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Anfield's best pasties work against degradation. (Lessons from Manchester, episode 4, the Liverpool edition)

There is something incredibly cosy about it. While outside the storm is howling through deserted, boarded-up shopping streets full of demolished mini houses, baking pasties against the malady. But so it does work. On the side of The Kop, the most famous stand at Anfield stadium on Liverpool's Oakfield Road, the Dutch artist established Jeanne van Heeswijk in 2012 a neighbourhood cooperative, when megalomaniac urban renewal plans around the UK's most famous stadium threatened to destroy the old working-class neighbourhood that was the cradle of the football club. 

They now bake the tastiest cakes in Liverpool and the wider area there, and have since earned enough to buy up the first block of houses ready for demolition. The neighbours have become developers themselves. They are turning the slums into homes that are still affordable for the original residents. Because that is what the Homebaked bakers are all about: a liveable working-class neighbourhood where people who have been rooted there for generations can continue to live. 

Money back

Oakfield Bakery's price list. Photo: Author.

Homebaked now also supplies pasties for the VIP suites at Liverpool's stadium. 'That way a little money flows back from the all the capital earned in this area.' Struggle in pastry. And it tastes good too. 

A few blocks from Homebaked, in an if possible even worse part of Everton, we encountered Kitty's Laundrette. It is a launderette that you can really only think of in England. Run by local residents and artists, it is also a community centre. You can drink tea there, there are literary afternoons, music programmes: everything that makes the desolate surroundings a little bit more liveable. Heartwarming how art here, in close cooperation with the neighbourhood, is doing something actually useful in the fight against (if nothing else) big business, which is only working on gentrification works, not to improve lives, but to make money from real estate.

Kitty's Laundrette, Everton. Photo: author.

The best reason for artists' interference in poor neighbourhoods was told by Grace Harrison, one of the initiators herself: 'Hearteningly nice that the museums are free, but what if you don't have money for the bus there, or clean clothes?'


On the other side of the city, speculation and economic decline caused Liverpool's once liveliest shopping street to empty out. When large-scale demolition threatened here too, local residents revolted. This eventually led to the creation of yet another neighbourhood cooperative, which now ensures that urban renewal is done on a small scale and in a sustainable way, and that the renovated homes remain affordable and green. Architectural firm Assemble won the prestigious Turner Prize in 2015 with their efforts on this project. 

Walking through the neighbourhood, you see horrible vacancy, but also a zest for life and optimism that I often miss in similar projects in the Netherlands. I myself worked in the 1990s as a project assistant in the urban renewal of Utrecht Noord. There, some of the same problems were at play that are now in Liverpool. The houses were once, in the 1960s, meant to be demolished, then, in the 1970s, sold at exorbitant prices to residents, who then, once the 1987 crisis hit, had no money left to refurbish their neighbourhood and their homes.


Little support for Brexit in Liverpool. Photo: Author

The small-scale artist projects I now see in Liverpool are more inspiring than what the squatting movement managed to achieve in the Netherlands at the time. In Liverpool, it is the local residents themselves who are taking matters into their own hands and taking very entrepreneurial action. Often helped by creatives who took their anarchist slant from a squatters' past, but more businesslike, and more hands-on than I saw in Utrecht before.

 Ownership is a wonderful thing to feel. People taking matters into their own hands, not waiting to see what is concocted in the concrete council houses and developer heads. It produces beautiful things that take patience, but bring a lot of pride. Usually, crisis brings mostly a lot of misery, but once in a while it produces energy that can work, provided powerful partners get involved in the young planting in time. 

Insoluble vacancy

Al&Al in Wigan. Photo: Author

Whether it works everywhere even then remains to be seen. In Wigan, between Liverpool and Manchester, the council itself flew in two famous artists (Al&Al) to save a dying mall. After some perseverance, they were given the entire upper floor and established a huge gallery and makerspace, The Fire Within. Wigan should become Greater Manchester's culture hub with this effort. That's why Wigan bought the area back and gave makerspace there five years to turn it into a hotspot. It looks slick, and the council's plans are ambitious, but the whole project mostly comes across as window dressing.

As long as the last train from Manchester Picadilly to Wigan leaves as early as 7.30pm, it's going to be hard work. The Fire Within seems to be palliative sedation for a Shopping Mall which, opened in 1991, is doomed in 2020. Across the street, a larger, more contemporary-minded shopping centre opened three years ago. That is where the last shops have moved to. For as long as it lasts.

Surely in Wigan, artists are mainly a temporary thing, an almost opportunistic utility in the hands of a council that still has no solution to the decline of the long-standing physical shopping street. That, too, is Manchester. has already put up some very large block boxes in Wigan. That's where the money is being made now.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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