Breathing Spaces

My verdicts on all of Liverpool City Centre’s quiet places for a peaceful sit. Warning, it’s not very complimentary.
h16311121728The news from Liverpool Confidential that this little area of trees in Victoria Street is to be turned into a multi-storey car park, rather than, say, a little area of trees with seats, has got me thinking.

Where are the breathing spaces in the centre of Liverpool?

Not the great ring of parks that surround the city, but the centre itself? Where can we go for a break, a sit, a quiet read, to watch the world go by, in the middle of town? Not somewhere that’s a café where you have to pay, but somewhere free and open to all of us, where we can breathe in the open air and be at one with each other and our place? The garden at the back of The Bluecoat springs immediately and obviously to mind, but where else?

Well I’m about to make myself some butties and a flask of tea, then walk around town and find out. So if you see me later on looking around forlornly with my camera, then help me out with your suggestions. Otherwise I might be reporting back later with a very short blog post?

OK then, here we go. Getting off the bus at the Bombed Out Church.

The garden here is a popular breathing space.

The garden here is a popular breathing space.

Though it's locked up today.

Though it’s locked up today.

Anyway, I decide I’m only going to consider spaces in what I call the city centre. Which is all on the town side of Berry Street, Renshaw Street and Lime Street. It’s my walk and that’s the rule.

So then, the square in front of FACT?

So then, the square in front of FACT?

Verdict: Unwelcoming.

The square behind FACT?

The square behind FACT?

Verdict? Lived in.
Being one of the few public places in Liverpool with some shelter it’s a popular sleeping place for the rough sleepers our brutal economy keeps creating.

Between FACT and Seel Street?

Between FACT and Seel Street?

Verdict? Ramshackle.

So we’re not doing very well so far in what seems a simple enough search. For places welcoming enough to want to spend some idle time in? Where next?

Wolstenhome Square?

Wolstenhome Square?

Verdict? Pathetic.
Looks like it would have seats but it never has. And anyway Cream there is now a demolition site, so who knows what might happen next.

Campbell Square?

Campbell Square?

Verdict? Knobbly.

I've never seen anybody sat on these.

I’ve never seen anybody sat on these.

We  do have lots of squares though don’t we? We just don’t seem to know what to do with them. Maybe we should ask the average French village?

Ah, here is the average French Village Square.

Ah, here is the average French village. Cleveland Square.

So European you can almost see the group of elderly Frenchmen over there playing boules. But with not a seat in site and no Frenchmen when you need them it’s a sad disappointment.

Verdict? A load of boules.

But nearby, what's this?

But nearby, what’s this?

It's where a church once stood.

It’s where a church once stood.

And is the nearest thing we've seen to a decent breathing space so far.

And is the nearest thing we’ve seen to a decent breathing space so far.

Verdict? Welcome, though I didn’t feel like sitting down here for some reason. Windswept?

Liverpool One?

Liverpool One?

This corridor over to the Albert Dock looks like it would be a good breathing space.

But the only seats are ones you have to rent.

But the only seats are ones you have to rent.

Verdict? Privatised public space.

The nearest seats are these steps nearby.

The nearest seats are these steps nearby.

Which provide popular views into the John Lewis café.

Which provide popular views into the John Lewis café.

Verdict? Useful but brutal.

Still Liverpool One. At last, the lawn where they had the deckchairs last summer.

Still Liverpool One. At last, the lawn where they had the deckchairs last summer.

Except it's closed at the moment.

Except it’s closed at the moment.

So you have to rent pricey space nearby.

So you have to rent pricey space nearby.

Verdict: Exclusive.
There’d be no end of trouble if I were to plonk myself down over there and get my flask of tea out.

Leaving Liverpool One.

Leaving Liverpool One.

The best they can mange?

The best they can mange?

Verdict? Well that’s just bleak isn’t it.

To Derby Square through another valuable rough sleeping space.

To Derby Square through another valuable rough sleeping space.

Noticing how us breathing spacers and rough sleepers share some common interests, in free space for people to use.

Derby Square then?

Derby Square then?

There are a few seats in the emptiness that some people are sat on. But nowhere with that monumentally ugly monument can claim to be a decent breathing space.

There are a few seats in the emptiness that some people are sat on. But nowhere with that monumentally ugly monument can claim to be a decent breathing space.

Verdict? Ugly.

Beetham Plaza?

Beetham Plaza?

Wouldn't dream of doing any of those.

Wouldn’t dream of doing any of those, honest.

The lovely fountain thing.

The lovely fountain thing.

With a special fountain from where you can study it not working.

With a special platform from where you can study it not working.

Also from where you can see the only seats here. Behind a paywall.

Also from where you can see the only seats here. Behind a paywall.

Verdict? A monumentally stupid waste of what should be a lovely and interesting space.

In front of the town hall?

In front of the town hall?

Verdict? Better than nothing, just.

Exchange Flags, with seats.

Exchange Flags, with seats.

Where I actually did sit for a while. Just to soak up the lack of atmosphere.

Where I actually did sit for a while. Just to soak up the lack of atmosphere.

Verdict? A waste of space.

This is getting tiresome isn’t it? But don’t give up on me yet. We’re about to walk into one of the best places in Liverpool City Centre.

The garden of the Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas.

The garden of the Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas.

At last, an honest to goodness breathing space.

At last, an honest to goodness breathing space.

Surrounded by the City, a real oasis, a place to breathe in.

Complete with flowers, grass and interestingness.

Complete with flowers, grass and interestingness.

For those we lost.

For those we lost.

Remembering the people of Liverpool and Bootle who died in the May Blitz of 1941.

Remembering the people of Liverpool and Bootle who died in the May Blitz of 1941.

In the middle of the City, in the midst of remembered deaths, I am at peace here.

So it's time for lunch and a read of my book.

So it’s time for lunch and a read of my book.

‘The Rise and Fall of the British Empire’ by Lawrence James. Where I’m delighted to find this bumptious quote from an Empire military type in Lagos in 1898. Speaking about the traders who’ve turned up after the military and the navy have stolen Nigeria in the name of Queen and Country he says:

“The type of Englishman, in the shape of the trader, whom we meet in these parts, is too awful for words to describe; they are all more-or-less counter-jumpers of the worst type and biggest bounders into the bargain.”

‘Counter-jumpers?’ Never heard that before or thought it might be a useful insult. But I’ll be looking out for opportunities to use it now I know!

I sit here in peace for an hour or so. Such a sense of Liverpool around me.

I sit here in peace for an hour or so. Such a sense of Liverpool around me.

A sense of history.

A sense of history.

And interesting gateways...

And interesting gateways…

To walk away through when its time.

To walk away through when its time.

Verdict? As perfect as it’s possible for a breathing space to be. One of Liverpool’s greatest treasures.

Next?

Rumford Court.

Rumford Court.

Verdict? A wasted opportunity.
Could be an ideal little breathing space, except whoever owns it obviously doesn’t want it to be.

Behind where Exchange Station used to be.

Behind where Exchange Station used to be.

Bixteth Street Gardens.

Bixteth Street Gardens.

Not helped by this rather grey Saturday.

Not helped by this rather grey Saturday.

But in the week, with all of those business district offices around it, this probably is a useful breathing space.

But in the week, with all of those business district offices around it, this probably is a useful breathing space.

Verdict though? Bleak.

Off Tithebarn Street and Leather Lane?

Off Tithebarn Street and Leather Lane?

Yes it’s a personalised Car Park with its very own bloke looking after it. Should clearly be a little garden instead.

Verdict? Pompous as well as stupid.

Next then, Union Court.

Next then, Temple Square.

A friend on Twitter, Stuart Fitzgerald, has recommended I look here having trailered this walk earlier in the day. Looks promising and useful.

No need for that though. Can we come in or not?

No need for that though. Can we come in or not?

Still it's got flowers, grass and seats - the recommended constituent parts of an urban breathing space.

Still it’s got flowers, grass and seats – the recommended constituent parts of an urban breathing space.

See I’m already turning these rambling thoughts into an academic theory? I’ll be charging you to come on courses about it before you know it.

These seats are odd though?

These seats are odd though?

In fact I think we’ve met our fellow travellers the rough sleepers again haven’t we? Clearly they’re not welcome to sleep here. It is private after all.

Verdict? More than a little unwelcoming.

Though undeniably pretty.

Though undeniably pretty.

Must do better.

Now here's the wooded clearing that started all this.

Now here’s the wooded clearing that started all this.

The car park that would be better off being a garden than an even bigger car park.

The car park that would be better off being a garden than an even bigger car park.

Verdict? Wasteful.

As an aside and while we’re here. A memory of my first job in the City Council Housing department. I was a temp and every week I’d get the bus in from Scotland Road where I worked and would knock on a little window at the back of Municipal Buildings over there and collect my wages in cash, around about £20.

One of those windows it was.

One of those windows it was.

Next, across several busy roads, St John's Gardens.

Next, across several busy roads, St John’s Gardens.

Large.

Large.

Monumental in fact.

Monumental in fact.

And memorial.

And memorial.

Popular though.

Popular though.

Big enough in fact for rough sleepers not to be bothered as they safely get their heads down during daylight hours.

Verdict? Valuable but not particularly lovable.
Even on a sunny day, when there’s a choice between reading here or going across William Brown Street to the Library, I always go into the Library and have spend very few hours of my life sat here.

Williamson Square?

Williamson Square?

Could be beautiful. But it isn't.

Could be beautiful. But it isn’t.

Verdict? Forgettable.
I sometimes forget it for months at a time.

And what's happened to the fountain anyway?

And what’s happened to the fountain anyway?

Next is a bit of a secret.

Next to the Quaker's Meeting House Café and Radio Merseyside.

Next to the Quaker’s Meeting House Café and Radio Merseyside.

A pretty place, but too small to sit away from the smokers who are invariably here.

A pretty place, but too small to sit away from the smokers who are invariably here.

Verdict? Smoky.

And finally?

Yes, it's the garden behind The Bluecoat.

Yes, it’s the garden behind The Bluecoat.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

And popular.

And popular.

I virtually never come to town without spending some time in here. Good for peace as well as people watching.

Today it's good for records too.

Today it’s good for records too.

Here's the haul, back out in the Garden.

Here’s the haul, back out in the Garden.

So that the sum of our parts.

So that the sum of our parts.

A mere two completely perfect breathing spaces in the whole City Centre. Some ‘not bads’ and ‘could do betters’ – but only The Bluecoat and the garden at Our Lady and St Nicholas beyond reproach.

As I walk through Liverpool One back to the bus the sun decides to come out.

As I walk through Liverpool One back to the bus the sun decides to come out.

A bit of sunshine might have improved one or two of my verdicts back there, but what can you expect? That old sun’s always been a bit of a counter-jumper!

 

19 thoughts on “Breathing Spaces

  1. Domi

    As mentioned by Vera Verte, St. John’s Gardens, then maybe Saint Nicholas’s churchyard ( used to go there for lunch when it was sunny), Chavasse Park and not sure if this counts, the Bluecoat garden?

    Reply
  2. lesley davies

    bit of a car-centred one – the viewpoint (my description) on riverside drive on the left as you go out of town and before the Atlantic Pub – cracking views of the Mersey.

    Reply
      1. lesleydavies6

        Mmm… You’re right, not your definition but looking at those places, the great majority would not be places I would ever have thought of going for peace and quiet – with the exception of St Nicholas and st Luke’s – hence my comments. One other thought – you may have mentioned this abercromby and Faulkner squares and also the place with the pyramid or are all of these private? And probably not in your city centre definition either

  3. Helen Devries

    That seems so disappointing.
    San Jose has its faults – plenty – but it has all sorts of places to sit, parks large and small, seating areas in the centre and there are plans to convert one area just off the centre into a mixed residential, commercial – and green space – area.

    Reply
  4. Sue E Long

    There is also Great George Square, re-designed a few years ago, presumably at great expense. But again its uninspired, a missed opportunity. I think it’s just within your city area. I only ever walk through it, never compelled to sit down.

    Reply
  5. davegore2005

    nice piece Ronnie, I read through thinking you must have surely missed somewhere, and then realized that no, it is all about getting from one place to another and it’s almost like the planners and developers don’t want people to stop and linger

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Whereas stopping and lingering are what we most love to do when we’re in a great place. So as my walk showed, we’ve got all the squares and interesting corners we need. We just need to decide to treat them better. More benches, better planting and less ‘do not’ signs.

      Reply
      1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

        Ah well, the culture is us. It doesn’t walk along corridors of power and influence. It laughs behind all of our hands and dances where we’re not allowed to!

  6. Jim Martin

    Nice article. In fairness, the lawn on top of Liverpool One did need returfing because the ice rink, decking etc. they put on top of it over Christmas killed all the grass. It’s pretty popular most of the year. Nevertheless, it’s a fair point that there should be enough quiet corners that the loss of just one shouldn’t reduce us practically to nothing.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Jim, didn’t realise that’s what had done it.

      Someone on Twitter has just observed that his children had noticed there was nowhere in town for them to play. And that lawn would be just about it.

      Reply
  7. summers1438

    Pleased to see the kind words about Liverpool Parish Church Gardens. I am a Churchwarden there and last year the City Council provided new benches and bins and shortly we will be getting some new signage. It is a nice oasis in the business district and very popular at lunchtimes when the weather is kind. PS I am a pal of Peter Growcoot and forwarded the blog post to him where he was mentioned a few weeks ago.

    Reply

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