Find out how community businesses are breathing life into high streets left behind by big chains. We talk to Homebaked – a community-run bakery in Anfield, as well as Vidhya Alakeson and Sir John Timpson about their work on the government’s panel on the future of the great British high street.
THE FULL TRANSCRIPT
Presenter Neil (PN): In the shadow of Anfield Stadium, home ground of the mighty Liverpool football club, sits a modest bakery that is rooted as deep in the hearts of the people of the area as the stadium itself.
Vox Pop (VP): Me mum used to come with me in the pram, buy a little Hovis loaf, put it in the end of me pram to keep me feet warm. I was brought up on the bread from this shop. It has always been here, and it should always be here because it is like that central thing that glues us together.
VP: I used to come here when it was the original Mitchells. It has always been a good place, and these are all my friends. I come here every day because they make lovely pies.
PN: And the pies of Homebaked are famed throughout the city, if not the world.
VP: I have just come on holiday from Australia and I have heard these are the best pies in Liverpool, so that is why I am here.
PN: Homebaked grew from the ashes of Mitchells, a much-loved family business that served the community for nearly a century before closing its doors for good in 2010.
It sits on the boundary of two working-class north Liverpool wards: Anfield and Everton, which today have around 15,000 residents. The bakery today is run as a cooperative and independent of the national chain.
VP: To a lot of people it is important to have some little local things that are not a big franchise that are just there for the money. This place definitely is not about the money. It is about the people.
PN: Alongside the pies, pastries and bread, and a café which opens six days a week, Homebaked provides something else for the people: an opportunity to learn new skills which will help them get back into work. This is embedded in their mission: to feed, educate and employ the people of Anfield.
VP: I think it does a great thing. It gives people an introduction back into work, either voluntary or paid. It gives people an opportunity to be part of a community.
PN: This show is about how community businesses can help revive high streets, and why it matters.
I am Neil Roberts, and I have been volunteering at and lending support to community businesses over the last eight years. And this show is extra important to me because I volunteer at a community bakery called Love Bread in Brighouse, West Yorkshire.
On the Community Business Fix, I get to shine a light on the projects in which communities are coming together to transform the places they live.
The Community Business Fix is a monthly podcast, brought to you by Power to Change, the independent Trust that supports community businesses in England. You can get involved on Twitter @thecbfix, and on Facebook – just search for Power to Change.
On this show we are going to tell the story of the fall and rise of an old local bakery in Liverpool; of how, as the houses around it were demolished or mothballed as part of a government plan, the boldly titled Housing Market Renewal Initiative, HMRI, and it died from lack of footfall, it found a new purpose.
It now operates as a CLT, a Community Land Trust. You can find out more about CLTs in our show notes, and it is something we will be exploring as a possible blueprint for the future of high streets.
But at the heart of this story is an issue we all face: what happens to an area when it loses its local shops and businesses? Well, what usually happens is that we get in our cars or public transport and head out of town to one of those faceless industrial estates, where we load up our trolleys with the week’s shopping. Maybe we talk briefly to the checkout operator; maybe we turn to the person behind us in the queue and ask them if they saw that show on TV last night; maybe we just stand in silence, irritated that the old man at the front of the queue is taking too long to load his trolley. Chances are all we want to do is to get that trolley paid for and the stuff back home.
Remember the days when we bought bread from the local baker? I do. And I remember how it mattered that he knew who I was.
Community is a word you hear a lot in these podcasts. It is hard to define, but it is something we seem to be losing. We all have our own idea of what it means, but, at the heart of it, it is about belonging, and to belong you need places to go where, in the words of that cheesy theme tune from the TV show Cheers, everybody knows your name.
So, where do we begin? Over to Anfield residents and founding members, Angela, Sue and Mark.
Mark (M): We are actually in Everton, the other side of the road to Anfield. These two wards are among the poorest in the country. Very densely-populated, working-class areas where people were put out of work in vast numbers in the 1960s because of the end of the docks. There were a lot of issues around housing particularly, in this area, where, as part of what was called HMRI, the Housing Market Renewal Initiative, they compulsory-purchased all the streets, moved people out, and then tinned the houses up, and they were left vacant for a long time. A lot of them were knocked down.
Angela (A): So we were just living with barren land, plots of different boarded-up houses. I lived facing Hill Terrace, full of houses, as people left or died, because people had lived there a long time. They just got boarded up.
Sue (S): And it was like a plague, really, because a couple of houses became empty, and then perhaps another one. It became very isolating because you had lost people around you, you had lost the community, you had lost your shops.
PN: So what happens when you lose those shops? Local resident and founding member, Sue, remembers when Walton Breck Road was a thriving high street, where people didn’t just go out to shop, but also to meet and talk.
S: You went shopping every day. You went into every kind of shop along Walton Breck Road that you could think of: butcher’s, greengrocer’s, chandler’s, whatever. And I think people went out every day, and that is where they made their connections; that is where you met your friends.
One of the things that has been really difficult for me is watching that community disappear, bit-by-bit.
PN: The demise of Walton Breck Road is typical of thousands of high streets across the country. As businesses died, so did the communities they served. In Anfield, family firm Mitchells, favourite of football fans, stuck it out for longer than some.
M: There was a bakery here for years. It was a family-run business. They sold pies. They did well on match days.
A: It was only a little counter area. It was always packed. There was always stuff in the windows. I used to come in for the small Hovis, because me mum used to like the small Hovis, and burnt; she used to get it as burnt as she could.
M: People were fond, and it lasted longer than any other of those types of little home bakeries at this end of the city.
S: The bakery had been closed by the owners, the Mitchells, because Liverpool City Council had originally put a compulsory purchase on it. And the Mitchells were elderly, and it needed a lot of work doing. So they decided they would take the money from the council and retire. Then the council took that offer away, and they were left with the building. And they decided that they were just going to close it.
Jeanne van Heeswijk (JVH): I walked in occasionally to buy some food when I was working in the area.
PN: That is Dutch artist, Jeanne van Heeswijk. Homebaked grew from 2Up 2Down, an art project commissioned by the 2010 Liverpool biennial. Van Heeswijk has been involved in a number of what are grandly called Community Embedded Projects, and initially worked with a group of 40 young people from the Anfield area to repurpose four buildings within or close to the bakery. They chose Mitchells as their base for sound, practical reasons; it was empty, and it had tall windows, which allowed those passing by to see what was going on inside and interact with it.
Part of the project involved providing amenities for the neighbourhood, which had been decimated by the decline in local businesses. The central question set for them was what does it mean to live well?
JVH: When they closed, I had a shock, and it made even, I think more prominent, this idea that, for healthy communities, you don’t only need houses, but you need schools, you need work, you need local businesses.
PN: Soon, what began life as an art project, took on a greater significance for Jeanne van Heeswijk. Her CV suggests that her philosophy is to radicalise the local. In Anfield, she found herself in a physical, political and emotional environment that seemed to cry out for something to be done.
JVH: The whole situation of boarded-up properties, street after street, the way in which people felt they were completely left out, and what exactly was going to happen, the financial crisis that had just happened and the fact that there were new houses going to be built, and all the process was stagnated at that time. So there was so much going on. So I was just thinking that, instead of maybe doing something more temporary, I wanted to question the very essence of what it means when a neighbourhood is actually changing without the people having any say in it or any way of being in charge of that process.
JVH: Van Heeswijk struck a deal with the Mitchells to rent the old bakery building, which by now was closed. The art project began in it with a small group of young people, residents and artists. But soon the building itself began to influence the direction the project was taking.
Here is artist and founding member, Britt.
B: We, at the time, were a small group of residents who were taking part in that, and we rented the bakery from the family that were running it, as a project space. And then started to actually design, purpose design for that particular space. While we were doing that, we were looking at housing and we were looking at business. We always looked at a combination of the two as a high street, looking back at, can we go back to living on the high street? What would that mean? Having a shop on the high street, what would that mean?
While we were doing that, lots of people actually came through the door and wanted to buy bread. So I think that is really the happenstance. I mean it was pretty obvious to do bakery, but it wasn’t necessarily that obvious in the moment.
PN: The story of people knocking on the bakery door, asking to buy bread, is part of the mythology of how Homebaked came into being. The participants in the project responded to that demand. Volunteers began to bring in cakes they had baked at home, and the appetite for them grew. Here is Sue again.
S: So they opened almost like a popup shop with donations, and people like me made cakes on football match days. It gradually then became obvious that we could develop this as a bakery.
PN: It was almost as if the bakery itself was calling out to the community, and people were listening. Angela MacKay was one of those who heard that call and went to the first meeting after a flyer was put through her door. Like many local residents, the environment was influencing the way she felt about the area in which she lived, and she recognised the potential for improvement.
A: It was just something. It was just the seeds of something growing from just emptiness. It was just like, well, let us see what we can achieve as a different group of people that had never ever met before.
I wanted to come out of my street and see something lively. I wanted to see a shop. I didn’t want to see it to be a shop that was only open on match days, which was happening. I didn’t want it to be an off licence or anything to do with betting, because it was just going to be functioning and people would come in with the match. So I wanted to come out and see people going past and I wanted to see people living, because we had been looking at these boarded-up houses for years.
PN: Angela was by no means alone. Sam is another local who recognises the importance of places to go out and socialise. It is all about the scale.
Sam (S2): You want to be able to walk out of your house and go and have a coffee and a social space, somewhere to sit, buy food and chat. So there is that communication that has been ripped out of a lot of areas. You don’t go to Asda to go and have a cup of coffee. Some people might. Nothing against Asda personally, to pick them out, but you don’t do that. You sit. I was brought up where there was a high street.
My mum used to disappear, and she had gone in the shops and she was just chatting to everybody. As she walked along she knew everybody. My dad would go, ‘Where’s your mother?’ ‘She’s gone to the shops.’ That was the constant thing of the week: ‘She’s gone to the shops.’ ‘Go and find your mother,’ and she would be chatting to somebody. That is the same thing; that you want to be able to speak to your neighbours, speak to the people around here, and the bakery is the start of that. And we want to progress that further down the high street, so people would be connected with each other.
It is not just about purchasing things, but, if we are going to purchase things, it is local. Maybe it is locally-grown or locally-produced, but also the money is going back into the high street, back into the community, back into creating jobs here. So it is a way of interconnecting. It is about living well together.
PN: So let us take a break, maybe have a coffee and a cake. Where better? Hi, Angela. OK if we come in?
A: Hiya. We are outside Homebaked, Anfield, and the corner of Donaldson Street and Oakfield Road. So, if you want to come in, I will show you around, introduce you to our staff and former members of Community Land Trust and Home Farm.
So this is Kirsty. She is a new member of staff with us.
Kirsty (K): It is really nice because you see loads of people who you have known for years. I grew up in Venmore Street, just two or three roads down, so you see lots of people who you know. We like to make people feel welcome, and some people don’t have a chance to get out that much or socialise or mix. So it is really important to encourage people to come in and say, ‘Don’t worry. We don’t mind if your children are a little bit loud. Come in, have a nice time. Just enjoy the food.’
PN: Homebaked believes in paying a living wage and no zero-hour contracts. This only adds to the pressure for the organisation to be financially sustainable, but is at the heart of a set of conditions Homebaked feels are important for a community business to thrive, because, for a community business to thrive, the people involved need to be properly looked after as well. For Kirsty, the security was vital.
K: It got me out of a job where I was working in town, which was a zero-hour contract. It is hard to live your life on a zero-hour contract. It is hard to raise your family, not knowing one week: you could have 40 hours the next week, I could just have five. It is really hard to live like that. So, for me, personally, it gives me stability. You can’t be a parent if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.
A: So this is the café area. So this is where people can come in and sit down and have a lunch, breakfast, and then, on a match day, we…
PN: On match days, supporters from both sides queue halfway down the road for the pies. The signature pie is the Shankly, named after Liverpool FC’s iconic manager, Bill Shankly, and based on his favourite recipe.
Unlike a lot of football grounds, at the end of the day the unsold food is collected and given to food banks and homeless centres.
Here is photographer, founding member and now baker, Mark Loudon.
M: When we began the project nobody knew anything about food. It was just a lovely idea to open a bakery, and this was previously a home bakery. But we have kind of learnt on the job. This is the sixth year now, and we are employing I think about 17 or 18 people. Very few of those are full time, but we are employing and training many people.
PN: One of those people is KP, Jamie. To him, it is not just about work. It is about self-respect.
Jamie (J): I started off volunteering a couple of months ago, and I ended up getting a part-time job, 15 hours a week, which I am happy about. I used to attend the White Chapel Centre, and that is where I met Angela, and she told me about the volunteer project here. So that is when I started volunteering here, and then moved into the job.
I can work now because, at first, dealing with the Job Centre was not good. And it makes me come to work every single day. It is just great, like you are worth something, really.
I am looking at getting trained as a baker, so I can come in, in the morning, and make bread and do all that, and get trained on every aspect, basically.
PN: Learning on the job and transferring skills has helped to make Homebaked successful, and is another key element for a new kind of high street. Here is local artist, Sam Jones.
S2: You have a skill, or you want to learn one, you get involved, and that is how it works. Me and Pat, actually, before we started to make pies, we went off and learnt how to make pies with a master baker who was a local resident. So the transference of skills. He used to sell them outside on his bike. So he came in to support us in that skill. That was very, very early on.
PN: A sustainable business that grew from an art project has brought many unexpected benefits. Without a bunch of shareholders to please, they have the privilege of more freedom to experiment, which can take them in new directions. Local artist, Sam Jones, again.
S2: Just a different way of thinking of things. You can just think around problems rather than getting stuck with them. Also, you can create something, just try it out, not be scared about stuff. Maybe it is an attitude of just, ‘Let’s just try it. Let’s see how it works,’ and do it in a way that people could connect to. Maybe it is the aesthetic or the approach that people can buy into as well, and being sort of excited about it. It seems that we just try and make things happen very quickly as well, so we are not held back by things; just, ‘OK, we’re going to try it. Let’s have a go,’ and then people see it and go, ‘Wow, yes, that could be something.’
PN: As we have heard on previous episodes, it takes the right mix of energy, enthusiasm and expertise, not just to initiate these projects, but, equally importantly, to make them sustainable.
The Homebaked community business grew almost accidentally, out of an arts project. Artists and business people are not always the most natural bedfellows, but there can be real synergy when they do come together and respect each other’s skillsets. There will, inevitably, be tensions, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
B: We had people who got involved who were expert chefs and really good bakers, and then we had people involved to join our board, for example, who knew quite a bit about business.
Sally Anne Watkiss (SAW): I think it is fair to say there were a lot of not great business decisions made in those early days. There was very little business experience on the board. And it had got funding from Kickstarter, it had got some funding from the biennial, we received some funding from the John Moores Foundation to pay some wages over a period.
PN: That was Sally-Anne Watkiss, treasurer of Homebaked.
For artist, Britt, the important thing was to learn from their mistakes.
B: I think what was really important was to understand, and I am probably not even the right person to talk about this because I was there in the beginning, but I am not a business expert. But I think what helped us a lot was understanding what our main product is, which is pies. The pies, for a while, made enough money to cross-fund, for example, the bread. Now we are at a point where the bread and the café make enough money and they hold their own, but for a while the pies made that money, and of course the match days and the wholesale that we started doing.
PN: Sally-Anne Watkiss joined the bakery team after they sent out a tweet asking for accounting assistance. Sally-Anne had previously managed accounting departments and teams for large blue-chip organisations, but has been a fixture of the café since responding to that tweet, serving customers pies on match days in addition to managing the finances for the team. They needed her expertise.
SAW: Six-to-nine months after we opened it became apparent that it wasn’t sustainable as a business in its own right. I was beginning to be involved by then. I looked at the numbers and realised that, actually, we were losing money on every loaf we sold. We were selling high-end drinks in the café but weren’t selling coke or tango or anything that our customers actually wanted.
So there was a period, then, of consolidation, which was shifting our emphasis away from bread onto pies.
M: We didn’t even know it was going to be pies when we started. It was just, ‘Oh, match day, let’s make some pies, see how that goes.’ The next thing we are just making as many pies as we can. We are making thousands a week now. We still can’t make enough pies to sell. But that is what the business side has been based on, and everything else we do is supported by that.
SAW: Looking at how we could maximise match days, so, at that point, we introduced a differential pricing model. So we charge more for stuff on match days to cross-subsidise lower prices in the café outside of the match.
A: We have got a contract with Liverpool football club. We send over 700 mini pies for their executive and directors’ boxes. As a business, that is a feather in our cap. That helps us to sustain jobs, and, going forward, we are looking for other contracts like that.
SAW: It is only sustainable because of where it is located. Were it not located next to the club, it wouldn’t be sustainable.
PN: Recognising factors like that which impact the success of a business is key to sustainability. Angela MacKay again.
A: As a bakery, we spend our money in a three-mile radius. Our money that we are making is invested into local businesses. So we get the local butcher, we get our pie cases from a gentleman not far. We could buy them online which would be cheaper, but that is not what we are about.
PN: So revenue earned from the community is returned to the local area. That is how long-term regeneration can begin, in a collaborative rather than competitive manner. Sally-Anne feels shops working to a common purpose, to serve their locals, used to be part of the high street, but is lacking now.
SAW: The high streets worked together. All the shop owners along a road put on a Christmas party for the kids. They would give the free food to the families that they knew needed it, without making a song and dance about it. It worked as an ecosystem that is now destroyed in modern times, and there are little pockets beginning to build again.
PN: We have heard a lot about the hard work local communities are putting in, but what are the government doing to support this growing movement? A new panel of experts are reviewing the changing face of the high street. Chief executive of Power to Change, Vidhya Alakeson, and Sir John Timpson of Timpson Shops are on that panel.
Vidhya Alakeson (VA): There is a considerable amount of interest in the role that communities and community businesses might play in reviving the high street and revitalising it, which is Power to Change was approached for me to sit on the High Streets Expert Panel. The panel is chaired by Sir John Timpson, who is a very well-known retailer of Timpson’s which repairs shoes and cuts keys all over the country.
Sir John Timpson (SJT): The centre of the town is important to the community, and shops are part of that, but they are only part. You don’t just want to look at shops. You want to look at leisure facilities, health facilities, arts events that go on, restaurants. So it isn’t just shops. It is what creates a place. It is all a question of place creation, place management. And it has got to be done locally and it has got to be driven locally.
VA: I think high streets and town centres make places liveable, and I think what we are trying to create is not just a country that is economically successful in terms of GDP, but a country where people have a good quality of life and where they have places to live that thrive and are vibrant, not just in our big major cities but all across the country. The challenge is that we are not going to reverse the trend in retail; we are not going to suddenly get everybody to stop doing online retail. So we have to reimagine the high street and think about what can keep people coming into the town centre; experiences that people can have in the city centre or in the town centre that they couldn’t have elsewhere.
SJT: It is very important to communities that they get local shops, local people, and also individual, independent shops. To be successful, to change a town centre so that it actually does grow and has more life and is more relevant, it can only come from within the community. It is not something governments are going to be able to do. Government can help them by clearing obstacles out of the way and giving support and providing information, but for change to happen it has got to be instigated locally.
PN: Homebaked is a blueprint for the locally-instigated ecosystem that Sir John Timpson talks about. Those ecosystems gain strength as people come together from all walks of life to bake, to talk, to share their life experiences and even their beliefs, with a vibrant team of volunteers, some of whom come from as far away as North America.
VP: Tuesday and Thursday nights we do pie-making shifts. So we get volunteers in to help us out of an evening.
VP: We are missionaries for our church, so we try to look for service opportunities within the community. We wanted to try to help where we can. I am from Canada.
VP: I am from America.
VP: There is always music and singing. Not right now, but usually. It is always smells good. Everyone is funny. The accents are great.
VP: It is a happy place to be.
VP: It is nice to be around people who are happy.
VP: We usually do around two batches, and we cook it in that black pan over there. We will get anywhere between 300 and 350 in a batch.
PN: The bakery is a beginning, and the metal shuttering over some of the local windows is coming down, letting the light back into rooms that haven’t seen it for decades. But is it just a one off or is it a model that could be used in other towns and cities facing the same problems of economic hardship and social isolation? Sally-Anne again.
SAW: It is possible, and it builds around this cluster concept. The bakery is the start, the street becomes a destination, people start to come out to one shop and then go to multiple shops. So we don’t know yet what we would want on our high street, but we have got a bit of an idea from what our customers tell us that they are interested in. They want a post office, they want a hairdressers or a barbers.
When they come out for one thing and there are other things as well, it gives people a reason to come out.
PN: Having had success, the bakery is now providing a place for other local entrepreneurs to come and try out their ideas.
A: Just space that, if someone has got a small business, that they say, ‘I don’t know whether I can make it into a business,’ that we can say, ‘Well, OK, you can have a popup shop here,’ before they take on loans.
S2: Also, it has allowed us to set up other projects. We are looking at doing a microbrewery and all of these things, and selling certain market stalls that the fresh food can go through. So it gives space for local people to come up with their own ideas. So it is not people telling us what this should be, and doing a feasibility and saying, ‘This is what it should be.’ Actually, this is what we want, so, therefore, this is what we are going to do. This is the hub we do it from because it is here. There is not much else, so we all come together. The ideas started from this site.
PN: Grace is one of those potential entrepreneurs. She started coming to Homebaked early on as a volunteer, and is now working on an idea to set up Kitty’s Launderette, a community launderette and creative space just down the road from Homebaked; a perfect example of the cluster effect we heard about earlier.
Grace (G): I always say that probably in the origin of the idea we do owe a lot to amazing conversations at Homebaked over the last six years. Then, also, Homebaked continues to function as a really amazing site for trying out ideas.
We started thinking about a launderette as a space that was warm and quite social and had benches and was quite accessible and cosy, and things like that. I guess, an interest in making it a social enterprise definitely was inspired and informed by Homebaked, and that idea that you can build something that is self-sustaining, that is also sociably valuable, and that it can also be a platform for different ways of thinking and different ideas and stuff like that.
There is so much knowledge here amongst the people who work in both the bakery and the CLT that we have benefited hugely from, whether that is bookkeeping or financial modelling or whether that is policy documents. Anything. They are down the road or they are on the end of the phone, and we give them a call, and they have been brilliant.
PN: You can find out more about Kitty’s Laundry in our show notes.
Homebaked is actually two organisations. In April, 2012, they formed a Community Land Trust, a CLT, while Homebaked Bakery Cooperative was incorporated two months later, in June, 2012. The two organisations have separate memberships. It is £1 to become a member of the CLT, and £5 a year to join the Cooperative Bakery.
As its name suggests, the CLT has property interests at its heart. Angela MacKay.
A: The Community Land Trust, which I am a founding member of, we got a grant to do the flat above. So the flat above is for four people in shared accommodation. It is affordable rent.
During the renovation, it was all we had hoped it would be, from when we first started coming in the bakery. I live opposite, so it is lovely to see people coming in and out.
B: The bakery and the CLT are working really closely together to, I guess, scale that model up. We have now housing above the bakery and now we are looking at the currently boarded-up block right next to us, adjacent to the bakery. And what we will offer is a mixed-use scheme, refurbishing those houses, a mixed-use scheme that offers some space for local business and social business, and then probably eight homes of different sizes or nine homes of different sizes; so flats, but also a full house, and some green space.
PN: You can hear it in the voices and the language used by the people involved in the Homebaked projects. It is a new confidence, a new purpose.
HMRI, that government initiative launched back in 2002, was seen as a way to clear acres of what the market considered low-value housing, and replace it with new houses which would, so the theory went, increase the appeal of areas and the value of houses. It didn’t work. Well, the first bit did, in that many houses ended up tinned up, and that is how they remained, whilst the swanky new development somehow never came along.
Many of the people behind this incredible new cooperative were the victims of this failed policy, but they fought back and reclaimed their bakery and their streets, and they are fiercely proud of where they live. Who can blame them?
On March 10, 2017, Homebaked Cooperative Bakery won five awards at the British Pie Awards, including a gold for its Scouse pie.
If you find yourself in Liverpool, call in and treat yourself, and maybe stay for a while in the café and have a chat. Just pass the time of day, like people used to along the high streets.
VP: As a local resident who has lived in the area for 15 years, before I was involved with the bakery, I really didn’t know anyone. The bakery has opened up so many new friendships and opportunities for me to do a lot of different things. But, in terms of community, I don’t think I really felt that I was part of a community.
VP: A nice place to come to eat and somewhere where you feel like you are getting a nice, warm hug.
VP: It is a place where you see people come, and they are loved and kind of welcomed as they are, and that is one of the things that I think stands out.
VP: It has just become like a beacon of hope, and what it has also done is brought a lot of good people from around the country into the area, working through Homebaked and their ethos. From that, we are just seeing seeds of renewal across the area.
VP: I think the bakery turned out to be also like something that was amazing for the way to communicate about this desire to create, collectively, an alternative future to the proposed plans, because it was about sustenance.
PN; As we do in every show, it is time to ask a community expert for their top tips. This episode it is Hannah Sloggett from Nudge Community Builders in Plymouth. Hannah used to be a planning manager for Plymouth City Council, working on community engagement and regeneration. Alongside founder, Wendy Hart, and fellow locals, they set up Nudge Community Builders to revive Union Street, a once thriving high street at the heart of the town. They used small nudges, like art in unlikely places, and a weekly street market to make people stop and engage with the high street.
Since 2010, they have renovated a derelict shop that runs all sorts of activities from men’s mental health groups to tai chi, and has a café.
Nudge also recently raised nearly £205,000 in community shares, with 151 investors in 67 days, to save the Clipper pub. It will house independent enterprises and makers, and two residential flats upstairs. Here are her tips:
Hannah Sloggett: One of the first things that we did was a community gallery in all of the empty buildings. There were 15 empty buildings along Union Street. We covered them with graphics that were either made by local people or photos of local people and poems and things like that. There is quite a lot that we have done around reclaiming spaces. Within that process we then start to understand what was holding some of those spaces back. So I think one of the big things was around taking risks.
So I think there is something about being very confident about what you are planning to do, and not budging too much. We have had to hold our own. The default for Union Corner was that they wanted to turn it down. The default for the Clipper, even though the council had invested, and the investment required us to put in to flats, the default for the planning department was to say no. I used to work in the planning department, so it was quite an experience to feel that. So I think there is something around being really confident at how you approach the planning department, and, as much as you can, set it in their language and their framework and their visions, so they understand how you are supporting the wider vision that they might have for an area, for a city.
PN: That was Hannah Sloggett from Nudge Community Builders in Plymouth. If you want to learn more about the Nudge story, check out their website at nudge.community. If you are near Plymouth, pop along for a visit.
I hope you have enjoyed listening to the story of Mitchells’ bakery. It is proof that enthusiasm counts for everything. You can always find the experts along the way.
So, if you are thinking about doing something similar or are in the middle of your community business adventure, get the latest news on events, grants and support on the Power to Change website. That is powertochange.org.uk.
We will be adding links and other useful information on the show notes for this episode, and you can also connect with us by following on Twitter @thecbfix. We would love to hear your thoughts on the show and your stories about community activism. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Community Business Fix on your favourite podcast app, and give us a share, like and review. Once you are subscribed, it will mean you won’t miss our next episode, where we will be finding out about how community kitchens and cafes provide much more than food to local people.
You have been listening to a fieldwork production commissioned by Power to Change. It was presented by me, Neil Roberts, research and production by Curtis James, sound and music by Simon James, writing and executive production by Chris Paling.
Finally, we would like to thank everyone in Liverpool who helped make this show happen. We couldn’t have done it without you.