How to do Social Housing: Part One

A true story of Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust on site.On Site Part One - 1I want to tell you a story about social housing. A very detailed story (in two parts) about exactly how to do it. Or at least, exactly how we’re doing it in Granby 4 Streets.

I want to tell you this story now because recently some people who I thought knew better are saying social housing can’t be done any more. Or that anyway if you do decide to do it you’re doing something called ‘Submarket Housing.’ As in subhuman, subspecies, substandard, subnormal, substitute, subterranean? You can probably only barely imagine how annoyed  this makes me feel, having been working in and around social housing now since 1972.

But this won’t be a rant, more like a demonstration of a community of people, including me, doing social housing here in Liverpool over the last few months. And it’s a detailed demonstration because over this time I’ve been the Granby community’s representative on site as we’ve worked on our latest batch of renovations. Throughout this time I’ve taken hundreds of site photographs, mainly to help us all run the job. But I think they’re interesting and even beautiful in their way. Because they show what doing social housing looks like.

Here goes.

Late last September we finished our first five houses.

Late last September we finished our first five houses.

And our great friends Ann and Lorna came to help us celebrate.

And our great friends Ann and Lorna came to help us celebrate.

That’s Councillor Ann O’Byrne, Deputy Mayor of Liverpool and Lorna Mackie of the Nationwide Foundation, one of our major funders.

That same day we went on site on our next three houses.

That same day we went on site on our next three houses.

Opening them up after many years of emptiness.

Opening them up after many years of emptiness.

From then on we have run weekly site inspections and meetings. Together with loads of other site visits. Out of necessity sometimes, but mostly for the joy of seeing the empty places getting gradually turned back into homes.

Only two weeks in we're down to the bricks, some internal demolition done...

Only two weeks in we’re down to the bricks, some internal demolition done…

And the places are shaping up.

And the places are shaping up.

Beautiful.

Beautifully.

As well as the three houses I’ll introduce you to a few key characters. By no means everyone, I’m telling a story here and I don’t want to confuse you.

Introducing Joe from Penny Lane Builders, standing in an exposed basement.

Introducing Joe from Penny Lane Builders, standing in an exposed basement.

Next to a Victorian fireplace.

Next to a Victorian fireplace.

Joe will tell anyone fool enough to believe him that he’s retired now. But he hasn’t completely, especially if there’s a newly opened up terraced house for him to inspect and begin sorting out. In all my life I’ve never seen anyone ‘read’ a terraced house like Joe, and working alongside him has been a great privilege.

And here are Joe and Steve.

And here are Joe and Steve.

This Joe is Joe Halligan from Assemble. With Steve Ross from Penny Lane Builders, supervising the site. These two have been my constant companions through all the months of working on these houses.

That still, at this stage, contain scraps of their past lives.

That still, at this stage, contain scraps of their past lives.

And here's another key character in our story, 'The Corner'

And here’s another key character in our story, ‘The Corner’

The last bay you can see to the left there isn’t part of one of our Community Land Trust houses, but what remains of the former corner shop with rear living space that, here last October, is standing only partially demolished while we look for funding to work on it along with the other three corner shops at the corners of Granby Street and Cairns Street here in Liverpool 8. This particular corner, though we don’t yet know it, is going to itself be a major character in our story.

And here's one of our subplots.

And here’s one of our subplots.

While these early weeks of our story take place we’re up for the Turner Prize. Assemble and the group of local artists and makers they’ve put together have recently finished making all the stuff for their Turner Exhibition and it’s all up in Glasgow now, as both a display and a shop, for the new ‘Granby Workshop’ social enterprise.

Social Housing you see, in the ‘real world’ I keep hearing about from its opponents, doesn’t sit around bleating about falling grant levels, it goes out and makes its own future.

Whilst at all times being very proud of and telling the stories of where we've come from.

Whilst at all times being very proud of and telling the stories of where we’ve come from.

Autumn arrives gently.

Autumn arrives gently.

And the windows are in.

And the windows are in.

Joe, Steve and Joe under a new lintel.

Joe, Steve and Joe under a new lintel.

Upstairs the walls are going in.

Upstairs the walls are going in.

We’ve slightly changed the design from our first five houses, making the landing a little wider. But in these weeks we realise these houses are actually a little wider than the first five. Widened a little bit by their 1880s builders to reach their pre-determined corner. ‘Not so much measured out as paced out’ Joe Halligan reckons.

Working with what we find.

Working with what we find.

Propping up as we need to.

Propping up as we need to.

One of the houses is always running behind the other two, due to the fact that it had been open enough for decades for pigeons to be nesting in it. Thus requiring cleaning out by a ‘specialist company’ before we could get in there and start work.

But in the first two we are well on the way here in November.

But in the first two we are well on the way here in November.

These photographs fill me with joy even now.

These photographs fill me with joy even now.

Even as I was taking them I could see the finished job, turning from here on in from a site to a home.

It was such a wet early winter though.

It was such a wet early winter though.

All of our November into December site meetings seeming to take place in torrential rain. Torrential rain that’s also falling on that partially exposed Corner, let me remind you.

The third of the houses, next to The Corner, gets seriously under way.

The third of the houses, next to The Corner, gets seriously under way.

Assemble Joe, with Steve, explaining details .

Assemble Joe, with Steve, explaining details .

The Radio, a constant if annoying (to me!) presence.

The Radio, a constant if annoying (to me!) presence.

Breaking through.

Breaking through.

Much of our gentle redesigning of these houses is about bringing more light into them.

Stripping off what's left of the existing roofs.

Stripping off what’s left of the existing roofs.

While three of us go to London.

While three of us go to London.

Hazel Tilley, resident, CLT Board member and colleague. With Ann, Deputy Mayor and friend.

Hazel Tilley, resident, CLT Board member and colleague. With Ann, Deputy Mayor and friend.

We’re here because we’ve been nominated for the Academy of Urbanism’s ‘Great Street’ award.

We don't win but we get this lovely Ian McMillan poem.

We don’t win but we get this lovely Ian McMillan poem.

“This masterpiece is their collective wills…”

Back in Liverpool we keep working on our creation.

Back in Liverpool we keep working on our creation.

Plastering ready to start.

Plastering ready to start.

Essential services all in.

Essential services all in.

The houses as artisan's studios.

The houses as artisan’s studios.

Meanwhile in Glasgow.

Meanwhile in Glasgow. Photo by Kenn Taylor.

A friend brings me back this photograph of the imitation Cairns Street house Assemble have had built to display the Turner Exhibition I never do go and see.

While here in Liverpool...

Being focussed on here in Liverpool…

The new roof is on all three properties.

Where the new roof is on all three properties.

Though some of the inside is still open on the third house.

Though some of the inside is still open on the third house.

New floor about to go in.

New floor about to go in.

Joe and Steve begin what will be a weeks long discussion on floor finishes.

Joe and Steve begin what will be a weeks long discussion on floor finishes.

Sandblasting done, we are starting to look like the finished articles as December arrives.

Sandblasting done, we are starting to look like the finished articles as December arrives.

Joe from Penny Lane Builders working particularly in the third house at this stage, catching up.

Joe from Penny Lane Builders working particularly in the third house at this stage, catching up.

Upstairs in the first two...

Upstairs in the first two…

The plastering is ready for the decorators.

The plastering is ready for the decorators.

Downstairs nearly done too.

Downstairs nearly done too.

Joe from Assemble always says he prefers it like this.

Joe from Assemble always says he prefers it like this.

That he’d not paint it at all if it were his house. Nevertheless we reckon our future residents would prefer to have their houses decorated.

So we go round the corner to check on some other houses Penny Lane have almost finished.

So we go round the corner to check on some other houses Penny Lane have almost finished.

These are in Jermyn Street, one of the other of the Four Streets, and are being done for Liverpool Mutual Homes.

Then Hazel id interviewed on national TV.

Then Hazel is interviewed on BBC national TV.

And says that what we are all doing here is art people can live in.

Then we have a seriously cold Street Market.

Then we have a seriously cold Street Market.

But Ann, Erika Rushton of the 4 Streets CLT and local resident and chef Rose Olive make the best of it anyway.

But Ann, Erika Rushton of the 4 Streets CLT and local resident and chef Rose Olive make the best of it anyway.

Then over the same weekend the sub plot with ‘The Corner’ that I warned you about gets serious.

All those rains have become serious storms and in one of them bits start collapsing off the partially demolished Corner.

So on the Monday afternoon I meet on site with two friendly but concerned partners from the City Council.

So on the Monday afternoon I meet on site with two friendly but concerned partners from the City Council.

And the decision to demolish is reluctantly taken.

And the decision to demolish is reluctantly taken.

‘The Corner’ has become dangerous, so what’s left of that bay and its former shop are going to have to be taken down. Leaving us with a gable end we haven’t planned on having just yet.

Then that same evening Assemble and all of us lot won the Turner Prize.

Then that same evening Assemble and all of us lot win the Turner Prize.

Thereby becoming one of the most prominent bits of community led social housing on the planet. With a very big problem to sort out where our Granby Street corner used to be.

At which point I interrupt this demonstration of how to do social housing as that’s quite enough of it for one blog post.

So join us all soon in Part Two to see how we cope with world fame and whether or not we’re really art, together with the inevitable water ingress through our new gable end. Together with the details I’ve not even approached in getting you interested in the story. Like who will live in the houses. And how we decide to sell some of them.

And by the way, by ‘social housing’ I don’t mean it’s all the same. We’re deliberately continuing Granby’s traditional mixed tenure approach to who comes and lives here. Across the Four Streets all of the partners, including the City Council and two housing associations, are turning the best part of 200 long empty properties back into homes. For social rent, for sale, for co-ownership, for a mutual home ownership group and for individual homesteaders doing ‘homes for £1.’ Tell you more in Part Two.

 

5 thoughts on “How to do Social Housing: Part One

  1. lindsay53

    As I’ve probably said before, a moving testament to the power of the people. What an amazing example of how things can be done to improve life and environment. All the very best to you all!

    Reply

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