From condemned streets to the Turner Prize – find out how the residents of Granby Four Streets transformed their condemned terraced homes, creating a thriving market, affordable housing and winning the biggest prize in British art.Brick by brick, community organisations are creating new models for housing that put residents at the front and centre. Find out about this growing movement and learn what support is available.
Neil Roberts (NR): Hello. I am Neil Roberts and I have been volunteering in community businesses for the last eight years.
The Community Business Fix is a monthly podcast designed to shine a light on the projects in which communities are coming together to transform the places they live. It is brought to you by Power to Change, the independent Trust that supports community businesses in England.
In this show we are in Liverpool to visit an area that was making the news in 1981. This show is about positive action, but it feels important to mention the Toxteth uprisings as one of many turning points in the history of what is known as The Granby Triangle.
The roots of the uprising are complex. There had been racial tension in the area for decades, and concerted political action was building.
Joe, like all of the local residents, recognised the unrest, put the area on the map for all the wrong reasons.
Joe Farrag (JF): What most people know about here, they call it Toxteth, the Toxteth riots in 1981, which was a very negative time. And, so, whenever anybody mentions Toxteth in the press, it is mainly negative comments about things that have happened in the past, because they will instantly go, ‘Oh, that’s where the riots were.’
NR: Alongside this build up of tension, docks and factories had been shutting, and there was accelerated economic decline which created a perfect storm in an area of low-cost accommodation, described by the Liverpool Echo as “a mixture of Bohemianism and despair”.
Another major factor was a plan to extend the M62 motorway to the docks. It never happened. But the mass demolition of Georgian housing in preparation for this blighted the area. Some locals described the council’s plans as ethnic cleansing; a way of breaking up the politics of the area.
The properties that remained were bought up by slum landlords, who overcrowded the houses with predictable results. Here are three women who lived in the area and have fought for it: Hazel Tilley, Nasra Hill, and first Eleanor Lee.
Eleanor Lee (EL): I think it was after that there was a sort of unspoken agreement that was to disinvest from the area and to split it up, erase it and rebuilt.
Nasra Hill (NH): It seemed to happen overnight, really, and there were a lot of businesses as well that just seemed to go, like dominoes. It just changed rapidly.
Hazel Tilley (HT): The lights weren’t being repaired. The streets weren’t being swept. The binmen weren’t coming. Parents were taking their kids past tinned-up houses on the way to school because the area emptied out. We were called a Twilight Zone. They didn’t know what to do with us, and they thought, if they left us alone, everything would fall down.
EL: After 1981, you would have thought that there would have been a huge effort by the council and the government just in terms of doing a superficial change in improvements, wouldn’t you? Just a patch-up job. You know, keep people quiet, blah-di-blah. And there was absolutely nothing of the kind, but there was this absolute withdrawal.
NR: With no help from the council, the residents had two choices: give up and let the area fall further into decline or take matters into their own hands. The Granby Residents Association was formed. Eleanor Lee, but first Hazel Tilley, who was one of the founding members.
HT: The Granby Residents Association was really a group that demonstrated against, that presented papers to the council, that worked with Liverpool University to find alternative uses of the houses.
EL: Granby residents fought demolition for almost two decades. They got funding. They did all the right things. They came up with alternative plans for the architectural drawings for how the houses could be renovated. They went round the country, looking at different options.
NR: One of those options was, of course, to renovate, and the housing association, Plus Dane, did bring one block of houses back to life in the late 90s. Joe was one of the residents who moved in with high hopes.
JF: At first, it was strange moving into a place where there were about 12 houses facing you, which were occupied out of 50. The one block we were living on, completely refurbished. And you had the expectation – well, I had the expectation that the rest would be getting done the same. So, you just carry on with your life as normal – this was around 2000 – you are doing your work, you are going to watch the match, you are doing usual things.
And it was all fine, until it gradually became more and more clear that things were not as they appeared. My friends, when they came to the house, they started to comment about, ‘How come your houses are done and all the rest are wrecked?’ Even then you are still saying, ‘Well, hopefully, they’re going to get refurbished.’
NR: That hope was to no avail, which led to even more residents moving out and the decline of the Residents Association. But the remaining local residents didn’t give up and started casting around for new ideas. Ronnie Hughes was invited by Eleanor to a meeting to help them discover a way forward.
Ronnie Hughes (RH): There was a lot of anger in the room, and I was just the latest person who had come in to try and work out what they wanted.
Granby Residents Association had run out of energy and steam but were still around. And it was Eleanor and I actually decided we need to be something new here.
NR: That something new was a Community Land Trust. If you have listened to the Community Business Fix before, you will have heard about them. If not, CLTs are a form of community-led housing, set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets important to that community, like community businesses, food-growing and work spaces. Here is Ronnie Hughes again.
RH: I remember one afternoon, I just said to Eleanor, ‘Shall we just start calling this new thing we want to be The Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust?’ and we just looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, go on, let’s do it.’ And then the adventure began.
NR: The CLT adventure, chaired by Erika Rushton, another local looking to help, gave new impetus and energy to the many initiatives already being taken by local residents, old and new. There was energy and a newfound pride in the area and its environment.
HT: Eleanor started sweeping the streets and painting and gardening, and people joined her.
EL: We set up a market here. That was really key to infusing a whole new energy, which came into the CLT, and a whole new lease of life, and a much more irreverent attitude or a much freer attitude to breaking the rules. We didn’t ask permission for any of it.
JF: The whole thing of doing the windows up, of putting the bits of artwork around which people have done, doing the gardens, in a sense it actually puts the council on a backfoot: when they want to do something, then they come up and instantly think, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again. What are they doing here to stop us doing this?’ And it is not 200 people on the streets shouting, ‘Leave our houses alone.’ It is a way of doing something, and, counter to what they were saying originally, they could see that people do want to live here.
EL: To come into what had been, really, a street that was doomed and an area which was doomed and had been for years and years and years, so it was now full of plants and greenery, and we were serving great hot food, homemade bread, more bric-a-brac than you are likely to see in a month, and it was half-market, half-party a bit, half-street party.
NH: I think, for a long time, we haven’t been able to see each other, the community, because the community kind of went underground. It was like you didn’t see anybody because there was no meeting place as such. A lot of the pubs have closed. So, with the market, you are seeing people that you haven’t seen for years. As well as you will purchase stuff, food especially, you are there for a chat and to see people. So, that is good because we haven’t been able to get together for a long time, this community.
EL: More people got to know that there was a shift in Granby through the market and the planting than any document that was written, I think.
NR: Yes, as is often said, actions do speak louder than words, but, alongside all of this activity in the area – street-sweeping, gardening, art, a street market – there was a document being written. It was an action plan, a call to arms, called Clouds and Silver Linings. It was inspired by a failed deal between a developer and the council that almost torpedoed the plans of the CLT just as they were getting started.
The council’s plan was to parcel up the housing and sell it off to one big developer who promised regeneration and local amenities like a shiny, new leisure centre. The deal fell apart, almost scuppering the CLT in the process. Eleanor Lee, chair of Granby 4 Streets again.
EL: There was a void then. The council had put all their eggs into this one basket, the basket was weak, and then there was a pause so that they would at least have to gather their energies together to work out what to do next. That is when we submitted the Clouds and Silver Linings document.
NR: Alongside the success of the street market in bringing new people to the area, Clouds and Silver Linings proved to be one of the biggest turning points in the history of Granby 4 Streets CLT. It was a bold plan, a mix of ideas playing to the strengths of private and public partners, a vision of collaboration rather than confrontation. Community in every sense.
EL: There could be lots of partners who played different roles in it. And it was a mixture of private developers, housing associations, but also people doing up their own houses, like homesteading and Homes for a Pound, and there was Co-operative and the CLT. That laid the ground to pull some councillors who were interested. So, I think there were a couple – well, one, really, councillor who was very keen on it. It just shifted the terms of the debate and the possibilities of what could happen.
NR: In terms of promoting the idea, the timing couldn’t have been better. The media loves an anniversary, and 30 years had now past since the riots. What was it like to live in Toxteth today? Media savvy Ronnie Hughes and other representatives from the area were invited onto local radio to tell their stories.
RH: We had agreed, between ourselves, before we went in, that though these stations would obviously want to talk to us about the riots. We weren’t going to. So, once the red light went on, we said, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s 30 years since that, and it’s all anybody ever talks about. What we’re here to talk about is the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust; this new idea we have and what we want to do about the place.’ Then we talked about the street market, the gardening, the cleaning up, the painting, and our ideas about getting the place sorted out.
The local radio stations and the local newspaper were all really good on this, and, from then on, gave us pretty constant support at various milestones.
NR: As the momentum for change built, another character joined the cast: Xanthe Hamilton, who was scoping out potential housing projects for a social investor.
Having faced so many hurdles and suffered so many setbacks, finally Eleanor Lee and Granby 4 Streets CLT had a lucky break.
EL: It was just a bit of a fluke because she was looking – or her social investor was and she was doing the work – to find a project, a housing project, and wasn’t even definitely going to be here; it could have been in the States – here on in the States. And she did a tour of the sort of many empty tinned-up streets in Liverpool, of which there were some. So, she was shown by this person, Jonathan Brown, who does tours of the city. So, that was our lucky break, really.
When you came here, you didn’t see an area that had been written off. You saw an area with potential.
NR: In 2012, Xanthe Hamilton introduced the Granby CLT to Assemble, a young architecture collective. They are mainly known for transforming a Clerkenwell petrol station into a cinema. As their publicity proudly states, “Some artists seek to decorate the world and some to reflect or question it. Assemble are working with all of us to change it.”
They were exactly the kind of stakeholder envisaged when Eleanor Lee and the Granby team were writing the Clouds and Silver Linings manifesto.
EL: They were just so innovative and fearless, I think. They didn’t have any of the baggage about this area. They produced this document which was on behalf of the social investor, so it had all the designs for Ducie Street.
It was valuing everything that was in this area. And this area was only seen as representing problems and negatives and threats and danger, and it was like the opposite of that. They respected what, traditionally, was rubbished about this area.
NR: This unlikely coupling led, in 2015, to Assemble unexpectedly winning the prestigious Turner Prize for their work in the area. One of the nationals wrote at the time:
“Granby Street has become a rare beacon for thoughtful, human-scaled urban regeneration. Some of the original houses have been cleverly refurbished while the shells of two others have been combined to form a community meeting space, café and indoor garden. On the streets, planters improvised from salvaged materials are painted in vivid colours, and gardens are bursting with flowers.”
Assemble ploughed the Turner Prize money into the Granby Workshop, which has taken over one of the street’s old corner shops, where residents make fireplaces and light fittings out of rubble.
It felt like a lot of the pieces were falling into place, but the CLT still needed more funding to realise their plans. Hazel Tilley’s on the CLT board. She explains that, like many community businesses, they turned to the Independent Charitable Trust, whose vision is to create better places through community businesses.
HT: We got a lot of help from Power to Change, and that was absolutely critical for us because that helped us set up our first business plan.
NR: With the business on a firm footing, Granby CLT took on their first 10 homes. The plan was to refurbish them, rent some out and sell the others. Ronnie Hughes and, first, Eleanor Lee.
EL: We have now completely those first 10 houses: five have been for sale and five at affordable rent. So, the five for sale, we took ages trying to find a legal format.
RH: The resale clause that we put in, because we always knew we wanted to sell some of the houses just to repay some of the money we had borrowed, we put in a resale price covenant on the ones that we would sell, so that nobody could profiteer. So, the agreement of the houses that the CLT have sold is that, when people do come to sell them on, they cannot sell them on for any more than whatever change has happened to the medium wage in Liverpool.
NR: The CLT turned to a local black and racial minority housing association for support in managing the five rental properties. They approached the allocation with similar care to that adopted with the sale properties. Tracey Gore is director of the Steve Biko Housing Association.
Tracey Gore (TG): In terms of the how do you select people, there is a criteria; there is a points-based system. As well as having a local connection, there needs to be a housing need, and we follow that criteria when selecting tenants.
The Community Land Trust board members weren’t involved in that, so that the selection process was seen to be independent and that we followed the procedures.
It really is important that you take professional advice, particularly if you are talking about renting properties, because there are legal obligations that you have adhere to; there are tenancy agreements that have to be given, and you want to make sure you are giving the correct tenancy agreement for the right circumstance.
The CLT, from the outset, very much wanted to work along the lines of a social landlord, but, obviously, with much more of a community feel and community impact and wanted to make sure that tenants had a proper tenancy agreement. They wanted to know that tenants’ repairs were going to get done when they wanted them to be done. They wanted to know that their accounting for the rent and making sure that money is set aside and kept for the repairs was going to happen.
NR: Granby’s experience highlights that it is vital to build relationships with likeminded partners, but, equally importantly, with those who have the legal and business expertise you lack.
In this show we have been covering a story that has been going on for over three decades. Many of the other projects we have featured in the Community Business Fix have been long term. It can be incredibly rewarding, but all experience highs and lows and all have their own complexities. But, with housing demand in Britain long outstripping supply, projects such as Granby are becoming more and more vital.
This is why Power to Change are launching their Homes in Community Hands programme. Rose Seagrief is the programme manager on community-led housing work at Power to Change. She explains why there is such a need for different ways of developing housing.
Rose Seagrief (RS): For lower earners and, potentially, young people or young families, and older people, it is really, really tough to find secure tenures, so long-term tenures at affordable rates of really decent homes that meet the needs of whatever age group you are at. This is really what a lot of communities are doing now; they are trying to meet the needs of their own communities to provide homes that are suitable for whatever stage of life they are at and for whatever they can afford on the income that they are earning in that place.
NR: Last year the government announced that, through their Community Housing Fund, they are making 163 million pounds available across England until 2021. In tandem with that, Power to Change is launching a Homes in Community Hands Fund with 4.2 million pounds to help community groups at the early stages of the house-building process, including identifying a site and getting a planning application ready. This programme is targeting areas with very specific needs.
RS: Some, particularly around rural areas, often have some very talented retired people with enormously good professional skills like architecture or quantity surveying or accountancy and so on. But the kinds of areas we are supporting are more disadvantaged areas where quite often those kinds of skills aren’t available.
So, we are trying to support community groups to build their own capacity to deliver a project. So, buy in a project manager or backfill some of their own time so they can devote the time they need to what is going to be a complex project. And, also, to buy in as soon as possible all the different kinds of professional skills they will need to access to develop a successful project, to make sure that what they are doing is viable and can be done on whatever site they are looking at.
So, we fund architects’ fees, quantity surveyors’ fees, financial viability checking, a whole range of activities that go hand-in-hand with developing housing, to make sure that community groups can get a planning application forward, if they are doing new projects.
NR: As well as a grant, successful groups will get support from a community-led enabler. Steve Hoey from Leeds Community Homes is one of them.
Steve Hoey (SH): In Leeds, there are a lot of empty homes activity with groups like Canopy and Latch and Gipsil, and we have always been really inspired by the Granby 4 Streets group and the project. There was so much good practice in Liverpool by that group. It is just fantastic, the way the community, over such a long period of time, have stuck with it and done the street markets and other projects, and badgered the council over there, and forged partnerships and relationships which are bearing fruit now.
If people have just got an idea, we can help them think that through and plan, get a group together, think about the legal issues, the visioning that they are going to have to go through, decision-making processes. We can walk people through the whole process right from idea through to building their homes and then managing them long term. There is a lot in between, obviously, which can be quite daunting, but it has been done, it can be done and we can help people with that.
RS: What community groups do is they deliver far more than just homes. The whole process of community-led development engages with the wider community, creates opportunities for people to come together and creates community, really, that may not happen with other developers. Just that involvement improves health and wellbeing, as does having a decent home. Quite often the whole design of a project looks more widely at the public space and creates facilities and access to nicer places that people couldn’t have before.
NR: Steve Hoey and Rose Seagrief. The Power to Change Homes and Community Hands Fund opens in early March 2019. You can find out more about it and the government’s Community Housing Fund on the Community-led Homes website, communityledhomes.org.uk. If you are ever in Leeds, pop by the Community Led Housing hub and say hi to Steve and the team.
As we do in every show, it is time to ask a community expert for their top tips. Keswick is a small market town in the Lake District. It is a popular place for people that like to hike up mountains, but tourism, along with other factors, have had an effect on housing for local people. Keswick CLT was formed in 2009 to try and address some of the housing issues in the area, and now owns 40 properties.
Bill Bewley (BB): My name is Bill Bewley. I am chairman of Keswick Community Housing Trust. Well, first of all, you have got to take advice, and you need to listen to the advice, but then you have to make up your own mind.
I think it is very important that you have to have a vision as to what you are doing: why do you want to provide affordable housing? What are the issues that make it absolutely vital, in your opinion, to provide affordable housing? So, you have to have that clear vision. But you also have to attach to that vision a certain amount of pragmatism, or you have to accommodate a certain situation that will allow you to provide affordable housing. For example, on our first scheme we hoped to build 11 houses, but one of those houses we were going to sell outright with a local occupancy clause on it, but we were going to sell it outright. So, the owner of that house, technically speaking, wouldn’t qualify under our allocations policy. But, by selling one house, we were then able to provide 10 affordable houses to the people of Keswick. So, in our opinion, that was a pragmatic approach and it was a practical approach in order to provide affordable housing.
Everybody was telling me that it wasn’t possible. ‘Why is a community group doing this? This should be done by the local council. This should be done by somebody else. It should be done by central government.’ Yes, communities can provide the best of community affordable housing. They know best. They know what is most suitable for their community. So, I suppose, just to convince everybody that communities can actually form a housing Trust and successfully provide houses.
NR: That was Bill Bewley from Keswick Community Land Trust. If you would like to find out more about their work, check out our show notes.
Now back to Liverpool, where we will finish in the company of landscape gardener, Andrea, who is standing outside what looks like a pair of ordinary terraced houses. But come a little closer and take a peak.
Andrea : Just looking inside through the door, I can see the trees, the palms, the ferns and everything.
NR: This is the feigned Winter Garden project. I will let Andrea explain it.
Andrea: It is a two-up, two-down which has no floors. It was beyond renovation, so the architects, Assemble, designed it as a winter garden, so it is a completely open terraced house, glass roof and…
NR: Part of the Granby 4 Streets CLT has involved developing spaces that bring people together. At the heart of the Winter Garden are four beech trees with planting around them.
Andrea: It is very kind of cathedral-like with all the features. So, it is making a feature of that and what plants would complement…
NR: This being Granby, the idea didn’t end there. Upstairs there is a flat that, for six months of the year, will be used by an artist in residence. The other six months it will be rented out as an Airbnb. So, a community area, an inspiring space and financially self-sustainable. Here is Nazra, but first Vicky Evans-Hubbard, local resident and CLT board member.
Vikki Evans Hubbard (VEH): Many people have fought really hard to make this happen, so we want it to stay and we want it to be here for future generations. So, having that idea of self-sustainability in places is really important. So, we hope to offer the meeting space and the community space free of charge to any local groups or people who want to use it. So, it is really important that we make the space upstairs pay for the running of the Winter Garden.
NH: So, hopefully, the Winter Garden will be transparent and the people will feel like they can come in and it is up to them what goes on in there.
Curtis James (CJ): Hello. Can I come in?
NH: Yes, you can come in. Thanks.
[End of dialogue]
NR: What about the houses themselves? That is, after all, what this project was all about at the beginning: cosy terraces, once loved, now tinned up and unlovely.
NH: That is the Granby Rock.
[End of dialogue]
NR: What happens when they are brought back to life and lived in by people like Nazra? She grew up in the area, moved away to get work, but has ended up back in the place she has always called home – Toxteth in Liverpool, and proud of it.
NH: It made me wish to improve the property, because I have made improvements to the floor and the windows, obviously, and my own personal furniture and touches. But it makes me want to look after this house. I don’t want it to go to wrack and ruin. I am not going to allow it to go to wrack and ruin because it was in such a great condition.
NH: This is like an original feature. This is…
[End of dialogue]
NH: Of a summer it’s great. People who visit me, I will take the drinks outside. No one has to be indoors. We can just chill on the street. I will have my music blasting. It is like a little party atmosphere. If you want to sit on the step and just have a little smoke or whatever, you can. No one bothers you. People walk up and down either as a walkway or they live here. There is no one strange knocking around or anything like that, so it is nice.
NR: Vicky Evans-Hubbard has moved to the area. She is involved with the CLT and, like Nazra, loves living here.
VEH: When I moved here, the community feeling, the friendliness of the residents here just completely blew me away. Everyone says to me, ‘How lucky you are to live here.’ When people see my address, they are like, ‘It’s great around there now, isn’t it?’ So, the whole kind of redevelopment of it, what the Community Land Trust has been doing has really created a buzz about Granby, and it is starting to reverse the preconceived ideas about Toxteth, Liverpool Eight and Granby in particular.
NR: So, maybe, finally, Toxteth in Liverpool will come to be known for something positive, something life-enhancing, proof that community is strong. It might be down but it is never out. Let us leave the final words to long-term resident, Joe, who we heard at the start of the show.
JF: When people do now say things like, ‘Oh, that’s where the riots were,’ hopefully they will start saying, ‘Isn’t that where people changed their entire lives and helped create a community?’ That is the power of change.
NR: If you have a housing project you need some support with, the Power to Change Homes and Community Hands Fund launches on 11th February and will be open for applications in March. You can find out more about it and the government’s Community Housing Fund on the Community Led Homes website, communityledhomes.org.uk. You can also find the latest news on events, other 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 and about your experiences that connect with the show.
We would like to get these stories to as many people as possible, so we would really appreciate it if you shared the show with at least one person you know that might benefit from hearing these stories. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the Community Business Fix in your favourite podcast app. The benefit of being subscribed means you won’t miss our next episode where we will be finding out more about community food projects.
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.