was one of those who really engaged with the process – giving up countless evenings over a number of years to take part in consultations and steering groups. But when the time came for something to happen – after years when the community had been left to rot – his hopes were dashed and Jim and others were left bitter. None of their input was incorporated into the plans. Instead, 350 homes have been bulldozed, including those belonging to some of the Parkers’ closest friends. A primary school is currently being built on part of the site – and is already said to be too small for expected pupil numbers – but the rest has simply been cleared and grassed over.

street fighters #5 – Hull

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Ada Lombardi bought an end-of-terrace property in Hull in late 2006 but on the day she was completing on the sale, the local authority was signing off a different kind of deal – the demolition of her new house and hundreds of others in the immediate area. The area progressively emptied, until – in January 2009 – Ada was the last occupier on her row. To say she is unhappy would be an understatement. She and her daughter Camilla – who dropped out of university in Brighton because she was so worried about her mum – feel unable to leave their house unguarded for any length of time. They say there is constant vandalism and fear that one day their home could be burned to the ground. As if that’s not enough, the demolitions which are going on around them are adding to the stress. Ada’s health is fragile and she says she is only prepared to move for what she feels is a fair compensation settlement. She was recently told that the homes directly opposite hers in this photo will be demolished next month.

street fighters #4 – Derker again

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I had a heartbreaking encounter yesterday that is still weighing heavily on my mind a day and a half later.¬† Widower and war veteran Elijah Debnam will be 90 years old in June and has lived in his home in Derker, Oldham, for the best part of six decades. There is now a Compulsory Purchase Order on his terraced property under the town’s Housing Market Renewal regeneration scheme and he is being pressured to move out. Not one brick has been laid under the scheme so far in Derker. The one thing Eli – as his friends call him – dreads more than anything is ending up in an old people’s home. I am sure there are many other very elderly people around the region who share his sentiments, but many are afraid to speak out.

street fighters #3 – Edge Hill

The Big Issue in the North kicked off a series of regeneration stories from me today with this piece about Alicia Rose, a very unhappy homeowner in phase three of Liverpool’s Edge Hill/Wavertree¬† renewal scheme. Weekly from next Monday there will be three larger features on aspects of the Housing Market Renewal scheme – looking at the Welsh Streets in Liverpool, at West Hull and also featuring an interview with consultant and academic Brendan Nevin, architect of the programme. A number of other stories will hopefully follow, looking at some of the other communities I’ve visited lately, and those which aren’t being published in that sense will appear on my blog. After a long lull, HMR has been in the national comments pages over recent weeks, with Matthew Engel at the Financial Times and Charles Clover, formerly of the Telegraph but now at the Sunday Times, also taking another look at the scheme. Nevertheless I’m finding it impossible as ever to get any national commissioning editors interested in anything that I’ve put forward.

To read the Big Issue story, click on the image above….click on the links down the right hand side of this blog to hear out other stories from my home/castle project and check back for more…I’ll be putting one or more onto my blog each week.

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street fighters #2 – Bootle

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I have to say, I find it quite unbelievable that these Victorian homes in Bootle, Merseyside, are being condemned to demolition to make way for boxy little new builds (having seen them I can attest that some are truly hideous). But it’s happening and the few remaining residents were served with Compulsory Purchase Orders about 10 days ago.

The three I met – Pat and John Dunn (pictured above) and their friend John Gillespie (below) are determined not to be bullied out of homes they have lived in for decades and raised their families in. For them the issue is not so much financial – they simply don’t see why their homes should be snatched away from them under the Housing Market Renewal scheme. Before Christmas, the plans for the area were criticised by the Commission for the Built Environment (CABE).

I wish them the best of luck in their fight and will be watching carefully as their battle moves towards a public inquiry.

home/castle gallery

I’ve been tweaking the other sections of my website a little and have now got around to uploading a small selection of my street fighter portraits on the photo page (click the pic above). The first audio/photo profile went up on my blog a few days ago (HERE) and more will follow shortly. This project is consuming me at the moment….yesterday it took me to Merseyside for something like the fourth time in a month, and on Saturday it’ll take me to Cumbria. It may well only be of interest to myself and the people who are directly affected by these issues. Feedback would be welcome.