A true story of Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust on site.I 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.
That’s Councillor Ann O’Byrne, Deputy Mayor of Liverpool and Lorna Mackie of the Nationwide Foundation, one of our major funders.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even as I was taking them I could see the finished job, turning from here on in from a site to a home.
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.
Much of our gentle redesigning of these houses is about bringing more light into them.
We’re here because we’ve been nominated for the Academy of Urbanism’s ‘Great Street’ award.
“This masterpiece is their collective wills…”
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.
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.
These are in Jermyn Street, one of the other of the Four Streets, and are being done for Liverpool Mutual Homes.
And says that what we are all doing here is art people can live in.
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.
‘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.
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.