Beautiful ideas for north Liverpool
After years of decline and indecision, north Liverpool is back in the spotlight, with the Beautiful Ideas Company rebuilding its local economy and entrepreneurial heritage, says Erika Rushton
North Liverpool doesn’t tend to get the headlines, attention and tourists that the centre and south of Liverpool are generating right now. But over half of the city’s population live here and at one time it was the home to the busiest several miles long row of docks on earth.
Much of that trade still exists, but is happening downriver in the container port at Seaforth now, although the making, manufacturing, mending and movement of goods, the heritage of casual labour and the longstanding social entrepreneurialism, is still evident and active if you look closely enough.
The economy and fabric of north Liverpool have suffered from various downturns through the decades and the recent years of austerity. But that relatively recent and short history has been so well and over-documented that north Liverpool’s list of needs risked becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.
‘A mere 30 years when “need and deprivation” became synonymous with north Liverpool.
Now we need to draw on the area’s 200-year entrepreneurial heritage’
When the UK entered Europe in the 1970s Liverpool was ‘facing the wrong way’ as a port. With the slow closure of much of the docks system after that, much of the dock’s immediate hinterlands also saw sharp losses of business and consequent steep rises in unemployment. Huge and historic Liverpool concerns like Tate & Lyle packing up and leaving miles of empty factories and warehouses behind them.
Over time some recovery did happen. Light industries and social enterprises moving into vacant industrial and retail units, new and replacement housing on vacated land near the docks and elsewhere through the north of the city. Even big plans for the docks themselves, with Liverpool City and Peel Holding’s ‘Liverpool Waters’ reinvention scheme.
From community car park to local enterprise fund
Until very recently the economic ‘bounce’ that the centre and the south of Liverpool clearly got from being the European Capital of Culture in 2008 was pretty hard to spot in the north end. Now though there are signs of movement, with new hotel and leisure investments in the docks and Scotland Road areas. Over in Anfield and Everton, Liverpool FC are finally getting on with their stadium development, currently Liverpool’s largest civil engineering project by some way, at last enabling decisions to be made and investment committed to the neighbourhoods around it.
Along with these, something very encouraging is re-emerging on a more local and community driven scale from these big capital projects. The Beautiful Ideas Company secured ‘meanwhile use’ of demolished school land in Anfield, turning it into a community car park on Liverpool and Everton match days.
A very longstanding tradition for the area – minding the cars on match days – is providing some of the funds for a more locally owned recovery. Matched with funding from government, Beautiful Ideas Company have managed to raise £600,000 which they’re now reinvesting back into north Liverpool.
‘Industrious communities have inherent skills.
They are embedded as part of our DNA’
The funds are not given as grants. But through competitive selection to a programme of workshops and mentoring that will lead to pitches for investment into enterprise ideas the CIC’s board believe will help build the new economy from the ground up in north Liverpool. Building an economy for everyone who lives and works in the area, not by simply waiting for big investments from elsewhere, but by investing in people’s skills, inventions, labours and imaginations in the future of their own place.
Makers, builders, bikers, creators
The collection of people now going through the Beautiful Ideas programme describe themselves as ‘makers, bakers, bikers, creators, engineers, gardeners, fixers, builders, artists, actors, organisers, thinkers, dreamers and doers, working together collectively and in surprising combinations to build our enterprises and ideas into a new and alternative economy, here in our north Liverpool.’
Ideas have to fit into one or more of six key themes that describe the area’s opportunities rather than its ‘needs’:
- Making use of the many vacant spaces and empty buildings
- And all the local people ready and willing to do things
- Making and manufacturing their own futures
- In real live social networks
- Making north Liverpool’s money work for it more intelligently
- And taking particular advantage of the heritage of the docks.
Loans of up to £30,000 will soon be pitched for by over 20 enterprises now on the programme. And to be successful with their pitches ideas don’t merely have to be good for north Liverpool, they have to be organically bound up with its people and places. Rather than dropping in from somewhere else to make some quick money, the project is very much about the long term wellbeing and prosperity of north Liverpool and its people. A place remaking itself with its own hands.
And the ideas themselves? The bike repair shop that does coffee and cakes; the floating market at the docks; a maker space and community kitchen, using empty industrial space; an empty homes doctor; a fixer of whatever’s broken; an invisible wind factory (really). Not just Beautiful Ideas, in many cases brilliant ones.
The Beautiful Ideas Company isn’t doing anything new. Rather it is by-passing a recent past. A mere 30 years, when the words ‘need and deprivation’ became synonymous with north Liverpool. So now we will draw on the area’s 200 year entrepreneurial heritage.
Cities, places, industrious communities have inherent skills. They are embedded as part of our DNA. The Beautiful Ideas Company are discovering that the inherent skills of north Liverpool may be particularly well suited to the current economy as it both globalizes and localizes. The docks’ former casual workforce may be today’s self-employed and sole traders. The spaces where things were manufactured, made and mended are ideal for a new generation of designer makers who combine traditional skills with CAD design and virtual reality. The seafarers, their exchanges and emporiums are all accustomed to global trade. Be it through traditional or digital trade routes north Liverpool may be ideally ready for its future.
Those now developing social innovations and enterprises with us are part of a long and resilient lineage of social reformers for which the city is world famous. Forever thinking how we can make life better with what we already have. And ‘Shall I mind ye’r car mate’ is the service industry and customer care policy of all this that is fuelling north Liverpool’s self-determined future.
North Liverpool as the most vital and interesting part of the city to live in, to work in, to be in? You wouldn’t bet against it.
Erika Rushton is co-founder of the Beautiful Ideas Company