Making a destination out of an eyesore, with the help of community engagement down the (community-owned) pub.
SAFE manages two thriving community hubs: St Mary’s Complex, a former primary school which now houses more than a dozen creative and social organisation, and The Lock and Quay community pub, both based beside the Liverpool-Leeds canal. They provide business enterprise support, business incubation units, artist studios, participatory arts programmes and community-based landscape management services.
When they took on the pub, their community reach expanded hugely. “When we bought the pub with support from Power to Change, that changed the way we engage,” says Brian. “Only certain people will go to a community centre but everyone goes to the pub. It really embedded us in our community and became our most successful engagement tool. It’s not a community centre but it is the centre of the community.”
Local MP Peter Dowd has seen the impact SAFE has had across its two hubs, in the community, and via its regeneration work of the local canal. “They’ve put an energy back into the community,” he says. “They’ve brought people in too. It isn’t just about a community that’s already there; it’s a wider community of people that are coming here. It’s a local community that really looks outwards. They’ve made it a destination for people to come to.”
Lee Benson became a SAFE convert during the pandemic. “We’re an events company that got into financial difficulty because Covid ripped us to pieces,” he says. “Brian said they could try and help us get some grants and also offered for us to be based there. The company was probably going to go bust without that, SAFE has been fundamental to our survival.”
“Place-based social action is a big part of what we do. It works.“
Lee even managed to work with SAFE in expanding into new areas of work during the difficult period. “We did free recording and broadcasting for bands,” he says. “We just finished this massive musical and we just did a festival. My passion was dead before, but it’s given me drive again. It’s opened up a lot of different avenues for us.”
Lee has also got involved in other areas. “I’ve become very embedded within the team,” he says. “I’m down there all the time, helping out wherever I can. I do volunteer shifts down at the pub. You can’t keep me away. We feel entirely at home now and we’re not going anywhere.”
The success and trajectory of SAFE has been significant. “It’s grown exponentially over the last two decades,” says Brian, as SAFE gears up to get permission for a £38m #DestinationBootle housing and leisure project which will see local community-led housing built in one of the most deprived areas in the country. Councillor Gordon Friel of the Labour Party has called it “the most significant regeneration initiative in the area for 30 years.”
Brian links the elevation of this previous “eyesore” area as a result of engaging with and empowering the local community, which has created a sense of local pride. “We engage people in creating public artworks so there are physical improvements along the canal,” he says. “I love seeing kids pointing something out and saying, ‘that’s my bit, I did that.’ If you’re engaging people in improving the area, they are far more likely to respect the space that they live in. Place-based social action is a big part of what we do. It works.”