“It’s strange how your career can come full circle.
I have worked in Liverpool 8 as a youth worker, dance teacher and a creative producer, working closely with the community, young and old, on many diverse projects in various venues across the patch.
In a past life I was the Director of South Liverpool Arts Festival — and its ethos was to bring together the community through music and art. It was a cultural celebration in every sense.
I grew up in the area, so I’ll always be grateful that I played a part in something which made L8 hit the headlines for all the right reasons. And this sense of pride is swirling inside me once again.
This week marked a new exciting chapter for L8.
For the past two years I have been involved with a project that puts this community at its heart, and as I stroll around the newly revamped Princes Avenue it’s an emotional moment for me. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve turned to my colleague Sarah Vasey and said ‘have we really achieved all this?’
Emotional? Well, because this wasn’t plain sailing.
The residents rejected initial plans for the £4million transformation of this once majestic Victorian boulevard, feeling — quite rightly — that what was being presented was a fait accompli.
This is a community that embraces collaboration. And anyone who takes a walk along this amazing gateway into Liverpool’s city centre can’t fail to be struck by how many of the city’s diverse communities come together here. There’s our Grade I listed synagogue next to our Methodist centre next to our Islamic millennium centre next to our Welsh Presbyterian church.
The history of this road, built by the city’s rich merchant class, is not just the story of Toxteth or Liverpool but of the British Empire and multi-culturalism, long before that word ever existed. And the community that has grown up around it is fiercely proud of its tradition for its sense of identity, unity — and social activism.
This is a road, after all, that saw the removal of a statue to Liverpool MP William Huskisson, who defended slavery in parliament. In 1982.
Understandably, the community wanted — and deserved — a sense of ownership of a project, especially one which would provide people with a real insight in to the rich heritage of L8.
So Culture Liverpool — a Liverpool City Council team world renowned for its event management and community participation — was brought in to the fold.
By combining creative engagement and a highways regeneration programme we created this incredible, symbiotic relationship which exceeded the original ambitions and hopes for the project.
Working together with the Friends of Princes Avenue and Mandela8 we commissioned local arts organisation Writing on the Wall and freelance artists who took on the challenge alongside landscape architects BCAL.
Our starting point was to tell the story of the avenue. To bring it to life we used key themes which ran through the lifeblood of L8 — history, culture, heritage, activism, the future.
The voice of the youth and was heard thanks to local primary school children and the wider community who helped shape the public artworks, the granite paving and inscriptions, and interpretational signage.
Workshops encouraged the creative dialogue and slowly but surely you could see the project coming to life. Each time there was a meeting you could sense that trust and understanding were there from all parties — the community were eager to tell their stories and we were equally eager to hear them and look at how we could portray them in the right way.
Liverpool 8 is not afraid to have its voice heard — walk down the avenue now and you can hear it loud and clear. You are retracing steps of the past and you can immerse yourself in the stories of this fantastic place.
We are so proud of this project — the attention to detail is second to none and it’s an exceptional model of good practice and a new way of working for us. We know the regeneration of any area is important. But it’s equally as important to involve the community affected — and not by imposing something on them, but listening to them, working with them, negotiating with them, understanding them and ultimately trusting them.
And this is the real world, so of course it’s not going to be a smooth, perfect process — but very few things which are worth doing are.
Princes Boulevard is now a new gateway to the city and an important heritage trail. It shines a spotlight on organisations who have fought for years for equality — trying to make their voices heard and giving momentum to the Black Lives Matter campaign we see making the headlines today.
I may be biased, but it’s an incredibly special place. Come and see it for yourselves.
Alicia Smith Arts and Participation Manager Culture Liverpool, Liverpool City Council